Revealing climbing grades

Lucia climbing 5c (red route).
Photo: Carolina Ferranti

With one of the first blogs friend of mine asked what does different numbers I’m mentioning in my climbing stories mean. I did briefly explain that those are climbing grades which help to determinate the difficulty level of each route. Later we discussed about this in our climbing group and concluded that there is not really an explanation available what means each grade and what to expect from it. I also looked on internet but mostly found information on different grade systems there are and how they can be matched with each other rather than what are the differences among them.

So hereby came an idea to give an insight on what different grades there are in our climbing gym and what characteristics are for each grade. These grades are for indoor top rope climbing routes. Please keep in mind that each gym might have slightly different set up of routes and the way of grading them. Also climbing grades outdoors will be different from indoor gyms. But in case you are curious about climbing and would like to try it, I hope this inspires you to do so.

Briefly on grading systems

There are quite a variety of grading systems used worldwide, but 5 described below are the most popular.

  • French system
  • UIAA
  • Yosemite Decimal System
  • Great Britain system
  • Australian system

In The Netherlands we use a French system. It starts from 1 as the easiest grade and goes up to 9c which is currently the hardest grade in the world. If you are interested to learn more on climbing grades, click here.

As of grade 4 (in our gym as of grade 3) there also come sub-grades to determinate the gradual increase in difficulty. They are defined by first three letters of the alphabet: a, b and c. Sometimes to show slight increase “+” is used next to the letter to show that level is slightly more difficult but not enough to be graded as the next level. For instance a 5a+ will be a bit more difficult than a 5a.

Our gym

In our gym we have indoor walls with top rope routes (routes where ropes are already hanging from the top down). Grades there are from 3a to 7b. There is also a small outside wall available for both top rope routes as well as lead climb routes (routes where the climber needs to bring the rope up the route him or herself). In our group we climb between 5a to 6b and trying to step into 6c.

Each level has their own common grips, distances among them, moves and techniques required to accomplish the route.

Below I’ll try to illustrate how each route looks like and what is the common experience/feeling when climbing it.

Grade 3

3 is the easiest we have. The holds normally have good grips, they are very close to each other and you basically can climb up like a ladder. Often used for kids to try climbing.

Grade 3 – green and red routes.

Grade 4

Grade 4 (green route)

4 is similar to 3, holds are close to each other with good grips for hands and feet. The difference between 4 and 3 is a bit bigger distance between holds.

This is a perfect level to start for beginners to get used to climbing. There is always enough holds around to go up, easy to hold on and climbing feels almost like going up the ladder.

For long time we used 4’s to warm up, as it was an easy climb to get body moving and getting into climbing moves.

Grade 5a

Vince climbing 5a (white route) as a warming up.
Photo: Carolina Ferranti

5a’s for us now are warm up routes. They are easy to start, big good grips and not too far away from each other. You need to use a bit of technique so it helps to gradually warm up the body for the climbing practice. Normally we do a 5a route twice in a row for a better warm up. And as it is not so challenging we don’t get pumped and tired.

Grade 5b

Elly climbing a 5b (red route).
Photo: Carolina Ferranti

5b’s are a bit more challenging. Sometimes holds are a bit more round and harder to hold on, a bit more far away, and requires to start developing basic technique.

What we saw with guys and girls who recently joined our group, they grew from 4 to 5b quite quickly. Since it doesn’t require too much strength, moves are learned by observing each other.

Grade 5c

Me climbing a 5c (orange route).
Photo: Carolina Ferranti

5c’s for me personally felt like a big step to make. Took long time until I was able to do them in one go and sometimes I still get pumped arms.

These feel much heavier then a 5a and a 5b. You need to start balancing more your body, use more of crossing and also power. But it is a good training level to get stronger and more resistant.

Grade 6a

Growing from a 5c to 6a didn’t feel so heavy as form 5b to 5c. Though 6a requires much more technique and creativity to solve challenge. Often grips are smaller, or big and round šŸ™‚ (I’m still learning to cope with round pieces). And much more away from each other.

Judith climbing a 6a (orange route).
Photo: Carolina Ferrnati

Grade 6b

6b’s I haven’t done much. Still practicing. For me often they are quite heavy and with challenging moves. Makes you thinking on how to approach. Holds become more interesting, as well as combinations in which they are placed.

Grade 6b (green giant blocks).

Grade 6c

6c I approached once. Quite impossible for me right now but as a cherry on top of cake I try once in a while.

Lotte on 6c (black route).

Rest of the levels I can share some pictures and let you imagine yourself climbing them as I haven’t got there yet šŸ˜‰

Vince on 7a (pink route).

As I said earlier, this is my experience of the mentioned levels, so each person will have slightly different impression. But I hope it gives more insight on what different levels mean and inspires to try them.

Big thanks to my friends for allowing me to share their climbing routes and experiences šŸ˜Š.

If you have started climbing share your impressions on grades.

Happy week and see you in the next post!

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