Climbing route grades in Yosemite Decimal System can be suffixed with an "R" to notify a runout. The Wikipedia entry for a runout is

A lengthy distance between two points of protection which in some, but not all, cases might be perceived as frightening or dangerous. May also be used as an adjective to describe a route, or a section of a route.

However, your frightening and my frightening are completely different.

If I see "R" on a route grading, how far of a runout should I expect? Is there a general rule or consensus for runout distances?


First of all: Even if in a region/guide the Yosemite Decimal System is used, you cannot be sure that ratings are comparable to other regions/guides using the same system. This varies a lot depending on the local culture and history of climbing.

In general the protection rating is not primarily based on the length of a runout, but on its severity. This means that a runout above a ledge can be very serious at comparatively low distances like 5m, as you will almost certainly injure yourself gravely, while on a clean piece of slightly overhanging wall a 10m fall does not mean certain injury.

The naming (nomenclature @Liam :D ) alludes to the content rating of movies: G and PG (good and pretty good) are normally left out, as these are just "normal" protection. PG13 means that there can be already quite long and nasty falls (corners, ledges, ...) resulting in minor injuries. Already the mentioning of a protection grade should make it clear, that this climb is serious. The mentioned R rating means that there is a really dangerous part, in which you cannot fall. There is a/are several place(s) where a fall will most likely result in an injury like broken bones. This is always in the situation, where you places your protection gear perfectly - there is just no way to protect it better. So with anything rated R, you really only want to climb it if you have additional detailed knowledge on the exact danger involved. For X, don't even bother with this climb if you need to read this in order to know what it means. This is like free soloing with a rope, just that you need to be less lucky to survive a fall...

One cannot give a distance to R. On a smooth face it might be 20m, above a ledge in a corner it might 4m. It is all about the severity of the fall, in case of R it means that you will probably seriously injure yourself in a fall.


However, your frightening and my frightening are completely different.

IMO this is less subjective than you're thinking, and the WP definition is not very good.

The issue is not the spacing of the protection per se. The issue is whether or not you really have a meaningful belay, which can depend on the spacing of the pro. Here's an example of a 5.8R slab climb that I've followed on: Mountain Project. I'm going to guess some distances from memory. The start of the first pitch was a broad ledge. From there I belayed the leader up the slab maybe 10 meters to where he clipped a bolt, and then another 20 meters to the end of the pitch.

As with any lead where you start on the ground, he had no effective belay until he reached his first pro. Because this height was large, the consequences of a fall would have been bad. Basically a fall would not have been acceptable here, and he had to be really sure that he could climb 5.8 slab with no significant chance of falling. This is different from a climb where you can get your first pro in very early -- on that type of climb, it can be acceptable to fall.

Once he reached the bolt, 10 meters up, he had to continue up another 20 meters without further pro (assuming for the sake of argument that my memory is right). For the first 7 or 8 meters above the bolt, I was able to give him an effective belay. Past that point, there was enough rope out so that if he had fallen, he would have hit the ground. Once he was 10 meters above the bolt, he would have hit the ground without even stretching the rope. So again, this was a situation where it was not acceptable to fall.

So to me, this is the relatively objective definition of an R-rated climb. You have at least some points in the climb where you effectively don't have a belay. During those portions of the climb, it's not OK to fall.

  • I just checked the old Reid guide and despite the runouts, and ground fall potential, The Surprise did not get an R rating. I don't have the supertopo guide to check there. – StrongBad Mar 29 '16 at 23:20
  • @StrongBad: The 3rd edition of the Vogel and Gaines guidebook calls it 5.8R. I don't think it really matters that much though -- it's just an example I used to illustrate how you can not have an effective belay on a climb. – Ben Crowell Mar 30 '16 at 4:50

From what I can piece together, according to the The Gunks Guide by Swain the protection rating system was proposed in Rocky Heights, A Guide to Boulder Free Climbs by Erickson. According to Swain the ratings are:

G Protection is commonly considered excellent. A falling leader probably will suffer no injuries in a fall, assuming he/she is competent in the grade and at placing protection.

PG Protection is commonly considered adequate. A falling leader may fall up to 15 feet, but probably will suffer no injuries, assuming he/she is competent in the grade and at placing protection.

PG13 A sporty PG. Formerly PG/R.

R Protection is commonly considered inadequate. A falling leader will probably fall in excess of 15 feet and/or suffer injuries

X Protection is commonly considered extremely poor (you're soloing). A falling leader will probably suffer major injuries or death.

It is important to note that within the G and PG ratings the assumption is competent at the grade and at placing protection. This means that a 5.9 route with a huge run out on 5.7 terrain above a ledge with a horrendously tricky and strenuous, but bomber, placement to protect the crux would get a G rating.

  • 1
    Independently from the grading system, the last point cannot be stressed enough. Even on bolted routes in the alps (which are often ridiculously well protected) there are often really long runouts in sections that are clearly easier than the crux. This can be really bad if you climb with a less experienced partner and let her/him lead the "easier" parts. – imsodin Mar 29 '16 at 18:05

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