The Ratings Game

While I have attempted to assure the accuracy of every entry in the book, climbing every mountain by every route is impossible for one person. Both writing and reading route descriptions can be frustrating. Many guidebooks list detailed descriptions of every twist and turn of a complex route—yet, when you attempt to follow the route on the rock you come to believe you are on the wrong mountain. Other guidebooks tell you to “follow the easy slopes to the summit” and you find a near vertical “slope” capped by overhanging cliffs. These discrepancies are not due to any duplicity on the author’s part or lack of reading ability on the readers part, but from the inability of both the reader and the writer to translate a constantly changing natural environment into words. Mountains are constantly eroding and route conditions and difficulty may change at any time. Climbers must be responsible for evaluating the rating and safety of a route in relation to their own climbimg ability.

As this note found on the summit of a White Knob summit demonstrates, not everyone will agree with the ratings in the book. Its always best to use your own judgment. Dan Robbins Photo

As this note found on the summit of a White Knob summit demonstrates, not everyone will agree with the ratings in the book. Its always best to use your own judgment. Dan Robbins Photo

The ratings attached to climbing routes are designed to inform a person of the difficulty of the climb. While the numbers seem objective, there is a great deal of subjectivity built into them. Both the person rating the climb and the person following the route are human and what may be difficult to one may be “a piece of cake” to another.

The book and this web site use the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which was introduced in the U.S. by the Sierra Club in 1937. This system rates climbing routes by the type of climbing (the class), and by the length of commitment needed to complete a climb (the grade). (For complete descriptions and a comparison chart of the various rating systems, see Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th edition, published by Mountaineers Books.) Thus, a YDS-rated climb will have a grade and class designation. There are six classes, 1–5 and six grades, I–VI, for technical climbs.

Routes are graded based on the interplay of the route’s length, average difficulty, exposure, quality of the rock, and any other factors that might affect the difficulty of a technical climb. Grade I climbs take one to two hours, Grade II climbs up to four hours, Grade III climbs may take the entire day, Grade IV climbs take at least a day with difficult technical climbing, and Grades V and VI climbs encompass big-wall climbing of increasing difficulty. While only a few of the routes in the book are graded, many of the Class 3 routes are at least Grade III.

All of the routes have been classified into one of six classes. Keep in mind that the rating is for the most difficult move on the route (the crux). Thus, a Class 3 climb might have only one short pitch of Class 3 climbing and is otherwise a walk-up. On the other hand, a Class 3 route might involve continuous climbing along the way. Finally, if there is a “+” sign after a Class 1 or 2 or 3 rating it means the rating is verging on the next harder Class. In the case of Class 1+ climbs it means the trail is in poor condition and hard to follow. In the case of Class 2+ it means if you can easily get off route and on to Class 3 terrain. In the case of Class 3+ it means the climbing difficulty is verging on Class 4.

CLASS 1 Hiking. There is a trail the entire way to the summit (though the trail may not be in great condition).

CLASS 2 Off-trail scrambling. These routes are off-trail but you can probably walk to the summit. You may occasionally have to use your hands for balance, but not to climb.

CLASS 3 Climbing. These routes involve actual climbing where your arms and hands are used to propel yourself up the slope. Class 3 climbing uses obvious holds and involves minimal exposure. Nevertheless, a fall will hurt.

CLASS 4 Belayed climbing. These routes involve climbing that may be no more difficult than Class 3 climbing, but does subject the climber to increased exposure where a fall will likely cause serious injury. Training and proper equipment is essential.

CLASS 5 Belayed climbing with leader placing protection. This is “technical” rock climbing, pure and simple. Training and proper equipment is a necessity.

CLASS 6 Involves artificial-aid climbing using pitons, bolts, or any other hardware placed in the rock to serve as a hold or for support.

Class 5 climbing is further broken down into degrees of difficulty under the Yosemite Decimal System. The fourth edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills attempted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, to put objective criteria to what has often been a very subjective set of numbers. Although not all climbers will agree with this breakdown, it does provide some objectivity to what has tended to be an extremely subjective set of numbers.
5.0–5.4 There are good, obvious handholds and footholds for each move. The smaller the hold, the greater the difficulty.
5.5–5.6 Handholds and footholds exist, but are not obvious to the untrained.
5.7 Either one handhold or foothold is missing.
5.8 Two holds out of four are missing.
5.9 Only one hold exists for each move.
5.10 There are no holds at all.
5.11 Such routes are impossible to climb, but someone has done it.
5.12 The rock is smooth and flawless.
5.13 The rock is both smooth and flawless and overhanging.
5.14 Use your imagination.

Class 6 climbing is also broken into six subcategories. Although this book is not directed toward this type of climbing, a few of the routes within involve aid climbing and so the following breakdown is provided. It should be noted that rock climbers are now climbing without aid what were originally aid routes.
A0 Placement is used as a hold or to allow a resting spot.
A1 Etriers (aid slings for your feet) are utilized. Placements are solid and safe.
A2 Placements are harder to find and are less secure.
A3 Placements are not likely to hold a significant fall.
A4 Placements are downright shaky and cannot be expected to hold a fall.
A5 Continuous use of A4 placements.

For information on grading Bouldering problems check out 99 Boulders grading article ar this link: Bouldering Grades


Climbing involves unavoidable risks that every climber assumes. The fact that a route is described on these pages or in the book is not a representation that it will be safe for you. Routes vary greatly in difficulty and in the amount and kind of experience and preparation needed to enjoy them safely. Some routes may have changed or deteriorated since this book was written. Also, of course, climbing conditions can change from day to day, due to weather and other factors. A route that is safe in good weather or for a highly conditioned, properly equipped climber, may be completely unsafe for someone else or under adverse conditions.

You can minimize your risks by being knowledgeable, prepared and alert. There is not space in the book or on this website for a general discussion on climbing, but there are a number of good books and public courses on the subject, and you should take advantage of them to increase your knowledge. Just as important, you should always be aware of your own limitations and conditions existing when and where you are climbing. If conditions are dangerous, or if you are not prepared to deal with them safely, change your plans. It is better to have wasted a few hours or days than to be the subject of a bad fall or rescue.

Climb safely and have fun!