A Few Words on Grades

The grade of a climb is a subjective indication its severity, at least in the US. In the UK, the word grade is also used to indicate the technical difficulty of the climb, what is called rating in the US. Some grading systems measure the average length of a climb, others consider the general safety of the climb, etc. Below are some of the more popular grading systems. These generally cover both free and aid climbing, but not ice climbing.

The North American Grading System

In North America, grades denote the normal amount of time required to complete a route. This time is based on a team of average climbers using normal techniques.
Class I   - Requires 1-2 hours
Class II  - Requires half a day
Class III - Requires most of a day
Class IV  - Requires a very long day
Class V   - Requires an overnight stay on the route
Class VI  - Requires a few days
Class VII - Expedition

The Alpine Grading System

Routes in the Western Alps are generally given an overall grade - in addition to a pitch-by-pitch rating. The overall grade says something about the general difficulty of the climb. It takes into account the technical difficulty, the quality of the belays, the nature of the rock, the exposure of the climb, the objective dangers, etc. The grading system uses letters (derived from the french words - in parenthesis) and sometimes uses "+" and "-" to indicate smaller differences.
F   - Easy. (Facile)
PD  - Moderately difficult. (Peu Difficile)
AD  - Fairly difficult. (Assez Difficile)
D   - Difficult. (Difficile)
TD  - Very difficult. (Très Difficile)
ED  - Extremely difficult. (Extrêmement Difficile)
ABO - Horrible. (Abominable)

The German Grading System

The German grading system considers the seriousness or Ernsthaftigkeitsgrad of a climb. This grading scale considers all aspects of the climb which have nothing to do with the technical difficulty: average runout distance, quality of the protection placements, objective dangers, quality of the rock, etc. The scale goes from E0 to E5. E0 is a normal route, with solid fixed pro and ample opportunities for placing pro. E5, at the other end of the scale, stands for a largely unprotected and unprotectable route with manky pitons and crummy rock. On an E5 climb, falling is generally a lethal idea. In most topos, routes with an Ernsthaftigkeitsgrad above E0 are marked as such.

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