What do all the letters and numbers mean?
Climbing grades are a mysterious dark art for most, only the craggy hardest rock jock spends their evenings in the pub discussing these runes.
Rock climbing slowly developed as a sport in its own right from mountaineering and hill walking. The paths got steeper and the mountains became rockier, scrambling instead of walking necessitated the use of a safety rope and climbing was born.
The old British system of defining the severity of an ascent now appears a little quaint, paths become Moderately difficult, then Difficult, then Severe, them Extremely Severe! This quickly became broken down into subdivisions of difficulty, Very Difficult, Hard Very Difficult, Hard Severe, Hard Very Severe, Hard Extremely Difficult.
Soon there was a need to develop a clearer definition of the harder grades as climbers improved and grades soared. Defining between the overall seriousness of a climb and its technical difficulty became necessary. UK climbers traditionally climb placing protection devices in the rock as they ascend, Lead climbing (going first and placing protection) requires a cool head and a high skill level so he overall difficulty of a climb will try and represent how difficult this process is, climb to climb. Technical grades were added to the Severity grade, so Severe 4a meant that the climb was fairly safe but the climbing was a little tricky and so on! Extreme grades were broken up into Extreme 1 or E1, E2, E3 and so on,
Around the world Sport climbing has become very popular, this is where protection (bolts) are already in place reducing the fear factor, this reduced the need for a severity grade and a need to focus on technical difficulty, the sport or French grade was developed for this reason. See the chart below to see how this ties in with grades around the world.
At Dart Rock and Marjon we use the numerical French (Sport) grade system (left of the chart) for roped climbing as this is a truer representation of grades when climbing in the safe indoor environment.
For bouldering we use the Hueco (American) V Grade system V0, V1, V2 and so on. see lower chart.
But ultimately, don't worry about the grade, just enjoy your climbing!
ROPE GRADES (Tip: UIAA grades are generally used for mountain routes)