By understanding route and problem grades, climbing can be much more enjoyable. Even an experienced climber’s grade choice could vary from day-to-day based on mood, how much time is available, what the weather is like, or a thousand other factors. The more you climb, the better understanding you'll gain of what route grade you're up for on any given day. But first you'll want to know, how are rock climbing routes graded?
In the United States, we use the V Scale for boulder problems and the Yosemite Decimal System for climbing routes. Of course, climbing grades are variable and extremely subjective with a wide diversity in interpretation from person to person, region to region, and style to style. Additionally, indoor climbing facilities frequently develop their own methods of grading routes in order to simplify the process for route setters and customers.
For boulder problems (short technical climbs where no ropes or harnesses are used, generally on a large boulder) the Hueco, or "V" Scale is most common. John Sherman, a bouldering pioneer, created the V scale. The V-scale is unique in that it starts at difficult and goes up- ‘easy’ moves were not considered bouldering when it was first developed.
V0 is generally the easiest, though VB denotes that a route is too easy to be graded. V0 is roughly equivalent to 5.10 in YDS terms, although this has begun to change in recent years. V16 is currently the hardest difficulty, but the scale is open-ended which leaves the possibility for problems rated even higher than V16 to eventually exist.
Check out this video of Alex Megos climbing “Lucid Dreaming,” a boulder problem in Bishop, CA that is rate V15. Pay attention to the thought process that goes into climbing at this level:
The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a terrain difficulty rating system primarily used in North America. Originally developed by the Sierra Club to rate terrain ranging from simple walks with relatively little risk of injury (1st Class) all the way to technical roped climbing (5th Class) and aid climbing (6th Class).
In the 1950’s, 5th Class terrain (technical rock climbing) was further subdivided into decimals ranging from 5.0 to 5.9 (read as Five Nine), what was then considered the hardest grade humanly possible. Then as climbing standards and equipment continued to improve over the years, and the range of what was “humanly possible” expanded, it became apparent that the open system would need to be further subdivided with a, b, c, and d classifications for all routes 5.10 or harder. Today, 5th class terrain ranges from 5.0 to 5.15c (read Five Fifteen C) and is still growing.
Check out this video of Adam Ondra working on what may be eventually considered a 5.15d:
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