The trusty old climbing grade. Loathed by many, loved by few. Climbing grades represent the overall difficulty of a route. That’s obvious though, right? Well it’s not always so simple. Climbing routes offer a broad spectrum of challenges, all of which need to be collectively rounded up into a single number, letter or word to give the grade.
It’s important to remember that with grades, there is not one definite grade for each route – it’s a pretty subjective matter. Things could have been climbed when they were less polished, in better weather, or even by a climber who was much more suited to the type of climbing in question (shock). Don’t get too caught up on grades – just use the grading systems as a rough rule of thumb and always blame your mates for sandbagging you on a route you found too tough!
Over time, many routes have shifted grades as more and more climbers started to come to some sort of consensus regarding the grade of climbs within an area. This is clear when you’re climbing at a well established area, compared to when you climb at a new crag, where the grades can sometimes feel off.
British Trad Grading
By far the most confusing of the grading systems. The British trad grading system was set up to represent the wide range of factors that need to be taken into consideration when trad climbing in the UK, hence the multi-faceted style. British trad grading system consists of both an adjectival and a numbered grade, which we’ll explain below.
The first portion of the British traditional grading system is what’s know as the adjectival grade. Adjectival grades scale in the following order; Moderate, Easy, Difficult, Very Difficult, Severe, Hard Severe, Hard Very Severe, E1, E2, E3… All the way up to E11 to this day.
This grade very broadly represents the overall feel of the entire route. I say broadly, as it covers a wide range of variabilities that can change the overall feel of a route. These vary from how strenuous the route is, how exposed the route is, how well protected the route is or how long the route is.
The numbered part of this grade represents the difficulty of the hardest section of the climb. You do of course need to be aware that this could be a single 5a boulder problem move at the start of the route, or a more complex series of moves of a similar grade high up on the route. It very confusingly uses the same number letter layout as the French grading system, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these grades are not the same. For example, a 5c UK Trad grade is closer matched to a 6b French.
Adjectival and Numbered Grades Combined
The two grades can then be used together to understand how bold or safe a route will feel. For example, a route with a high adjectival grade, but low numbered grade (within the scope of the adjectival grade), will be a safe route.