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What do you think is the correct way to grade a single pitch route (about 10 to 30 meters)?

I know climbing grade are affected by subjectivity. However is there a list of objective elements to take in account which have been agreed in the climbing community?

For example, here follows some "disputable" objective elements:

  • size of holds
  • overhanging
  • relative distance between holds
  • how the route is bolted

Another disputable objective element in grading is the common rule that the actual grade of the route reflects the hardest passage in it. This means we can have a 30m route with a lot of 6a passages, and a 10m route with a single 6a passage, both graded 6a: in this case the first route I think would be much more difficult to send, even if it is graded the same as the second route.

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    I really think it's purely subjective. There are lots of different ways in which a route can be difficult, and they're not directly comparable. – Ben Crowell Dec 30 '14 at 21:32
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    Will be worth reading, also the comments: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/6188/… – Wills Dec 31 '14 at 0:09
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    It's definitely subjective. I'm tall with long arms, which makes a huge difference on some routes where I can easily reach past the cruxes, making the grade less difficult for me. On the flip side, I often struggle on routes that have "high foot holds". My height works to my disadvantage, as it throws of my balance doing the same moves shorter people can accomplish easily. When grading a new route in the gym we typically get a few people to climb it, then offer their opinion as to how hard they thought is was, usually comparing it to other routes they've climbed. – ShemSeger Jan 6 '15 at 18:48
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I would argue you've left off the most subjective of metrics, but the most useful: similarity to other routes in the same area.

I don't think there's going to be a single equation to grade a route. You'll have general rules of thumbs that hold true (more holds = easier, more overhang = harder), but those will never give you a grade from first principles.

The best way to grade a route is to compare it to others in the same area. While a single person (datapoint) is likely to provide a biased estimate (unless they have a lot of experience), a large number of climbers providing estimates will end up with some consensus that is the best you're likely to get. This is why some route grades change over time, as more climbers provide an opinion.

I purposefully mention to check routes primarily in the same area because (in my experience) grades do tend to vary slightly between areas.

How the route is bolted is unlikely to have an impact on the grade itself, but more on the enjoyment of the route (and its safety).

The length of a route impacts its style, but not necessarily the difficulty. For example, a route could be bouldery (i.e. short) or more endurance-y (i.e. long). For really long routes (multiple pitches) you often get a commitment or seriousness rating: a roman numeral describing how long the route generally takes an experienced party. Unfortunately this is again all subjective: a super-fit highly-experienced party can cruise up a grade V in a few hours, whereas most may take up to several days.

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This is basicaly a cut and paste of my answer here:

Rating climbs isn't really a tick box exercise, for a start their are multiple different grading systems all of which are slightly different.

You cannot say:

well it's at x angle and the hand holds are y size therefore it's w

There are a number of different challenges to grading climbs:

  • Climbing grades are a rule of thumb and are open to interpretation.
  • They are a measure of how hard it is to climb. Different people find different aspects of climbing more or less difficult so it is always open to interpretation.
  • Indoor grades are often very different to outdoor grades, bouldering gardes are very different to Trad grades, etc, etc.
  • Grades tend to overlap so there is very little difference between a 5.9 and a 5.10a
  • Height of climb, length of pitches, rock type, all need to be included in the grade. This makes comparing grades in different areas difficult.

This is to the point that when a new climb is "put up" the grade that the first climber gives it is a provisional one. This grade needs to be confirmed by one or more climbers before it is accepted.


The best way to grade a climb is to gain experience of climbing well know climbs that the grade is well known and accepted. Then when you want to grade something that you don't know the grade for you need to ask yourself (and others preferably) is this harder or easier than x and y climbs? How much harder or easier? What about w climb? etc.

You'll likely never get it 100% right, people argue over grades constantly. But the whole point is that it's impossible to get 100% right. It's a guide only. You may find a V1 that's easy or a completely different V1 that you find difficult.

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