Many climbing routes have a grade that reflects the technical difficulty—and in some cases the risks and commitment level—of the route. The first ascensionist can suggest a grade, but it will be amended to reflect the consensus view of subsequent ascents. While many countries with a strong tradition of climbing developed grading systems, a small number of grading systems have become internationally dominant for each type of climbing, which has contributed to the standardization of grades worldwide. Over the years, grades have consistently risen in all forms of climbing, helped by improvements in climbing technique and equipment.

In free climbing (i.e. climbing rock routes with no aid), the most widely used grading systems are the French numerical or sport system (e.g. f7c+), the American YDS system (e.g. 5.13a), and latterly the UIAA scale (e.g. IX+). These systems are focused on technical difficulty, which is the sole focus in the relatively risk-free activity of sport climbing. The American system adds an R/X suffix to traditional climbing routes to reflect the risks of climbing protection. Notable traditional climbing systems include the British E-grade system (e.g. E4 6a).

In bouldering (i.e. rock climbing on short routes), the most widely used systems are the American V-scale (or "Hueco") system (e.g. V14), and the French "Font" system (e.g. 8C+). The Font system often attaches an "F" prefix to further distinguish it from French sport climbing grades, which itself uses an "f" prefix (e.g. F8C+ vs. f8c+). It is increasingly common for sport climbing rock routes to describe their hardest technical movements in terms of their boulder grade (e.g. an f7a sport climbing route being described as having a V6 crux).

In aid climbing (i.e. the opposite of free climbing), the most widely used system is the A-grade system (e.g. A3+), which was recalibrated in the 1990s as the "new wave" system from the legacy A-grade system. For "clean aid climbing" (i.e. aid climbing equipment is used but only where the equipment is temporary and not permanently hammered into the rock), the most common system is the C-system (e.g. C3+). Aid climbing grades take time to stabilize as successive repeats of aid climbing routes can materially reduce the grade.

In ice climbing, the most widely used grading system is the WI ("water ice") system (e.g. WI6) and the identical AI ("alpine ice") system (e.g. AI6). The related sport of mixed climbing (i.e. ice and dry-tool climbing) uses the M-grade system (e.g. M8), with other notable mixed grading systems including the Scottish Winter system (e.g. Grade VII). Pure dry-tooling routes (i.e. ice tools with no ice) use the D-grade prefix (e.g. D8 instead of M8).

In mountaineering and alpine climbing, the greater complexity of routes requires several grades to reflect the difficulties of the various rock, ice, and mixed climbing challenges. The International French Adjectival System (IFAS, e.g.TD+)–which is identical to the "UIAA Scale of Overall Difficulty" (e.g. I–VI)–is used to grade the "overall" risk and difficulty of mountain routes (with the gradient of the snow/ice fields) (e.g. the 1938 Heckmair Route on the Eiger is graded: ED2 (IFAS), VI− (UIAA), A0 (A-grade), WI4 (WI-grade), 60° slope). The related "commitment grade" systems include the notable American National Climbing Classification System (e.g. I–VI).


The six levels (Grade I–VI) of the "Welzenbach scale", from 1926

In 1894, the Austrian mountaineer Fritz Benesch [de] introduced the first known climbing grading system, which he introduced to rock climbing. The "Benesch scale" had seven levels of difficulty, with level VII the easiest and level I the hardest; as more difficult climbs were made, the grades of level 0 and level 00 were added.[1]

In 1923, German mountaineer Willo Welzenbach [de] compressed the scale and reversed the order so level 00 became level IV–V, and it became popular in the Alps. In 1967, the "Welzenbach scale" formally became the "UIAA scale" for rock climbing (or "UIAA Scale of Difficulty") with Roman numerals I–VI, and a "+" and "−" to refine each level. The UIAA also incorporated proposals made in 1943 by Lucien Devies [fr] and the Groupe de Haute Montagne [fr] on a broader "Scale of Global Assessment" for alpine climbing (the French Alpine System), and created the "UIAA Scale of Overall Difficulty" by assigning Roman numerals I–VI to the six adjectival levels (e.g. F, PD, AD, D, TD, and ED) of the French system. The UIAA also incorporated a "Scale of Difficulty in Aided Climbing" for aid routes with the levels: A1, A2, A3, A4, and (later) A5. In 1978, the UIAA added the VII (seventh grade) to its "UIAA scale", implying that the scale was open-ended, a concept formally adopted in 1985.[2]

By the 1980s, French guides had customized the "UIAA scale" beyond V+ with the letters "a", "b", and c" (e.g. V+, VIa, VIb, etc.). At the end of the 1980s, French climbing guidebook author Francois Labande [fr] published the "French numerical scale", which replaced the UIAA Roman numerals with Arabic numerals, and where French 6a equaled UIAA VI+. The two scales were summarised as "Plaisir Grades" and aligned in a UIAA table where French grades 1–6a aligned with "UIAA scale" grades I–VI+; beyond that level, the two systems diverged and for example, French 7a+ equates to UIAA grade VIII and French 9a equates to UIAA grade XI.[2]

In America, a version of the Welzenbach Scale was introduced for rock climbing in 1937 by the Sierra Club, which in the 1950s was further adapted into the Yosemite Decimal System that added a decimal place to the class 5 grade (e.g. 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, etc.), and which by the 1960s was again amended to introduce the letters "a", "b", "c", and "d" after 5.9 to further refine the levels (e.g. 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, etc.).[2]

While individual countries developed their own rock climbing grading systems, the American system, French system, and latterly the "UIAA scale" became popular internationally (with the American and French dominating sport climbing). The UIAA "Scale of Overall Assessment" dropped its six Roman numbers in favor of the six adjectival grades of the French Alpine System (to avoid confusion with the "UIAA scale") and dominated alpine climbing grading, while the UIAA "Scale of Difficulty in Aided Climbing" – amended and expanded in Yosemite in the 1990s as "new-wave" grades – dominated aid grading.[2]

Free climbing

See also: List of grade milestones in rock climbing § Single-pitch routes, and List of grade milestones in rock climbing § Multi-pitch routes

Adam Ondra on the sport climbing route Silence, the hardest free climbing route in the world and the first-ever at 9c (French), 5.15d (American YDS), and XII+ (UIAA).

The two main free climbing grading systems (which include the two main free climbing disciplines of sport climbing and traditional climbing) are the "French numerical system" and the "American YDS system".[2] The "UIAA scale" is still popular in Germany and across parts of Central Europe.[2] Many countries with a history of free climbing have also developed their own free climbing grading systems including the British E-grade system and the Australia/New Zealand "Ewbank" system.[2]

The evolution of grade milestones in traditional climbing, and latterly sport climbing (as it took over from traditional climbing as the main focus of the leading free climbers), is an important part of the history of rock climbing. As of September 2023, the hardest free climb in the world is the sport climbing route Silence which is in the Hanshelleren Cave, in Flatanger, Norway; the severely overhanging Silence is graded 9c (French), 5.15d (American YDS), and XII+ (UIAA), and is the first-ever climb to have those grades in history.

French numerical grade

See also: Sport climbing § Grading

The French numerical system for free climbing was developed from the UIAA scale in the 1980s but uses Arabic numbers instead of the UIAA scale's Roman numerals, and also uses the letters "a", "b" and "c" and the "+" symbol to give additional refinement between the numbers (whereas the UIAA uses only the "−" and "+" symbols).[2] The French system starts at 1 and closely aligns with the UIAA scale up to UIAA V+, which is French grade 6a, but thereafter begins to diverge.[2][3] The French grading system is the dominant system in Europe, and it and the American YDS system are the most dominant systems worldwide; beyond the easiest grades, the two systems can be almost exactly aligned in comparison tables.[2][3]

The French system is an open-ended scale that was at 9c in 2023 with Silence. The system is only focused on the technical demands of the hardest movement on the route.[2] Unlike the American YDS system, there is no allowance for any risks in the route, and thus the French system is more closely aligned with sport climbing (i.e. where pre-bolted protection removes most risk).[2] It is less common to find traditional climbing routes graded by the French system, and thus it is also called the French sport grade.[2] To avoid confusion between French grades and the British E-grades, a lowercase "f" (for French) is used as a prefix (e.g. f6a+); this should not be confused with the use of the capitalized "F" or "fb" prefix in Font boulder grades.[2]

American YDS grade

Alex Honnold's 2017 free solo of Freerider on El Capitan was the first-ever big-wall free solo at the grade of 5.13a (American) or 7c+ (French)

The American YDS (or 'Yosemite Decimal System') was developed independently by climbers at Tahquitz Peak who adapted the class 5 rating of Sierra Club Class 1–5 system in the 1950s.[4] As a result, the system has a "5" as its prefix which is then followed by a decimal point and a number that starts at 1 and counts up with increasing difficulty (e.g. 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, etc.).[3] At 5.10, the system adds the letters "a", "b", "c", and "d" as further refinements between levels, and the scale continues upward (e.g. 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, 5.11b, etc.,).[3][4] The American YDS system is the dominant system in North America, and it and the French numerical system are the most dominant systems worldwide; beyond the easiest grades, they can be exactly aligned.[2][3]

The American YDS system is an open-ended scale that was at 5.15d in 2023 with Silence. Like the French system, the numerical component of the American YDS system is focused on the hardest move on the route.[4] In 1980, Jim Erickson introduced an additional rating for traditional climbing routes where the level and quality of the climbing protection is assessed.[4] A suffix of "PG-13" (using the American cinema classification system) denotes the climbing protection is adequate, and if properly placed a fall will be short (in practice, the "PG-13" is usually omitted as it is considered the default).[4] A suffix of "R" is added where protection is inadequate and any fall could risk serious injury, and "X" for routes with little or no protection and where any fall could be very long and potentially fatal (i.e. also known as a "chop route").[2][4][3]

American big wall climbing routes will often include the NCCS grade (Levels I–VII) with the YDS grade (e.g. the Salathé Wall at 5.13b VI).[2]

UIAA scale

The UIAA scale (or UIAA Scale of Difficulty) for free climbing was developed from the original "Welzenbach scale" in 1967 and uses the Roman numerals of that scale with "+" and "−" symbols for refinement between numerals after Grade III (i.e. III, IV−, IV, IV+, V−, V, V+ etc.,).[2][3] Initially, the UIAA scale was closed-ended and went from Grade I (easiest) up to Grade VI (hardest), where it stopped. In 1978, the "seventh grade" was added—though climbers had been climbing at that level for years—and by 1985 it was formally made into an open-ended scale that went beyond Grade VII.[2][4]

The UIAA scale is closely aligned with the French system up to Grade V+, which is French grade 6a, but thereafter begins to diverge, although the two can be reasonably aligned in comparison tables.[2][3] The UIAA scale was at XII+ in 2023 with Silence, which is French 9c. While the French system became the dominant scale in Europe, the UIAA scale is still popular in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.[2][3][5] The UIAA scale is also commonly found in the grading systems of alpine climbing routes, and particularly those that use the French Alpine System (e.g. PD, D, TD, ED), where the UIAA scale is often used to grade the free climbing component.[2][6]

British E-grade

See also: Traditional climbing § Grading

The crag of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu in Wales with Indian Face (centre), which was the first-ever E9-graded route on the British system at E9 6c (British) or 5.13a X (American)

The most complex grading system is the British E-grade system (or British trad grade),[6] which uses two separate open-ended grades for each route.[7] This structure is particularly adapted to traditional climbing routes (which are more common in Britain), but it is still considered complex and unlike the American YDS system (which has the R/X labels for traditional climbing routes), never came into wider use for traditional climbing outside of Britain.[7] Within Britain, the French sport grade is more popular for British bolted sport climbing routes.[7] As of April 2024, the highest consensus E-grade on a traditional route in Britain was on Lexicon (E11 7a) and on Rhapsody (E11 7a), which are considered equivalent to American 5.14 R or French f8b+/f8c+.[8] Outside of Britain, the highest consensus E-grade was Bon Voyage in Annot, France at E12, or 5.14d / 9a.[9]

The first grade is an "adjectival grade" that covers the overall difficulty of the route and takes into account the: "seriousness, sustaindness, technical difficulty, exposure, strenuousness, rock quality, and any other less tangible aspects which lend difficulty to a pitch".[10] This adjectival grade uses the labels (starting from the easiest): M (moderate), D (difficult), VD (very difficult), HVD (hard very difficult), S (severe), HS (hard severe), VS (very severe), and HVS (hard very severe).[3][10] After HVS, the label switches to E (extreme), but then rises as E1, E2, E3, E4, ... etc., in an open-ended scale.[3][10]

The second grade is a "technical grade" that focuses on the hardest technical movement on the route. This technical grade has a very similar format to the French sport grade, being an Arabic number that starts at 4 and uses the additional "a", "b", and "c" symbols for refinement between the numbers (unlike the French grades, it does not also use the "+" refinement, and simply goes: 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, ... etc.,).[3][10] British climbers use the prefix "f" to distinguish French sport-grades from British technical grades, which is important as they are not equivalent (e.g. British 5c is f6b+).[2]

The secret to understanding the British E-grade system is the relationship between the two grades.[2][3][10] For each adjectival grade there is a typical technical grade for a standard route.[3][10] For example, E4 is often associated with 6a, so E4 6a means the route has a normal level of risk and other related factors for its technical level of 6a.[11] However, E5 6a would imply that the risk is higher (i.e. closer to an American YDS "R"), while E6 6a would imply a very significant risk (i.e. like the American YDS R/X), and a rare E7 6a would be effectively no protection (i.e. a full American YDS "X", or essentially a free solo route).[11] Similarly, E3 6a implies a well-protected route, while E2 or E1 6a would imply easily available bomb-proof protection.[11]

Other notable systems

Climber on Punks in the Gym, Mount Arapiles, grade 32 (Ewbank) and the world's first-ever 8b+ (French), 5.14a (American) route.


See also: List of grade milestones in rock climbing § Boulder problems

Dreamtime V15 (8C) is the diagonal green line, and Somnolence V13 (8B) is the blue line.

The two main boulder grading systems are the French Font-grade and the American V-grade systems.[2][14] Beyond the easiest grades, the two systems can be almost exactly aligned in comparison tables.[2][14] For various reasons, it is also noted that boulder grades on indoor climbing walls tend to be materially softer than the equivalent outdoor grade up until about V10 / Font 7C+ (e.g. an indoor V4–6 could be an outdoor V2–3).[15]

As of September 2023, the hardest bouldering route in the world is Burden of Dreams in Lappnor in Finland, which is graded 9A (Font) and V17 (V-grade/Hueco), and was the first-ever boulder to reach those grades.

Comparison with free climbing

The Font-grade system is easily confused with the French sport grade and the British E-grade systems as they use similar symbols, however, boulder grades are very different from free climbing grades and they start at much harder technical levels. For example, the entry-level Font-grade 4 / V-grade V0 is equivalent to the free climbing grades of 6a to 6a+ (French), VI to VII− (UIAA), and 5.9 to 5.10c (American YDS), depending on what table is used.[2][4][5]

This confusion is amplified by the tendency for modern sport-climbers to describe the crux moves on their routes in terms of their bouldering grades – their routes are effectively a series of connected boulder problems. For example, here is Adam Ondra describing his 2017 redpoint of Silence, the first-ever free climb in the world to carry a grade of 9c (French), 5.15d (American), XII+ (UIAA):

The climb is about 45m long, the first 20m are about 8b [French sport] climbing with a couple of really really good knee-bars. Then comes the crux boulder problem, 10 moves of 8C [French boulder]. And when I say 8C boulder problem, I really mean it. ... I reckon just linking 8C [French boulder] into 8B [French boulder] into 7C [French boulder] is a 9b+ [French] sport climb, I'm pretty sure about that.

— Adam Ondra in an interview with PlanetMountain (2017).[16]
Climber on the Rave Heart V8 (7B/7B+) section of The Wheel of Life, which is graded at both a boulder route at V15 (8C), and a free climbing route at f9a (5.14d)

In addition, boulder routes that connected various boulder problems into a single longer bouldering route have been graded as if they were sport climbs. A notable example is the 2004 boulder route The Wheel of Life, which is graded V15 (8C) as a boulder route, but also f9a (5.14d) as a sport climbing route.[17]

Font grade

The Font-grade (from the "Fontainebleau climbing area") is one of the oldest boulder grading systems whose origins can be traced back to at least 1960 with Michel Libert's L'Abbatoir at Fontainebleau.[14] The Font-scale is an open-ended scale that starts at 1 and increases in single-digit steps but uses a "+" for additional refinement between steps; from grade 6 it introduces a capitalized "A", "B" and "C" for further refinement, and was at 9A in 2023 with Burden of Dreams. The Font-scale has no regard to any risk and is purely focused on the technical difficulty of the movements.[2] The Font-scale is distinguished from the French sport grade by using capitalized letters (i.e. Font 6C+ vs. f6c+), and also the use of "Fb" or capital "F" (for "Font") as a prefix. The distinction is important as the scales are very different (i.e. Fb6C+ is closer to f7c).[2][14]


Midnight Lightning is one of the most famous boulders in history and the second-ever V8 (7B/7B+).

The V-grade (short for "Vermin" or "Verm", and also known as the "Hueco" scale) was first published in 1991 by American bouldering pioneer John "Verm" Sherman in his climbing guidebook, Hueco Tanks Climbing and Bouldering Guide.[14] Legend is that his publisher would not print the book without some kind of rating of his 900 routes.[14] The V-scale is an open-ended scale that starts at V0 (although a slightly easier "VB" has been used for beginners), and increases in single-digit steps (i.e. V5, V6, V7), and was at V17 in 2023 with Burden of Dreams. The V-scale has no regard for any risk and is purely focused on the technical difficulty of the movements.[2] The V-scale is the dominant scale in North America, and it and the Font scale are the most dominant systems worldwide; beyond the easiest grades, the two systems can be almost exactly aligned in comparison tables.[2][14]

Other notable systems

Aid climbing

Main article: Aid climbing § Grading

The main aid climbing systems are the A-grade (usually the "new wave" version) and the C-grade systems.[2][20][4] While aid climbing is less popular as a standalone pursuit, aid techniques remain important in big wall climbing and alpine climbing, where the level of difficulties can vary significantly on long routes, and thus the use of aid in places is still common (e.g. The Nose on El Capitan is graded '5.9 (American) C2 (aid)' with aid, but an extremely difficult '5.14a (American)' without any aid; guidebooks will mark such routes as '5.9 & C2 (5.14a)', with the no-aid/fully free option in brackets.[20]

Instability of aid grades

Layton Kor on the first ascent of Exhibit A Eldorado Canyon; the route was then graded 5.9 A4 (original A-grade), but is now graded 5.8 C2+ R (post "new-wave" C-grade).[21]

The grade of an aid climbing route can change materially over time due to improvements in aid equipment but also due to the impact of repeated ascents that subsequent aid climbing teams make to a route.[22][23] It is not uncommon for a new A5 route in Yosemite to become a "beaten-out A3+ route" due to the effect of repeated hammering of cracks (which widens them), and to the build-up of permanent in-situ aid climbing equipment.[24]

Original A-grade

Main article: Aid climbing § Original A-grades

The original "UIAA Scale of Difficulty in Aided Climbing" system went from A0 to A5 and focused on the number and quality of "bodyweight placements" (i.e. can only take static bodyweight and not a falling bodyweight) versus "bombproof placements" on a given pitch.[2][24] The grades were less concerned with the physical demands of the route (although there was some mention), and risk was only introduced later with A5.[22][24]

New wave A-grade

Main article: Aid climbing § New wave A-grades

In the 1990s, Yosemite aid climbers created what they called a "new wave" aid grading system that expanded the range of the original UIAA system to A6 (they had already re-defined parts of the UIAA system), and introduced an intermediate "+" grade from A2 onwards for specific tricky or strenuous sections, and gave more detailed definitions at each grading level than the original A-grades.[24][22]

Clean C-grade

When the original or the "new wave" aid climbs can be ascended without the use of a hammer (for pitons or copperheads), the "A" suffix is replaced by a "C" to denote "clean climbing".[25][26] In Yosemite, an "F" suffix is placed after the "C" if fixed gear (e.g. bolts) is required to go clean (or hammerless).[24]

Ice and mixed climbing

The most dominant system internationally for ice climbing is the WI-grade, while the most dominant international system for mixed climbing is the M-grade (with the Scottish Winter grade also notable given the unique nature of Scottish mixed routes).[27] Where a route has no ice, and not even the "thin ice coating" common on Scottish Winter routes, it is increasingly common to use a D-grade to indicate dry-tooling. Some M-graded routes in "dry" areas (i.e. places like the American Rockies, but not Scotland), are more of a combination of a WI-graded ice route with a D-graded dry-tooling route.[2][25][26]


Main article: Ice climbing § WI-grades

Angelika Rainer [it] high up on the severely overhanging Clash of Titans (graded WI10+), Helmcken Falls.

The most dominant ice climbing system is the WI (for "water ice") grading system.[28][27] WI-grades broadly equate to the mixed climbing M-grades from WI1 up to WI6/WI7, but after M6/M7, mixed climbs become overhanging, which ice does not.[28][27] WI-grades try to take some account of the difficulty of placing protection on the route but, as with M-grades, are more focused on the technical and physical challenge of the route, and are thus more akin to the French and American YDS free climbing systems, although as with the American YDS system, an "R/X" suffix is sometimes used alongside the WI-grade to grade additional risks.[28][27]

The WI-grade is for "hard ice"; steep snow slopes, which are encountered frequently on alpine climbing routes, are not explicitly graded but instead, their steepest angle (approximate figure or a range) is quoted (e.g. 60–70 degree slope).[25][26] WI-grade is for "seasonal" hard ice; an AI prefix is used instead for "alpine ice", which is year-round and usually firmer, more stable, making AI-grade routes slightly easier than WI routes.[25][26]

In 2010, ice climbers began to put up new ice routes at Helmcken Falls in Canada that had unique characteristics. Unlike the sheerest WI7 ice routes, these routes were significantly overhanging like extreme M-graded routes. This was due to the intense spray from the waterfall, which covered the overhanging routes in ice so that there was little dry-tooling (i.e. all the movement was on hard ice).[29] The routes were bolted like M-grade climbs and the result was a series of new WI-graded routes that laid claim as the "world's hardest ice routes"; by 2020, they reached WI13 with Mission to Mars.[29]


Main article: Mixed climbing § M-grades

Rocket Man (M9), Wyoming. Many M-grade routes are really a combination of a WI-grade ice route and a D-grade dry tooling route.

The grading of mixed climbing routes approximates the ice climbing WI grades, up to M6, but they then diverge as mixed routes can become very overhanging and eventually turn into roofs (ice is not normally overhanging, aside from Helmecken Falls routes).[28][30][27] M-grades do not take into account the "danger" of the route (i.e. how good is the protection in the event of a fall) as they are mostly pre-bolted routes; they, therefore, focus on the technical and physical challenge of the route, and is thus more akin to the French and American free climbing rock grades, although as with the American system, the "R/X" suffix is used for danger.[28][30]

In his 1996 book, Ice World, mixed climbing pioneer Jeff Lowe ranked his new M-grades to the level of physical exertion needed on a free rock climb; for example, Lowe estimated that M8 was equivalent to 5.12 (American YDS).[27] Other authors have tried to align M-grades with rock climbing grades,[4][31] and now equate M8 to 5.10/5.11, however, there is some variation and no consensus that such comparisons are valid.[27]


Main article: Dry-tooling § D-grades

When mixed climbing is done as pure dry-tooling, which is ice climbing on bare rock with no ice section, the M-grade is usually replaced by a "D" grade prefix (but all other aspects of the two systems are identical).[2] The most extreme dry-tooling route in 2023 is Parallel World (D16) in the "Tomorrow's World Cave" in the Dolomites.[28][32]

Scottish winter grade

Main article: Mixed climbing § Scottish winter grades

Greg Boswell on the first ascent of Banana Wall, the second-ever Scottish Winder Grade XII/12 route.

Mixed climbing in Scotland is known as "Scottish Winter climbing" and uses a dual-grading system – similar to the British E-grade – with a Roman numeral denoting the "overall" difficulty (e.g. technical challenge, length, and the level of boldness/physicality/stamina required).[30] A second Arabic number grades the technical difficulty of the hardest move on the route.[30] A climb graded (VI, 6) means the difficulty of the hardest move is standard for the overall grade, whereas a climb graded (VI, 8) denotes the hardest move is above the overall grade.[30]

This dual grade is needed as Scottish winter climbs use traditional climbing protection, placing greater strains on the climber.[30] British climber Ian Parnell wrote in his guide to Scottish winter climbing that Scottish grades are almost two levels above M-grades, and thus a Scottish (VIII, 8) is similar to an M6; but that an onsight of a Scottish VIII, 8 using traditional climbing protection, would be similar in difficulty to a bolted sport climbing M8.[30]

Other notable systems


Ueli Steck on the 800-metre alpine climbing route, North Couloir Direct on Les Drus, which is graded ED (IFAS-overall), VI (UIAA-rock), AI6 (WI-ice), M8 (M-mixed).[33]

The most important grading system in mountaineering is the International French Adjectival System (IFAS) (or French Alpine System, FAS), which is also effectively the "UIAA Scale of Overall Difficulty" (they are the same, only differing in labels), and which is used in all forms of alpine climbing around the world.[2][34]

Due to the complexity and length of mountaineering and alpine climbing routes, their grading systems are focused on the "overall" – or "global level" – of risk and/or commitment of the route.[2][34] The specific rock climbing, aid climbing, and/or ice and mixed climbing difficulties of the route will be graded separately (per the earlier grading systems) and listed alongside the mountaineering grade (e.g. see photo opposite).[2][3][34]

For a time, there were a number of "commitment grade" systems that primarily focused on the amount of time required for the route (e.g. Grade I being several hours to Grade VII being several weeks), such as the American National Climbing Classification System (NCCS), but for various reasons these are now in less use.[2][3][34]

International French Adjectival System

Main article: Alpine climbing § Grading

Climber on the big wall Cassin Route on Piz Badile, which is 850-metres, 25-pitches, and graded TD (IFAS), 5.9 (American), 5c (French), VI− (UIAA-rock), IV (NCCS).

The IFAS system (or UIAA Scale of Overall Difficulty), also called the French Alpine System (or Alpine System),[3][26] grades the overall difficulty of a route, taking into account the length, technical difficulties, exposure, and commitment level (i.e. how hard is a retreat).[4][34] The system was created by French climbers, and when the UIAA formally adopted it in 1967 they assigned Roman numerals to the six levels, which caused confusion with the UIAA scale, and thus the French shorthand for the six levels prevailed:[2] F–Facile (easy), PD–Peu Difficile (not very difficult), AD–Assez Difficile (fairly difficult), D–Difficile (difficult), TD–Très Difficile (very difficult), and ED-Extrêmement difficile (extremely difficult).[3][4][26]

Later, a + (pronounced Sup for supérieur) or a − (pronounced Inf for inférieur) was used to indicate if a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g., a climb slightly harder than "PD+" might be "AD−"), and the specific degree of the snow slopes was added (e.g. 60 degrees).[2]

As standards rose, the ED-grade was further expanded into ED1 (is the original ED−), ED2 (is roughly the original ED), ED3 (is the original ED+), ED4, ED5 .. etc., to denote harder levels of grade.[2][34]

Whilst each IFAS grade can imply certain grades of rock, ice, or mixed climbing difficulties, the UIAA warns against assuming the IFAS grade always aligns with specific rock and ice climbing grades, as the objective dangers can vary dramatically on alpine routes with similar rock and ice climbing grades. For example, the famous 1,800-metre 1938 Heckmair Route on the north face of the Eiger has an IFAS ED2-grade even though the rock climbing is only at UIAA VI− and the ice climbing at 60 degrees (or WI-4 grade), which is more typically associated with an IFAS D-grade; this is due to the exceptional length and serious dangers of the route.[2][3] Some guidebooks have still attempted to list the implied rock and ice climbing grades at each IPAS level.[3][35][34]

American NCCS

The 16-pitch El Capitan route Zodiac, is graded 5.7 (American), A2+ (A-grade), VI (NCCS) with aid; or 5.13d (American), VI (NCCS) free

The National Climbing Classification System (NCCS) was devised in the 1960s by the Sierra Club as "commitment grade" for mountaineering routes, and in particular, the time investment in a route for an "average" climbing team".[25][26] The NCCS uses Roman numerals form Grade I (few hours of climbing) to Grade VII (several weeks of climbing).[25][26] The NCCS was popular for a period on American big wall climbing routes, however, advancements in techniques and the ability for climbers to complete big wall routes in hours that historically took days (or weeks), made the NCCS less useful; it is still often quoted on American big wall routes (although it is often confused as being the UIAA scale).[2][4][34] NCCS grades are described as:[25][26]


The Russian grading system has a range from grade 1A–6B that aligns in comparison tables with the IFAS/UIAA system (the six levels align with the original six UIAA Scale of Global Difficulty levels),[2] and factors in difficulty, altitude, length, and commitment (i.e. risk and difficulty of retreat); the grades are described as:[25][26]


The iconic Moonflower Buttress, Mount Hunter Alaska, which is graded 5.8 (American YDS), WI-6 (ice), M7 (mixed), A2 (Alaska)[37]

In the "Alaskan Overall Difficulties" system,[2] mountaineering routes are graded from 1 (easiest) to 6 (hardest), and factor in difficulty, length, and commitment (including storms, cold, and cornicing).[4] The system was developed by Boyd N. Everett, Jr. in 1966, for the particular challenges of Alaskan climbing,[2] and rarely appears outside of the region.[25][26] A summary of the levels from Alaska: A Climbing Guide (2001) is:[25][26][34]

A plus (+) may be added to indicate somewhat higher difficulty. For example, the West Buttress Route on Denali is graded 2+ in the aforementioned guidebook. Importantly, even an Alaska Grade 1 climb may involve climbing on snow and glaciers in remote locations and cold weather.[2]

Other notable systems

Comparison tables

Free climbing

Free climbing systems can be broadly compared per the table below.[26][25][38] While most systems do not perfectly align, especially at the lower (or easier) grades, above the level of circa 5.12a (American YDS), f7a+ (French), VIII+, the risk-free sport climbing becomes the dominant free-climbing format and most grades closely align;[2][3] the exception being the traditional climbing focused British E-grade system.[7]

American YDS British E-grade French
(Aus. & NZ)
(South Africa)
Scandinavian Brazilian technical Polish
Tech Adj Finland Norway
3–4 1 M 1 I I 1–2 1–2 1 1 I I
5.0 3–4 3–4 I sup
5.1 2 2 II II 5–6 5–6 2 2 II II
5.2 D 7 7 II sup
5.3 3 3 III III 8–9 8–9 3 3 III
5.4 VD 4a IV IV 10 10 III IV
5.5 4a S 4b IV+/V− V 11–12 11–12 4 4 III sup
5.6 4b HS 4c V VI 13 13 IV IV+
5.7 4c VS 5a V+ 14–15 14–15 5− 5− V−
5.8 HVS 5b VI− VIIa 16 16 5 5 IV sup V
5.9 5a 5c VI VIIb 17 17–18 5+ 5+ V V+
5.10a E1 6a VI+ VIIc 18 19 6− VI
5.10b 5b 6a+ VII− 19 20 6− Vsup VI+
5.10c E2 6b VII VIIIa 20 21 6 6 VI VI.1
5.10d 5c 6b+ VII+ VIIIb 22 6+ VI sup VI.1+
5.11a E3 6c
VIIIc 21 6+ 7−
7a VI.2


5.11b VIII− 22 23 7−
5.11c 6a E4 IXa 23 24 7c
5.11d 7a VIII IXb 25 7+ VI.3
5.12a E5 7a+ VIII+ IXc 24 26 7+ 7+/8− 8a VI.3+
5.12b 6b 7b 25 27 8− 8− 8b VI.4
5.12c E6 7b+ IX− Xa 26 28 8 8 8c
5.12d 7c IX Xb 27 29 8+ 8/8+ 9a VI.4+
5.13a 6c 7c+ IX+ Xc 28 30 9− 8+ 9b VI.5
5.13b E7 8a X− XIa 29 31 9 9− 9c VI.5+
5.13c 7a 8a+ 30 32 9+ 9−/9 10a
5.13d E8 8b X XIb 31 33 10− 9 10b VI.6
5.14a 8b+ X+ XIc 32 34 10 9/9+ 10c VI.6+
5.14b 7b E9 8c XI− XIIa 33 35 10+ 9+ 11a VI.7
5.14c 8c+ XI XIIb 34 36 11− 10− 11b VI.7+
5.14d E10 9a XI+ XIIc 35 37 11 10 11c VI.8
5.15a E11 9a+ XII− XIIIa 36 38 11+ 10/10+ 12a VI.8+
5.15b 9b 37 39 12− 10+ 12b
5.15c 9b+ XII XIIIb 38 40 12 11− 12c VI.9
5.15d 9c XII+ XIIIc 39 41 12+ 11 13a VI.9+

Main sources: RockFax Rock Climbing Grade Table (2021),[3] theCrag (2023),[38] and UIAA (2021).[2]


As of 2023, the American and French bouldering grade systems can be compared in the following way (they exactly align after V9 / 7C).[2][3][38] Various authors have created tables to compare bouldering grades of Font/V-grade, to the free climbing French sport/American YDS grades, but because of the different types of climbing (and particularly the sequences of movements), they are only ever indicative and can vary by several levels between versions;[2][4][5] an example is provided in the table below from a report by the Club Alpino Italiano for the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation from 2016.[2]

Font Grade
VB 3 <5.6/5.7 <5a/5b+
V0− 4− 5.8 5c
V0 4 5.9 6a/6a+
V0+ 4+ 5.10a/b 6a+/6b
V1 5 5.10c/d 6b/6b+
V2 5+ 5.10d/5.11a/b 6b+/6c
V3 6A 5.11c 6c+
6A+ 5.11d 7a
V4 6B 5.12a 7a/7a+
6B+ 7a+
V5 6C 5.12b 7a+/7b
6C+ 7b
V6 7A 5.12c 7b+
V7 7A+ 5.12d 7b+/7c
V8 7B 5.13a 7c/7c+
7B+ 5.13b 7c+/8a
V9 7C 5.13c 8a/8a+
V10 7C+ 5.13d 8b
V11 8A 5.14a 8b+
V12 8A+ 5.14b 8c
V13 8B 5.14c 8c+
V14 8B+ 5.14d 9a
V15 8C 5.15a 9a+
V16 8C+ 5.15b 9b
V17 9A 5.15c 9b+

Main sources: RockFax Bouldering Grade Table (2021),[3] theCrag (2023),[38] and UIAA (2021).[2]


As of 2023, the Russian system can be compared to the French Alpine System (and the UIAA Scale of Overall Difficulty), in the following way:[2][34]

Russian French Alpine System UIAA Overall Alpine
1A F I
1B F+/PD− I/II
4B D+ IV/V
6A ED1/ED2
(the old ED)
6B ED2
(the old ED+)

Main source: UIAA (2021)[2]

See also


  1. ^ Isserman, Maurice (2017). Continental Divide: A History of American Mountaineering (reprint ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393353761.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj Mandelli, G; Angriman, A (2016). "Scales of Difficulty in Climbing". Central School of Mountaineering, Club Alpino Italiano, Italy. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab "Grade Conversions: Alpine Grading System". Rockfax Publishing. 2022. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p The Mountaineers (October 2017). "Appendix A: Rating Systems". Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (9th ed.). Quiller Publishing. pp. 563–570. ISBN 978-1-68051-004-1.
  5. ^ a b c Nick Draper; David Giles; Volker Schöffl; Franz Konstantin Fuss; Phillip Watts; et al. (October 2015). "Comparative grading scales, statistical analyses, climber descriptors and ability grouping" (PDF). Sports Technology. 8 (3–4): 88–94. doi:10.1080/19346182.2015.1107081. S2CID 111441279.
  6. ^ a b Paulin, Ari (2023). "Rock climbing grades". Ari'sBaseCamp. Retrieved 7 September 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d Gresham, Neil (27 April 2023). "Is the British E-Grade Broken? And Can an Algorithm Fix It?". Climbing. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  8. ^ Potter, Stephen (9 February 2023). "Did James Pearson Just Establish the World's Hardest Trad Route?". Climbing. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  9. ^ Clarke, Owen (21 February 2024). "Adam Ondra Repeats 'Bon Voyage', Confirms World's Hardest Trad Grade". Climbing. Retrieved 18 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Grimes, Niall (28 February 2016). "A brief explanation of UK traditional climbing grades". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  11. ^ a b c Kirkpatrick, Andy; Coley, David (2015). "Chapter 17. Grading". High - Advanced Multi-Pitch Climbing. ASIN B00UJG9DH6. Retrieved 3 September 2023.
  12. ^ "Historia wspinania na Jurze -". (in Polish). Archived from the original on 18 November 2018. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  13. ^ Robinson, Mike (2007). Deep Water: Rockfax Guidebook to Deep Water Soloing. Rockfax. p. 14. ISBN 978-1873341766.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Samet, Matt (24 March 2022). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Bouldering Grades". Climbing. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  15. ^ Miller, Delaney (21 March 2022). "Gym Bouldering Grades Vs. Outdoor Grades: 11 Reasons Why Outdoor Climbing Feels Hard". Climbing. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  16. ^ Hobley, Nicholas (26 June 2017). "Adam Ondra climbing towards the world's first 9c". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  17. ^ "Daniel Woods: "The Wheel of Life is a 9a track without plates"" [es]. Desnivel (in Spanish). 23 August 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  18. ^ Clarke, Owen (3 March 2022). "John Gill, Father of Bouldering". Climbing. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  19. ^ White, John (2014). The Indoor Climbing Manual. Bloomsbury Sport. p. 185. ISBN 978-1408186626.
  20. ^ a b Elli, Fabio; Zabrok, Peter (2019). "Chapter 2. A Brief History of Aid Climbing". Hooking Up – The Ultimate Big Wall and Aid Climbing Manual (1st ed.). Versante Sud. pp. 25–52. ISBN 978-8885475809.
  21. ^ "Exhibit A (5.8 C2+ R)". Mountain Project. Retrieved 25 May 2023.
  22. ^ a b c Ogden, Jared (2005). "Chapter 2: Big Wall Climbing Procedures, Grades & Ratings". Big Wall Climbing: Elite Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0898867480.
  23. ^ Elli, Fabio; Zabrok, Peter (2019). "Chapter 2. Aid Climbing Rating Systems". Hooking Up – The Ultimate Big Wall and Aid Climbing Manual (1st ed.). Versante Sud. pp. 71–87. ISBN 978-8885475809.
  24. ^ a b c d e McNamara, Chris; Van Leuven, Chris (2011). "Aid Ratings". Yosemite Big Walls (3rd ed.). SuperTopo. p. 18-19. ISBN 978-0983322504.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac "International Grade Comparison Chart". Alpinist. Archived from the original on 30 March 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "International Grade Comparison Chart". American Alpine Journal. 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Paulin, Ari (2023). "Ice climbing grades". Ari'sBaseCamp. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  28. ^ a b c d e f Gadd, Will (2003). Ice & Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. p. 84-86. ISBN 978-0898867695. Ice Grades
  29. ^ a b "Emmett talks about "Mission to Mars" and Helmcken Falls". Climbr. 24 April 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g Gresham, Neil; Parnell, Ian (January 2009). "Mixed grades". Winter CLIMBING+. Rockfax. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-1873341964.
  31. ^ "Mixed Climbing Grades: Everything You Need to Know". Ascentionism. 2023. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  32. ^ "Tom Ballard claims world's first D15 dry tooling climb in the Dolomites". PlanetMountain. 5 February 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  33. ^ "Watch Ueli Steck on Les Drus North Couloir Direct". Gripped Magazine. 25 May 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Paulin, Ari (2023). "Alpine Climbing Grades". Ari'sBaseCamp. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  35. ^ "Alpine Grading". International School of Mountaineering. 1 February 2021. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  36. ^ a b c d e f Ogden, Jared (2005). "Chapter 2: Big Wall Climbing Procedures, Grades & Ratings". Big Wall Climbing: Elite Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-0898867480.
  37. ^ "The Moonflower Buttress (Bibler/Klewin)". MountainProject. 2023. Retrieved 8 September 2023. 5.8 (YDS) WI6 M7 A2 Steep Snow
  38. ^ a b c d "Grades and Grade Conversions". theCrag. 2023. Retrieved 2 September 2023.

Further reading