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Old 05-24-2010, 12:53 PM   #1
46 - #6461/28W/15FT/NPT
T46pks's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Maryland.
Posts: 67
Rating Scale Questions

Hi, this post is not specific to ADK climbing, its more about climbing in general. I am somewhat new to climbing (I've been doing it sporadically for a few years now, but only really got into doing it frequently), I have found that the rating system of 5.0 - 5.13(or 14?)d doesn't always accurately describe the difficulty of the climb.

So my 1st question is, what exactly is the rating system based on? Is the rating of a climb an arbitrary number that is assigned by the first climber to ascend it? Or is there some standards by which the climbs are rated.

My 2nd question is, how does climb difficulty vary between rating scale? For example how much harder is a 5.7 than a 5.6? or does that change as the scale gets higher? I found that when I started climbing I could top out 5.3s and 5.4s pretty easy and even a 5.5 or 5.6 if I worked at it hard enough. Now I am at the point where I can maybe top out a 5.9 if I work at it for a while, and have some guidance to where some of the holds are. So the question is, would a 5.9 be comparable in difficulty to a 5.10 or 5.11? Or would a 5.10 and 5.11 be way more difficult than a 5.9 and require a whole new set of skills.

My 3rd and final question, are the ratings based more on strength or technique? For example I was able to top out a 5.9 (or at least what I was told was a 5.9) roof at shanty cliffs after a few tries, this climb had pretty good hand holds and required more strength to reach and pull up on a couple of major jugs to get over the roof. Where as a 5.9 slab I am attempting is proving to be way more difficult due to it's technical nature (very few holds for hands or feet, mostly balance and weight adjustment). So is there a varying degree of difficulty between the different types of climbing?

Those are my questions, perhaps I am putting too much stock into the rating system, perhaps it was developed more as a way to help ballpark ones ability to complete different climbs instead of create a ridged structure of levels to work on. But if nothing else I am indeed curious to see what people with more experience with me on the subject have to say.

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Old 05-24-2010, 01:10 PM   #2
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Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 4,849 <- this one especially will be of some use for you. I'll copy and past the pertinent information here:

5.0 to 5.4
There are two hand- and two footholds for every move; the holds become progressively smaller as the number increases.
5.5 to 5.6
The two hand- and two footholds are there, obvious to the experienced, but not necessarily so to the beginner.
The move is missing one hand- or foothold.
The move is missing two holds of the four, or missing only one but is very strenuous.
The move has only one reasonable hold which may be for either a foot or a hand.
No hand- or footholds. The choices are to pretend a hold is there, pray a lot, or go home.
After thorough inspection you conclude this move is obviously impossible; however, occasionally someone actually accomplishes it. Since there is nothing for a handhold, grab it with both hands.
The surface is as smooth as glass and vertical. No one has really ever made this move, although a few claim they have.
This is identical to 5.12 except it is located under overhanging rock."
In Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills, author Ed Peters warns against putting too much faith in published ratings:

It can sometimes be helpful to know who rated the climb; since ratings are give by humans and not by computers, human frailties can be interjected into the system. For example, some climbers will intentionally underrate climbs so that those who follow later will be impressed. Fortunately most climbers do attempt to give accurate ratings, and by the time a route is in a guide book, enough people have made the climb to show the rating as a concensus of opinion. Also remember that ratings are given for ideal conditions; unfavorable conditions can cause considerable change in a climb's difficulty.
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Old 05-24-2010, 03:27 PM   #3
46 - #6461/28W/15FT/NPT
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Location: Maryland.
Posts: 67
Helpful! Thanks for the input!
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Old 06-04-2010, 11:27 AM   #4
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Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: SE Adks
Posts: 436
Tossing in my two cents...
First, there is no set of objective measures to define any given grade, i.e., 5.6 holds don't meet a standard of cliff-angle, hold-size, etc.
Rather, it's more of a democratic process. The FA party provides an estimate, and since at first, they're 100% of the voting populace, that becomes the rating. As more people climb a route, the rating frequently slides in one direction or another as a larger body of consensus is acquired.
In addition to the "difficulty" grades, a protection rating is usually applied as well. These emulate U.S. Movie Ratings in appearance, but mean (progressively): G: protection is good, frequent, and solid; falls can generally be made unharmful. PG: longer falls, trickier placement, esoteric types of gear needed, but such falls should not result in injury if properly protected. R: quite long falls and/or falls with ledge/ground-striking potential with a high risk of injury and possibility of death. X means there are difficult (a.k.a. "crucial" as in the most difficult parts on the route) moves where a fall would likely be fatal.
A few major caveats: first, routes get rated by people who do them, people who do them a lot. They are familiar with the route and the climbing style of an area. If you're coming into an area for the first time, be real conservative on your first foray. Get a feel for the climbing style of the area before pushing yourself on routes anywhere near your max.
There's another problem with this system: familiarity breeds contempt. People who climb these routes a lot tend to underrate a route. They know each hold and move. The original intent of the rating system was to give an on-site, walk-up leader a clue as to his/her perception of the route.
Also, nothing seems more confusing/misleading than that PG pro rating. Bottom line: if you're not real solid at the difficulty rating, stay on G routes.
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