The boys and I have been climbing pretty regularly and we’re starting to talk about what the signs on the walls mean. What is 5.9? V7? These are the grades (or difficulty) assigned to a particular route up the wall. There are various systems in place throughout the world, but our gym (and many others in the USA) use the Yosemite Decimal System and the Hueco Scale (also known as the “V” Scale).
If you’re using ropes, or free climbing, numbers from 5.7 to 5.10 or higher are used on the routes, indicating the difficulty of moving up the wall along a designated route (colored holds in our case). Bouldering, or climbing without ropes or a harness, are graded using the “V” system, from VB to V7 or higher.
What I’ve seen the most in the climbing I’ve done (here in the US it is the most widely used) is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). The YDS rates climbing from 1, walking on flat terrain to 5, vertical or near-vertical climbing which requires a rope to safely climb.
Originally a 6 step system (with 6 and above being used for “aid climbing,” using devices to move up the wall), eventually the 6th step was dropped, with 5.9 being the most difficult free climbing available. Over time, climbers realized they needed to expand the decimals, so numbers above 5.9 (but below 6) were added.
Then, the most difficult climbs (5.10 and above) were further dissected by adding letters, from “a” (easiest), to “d”(hardest). At this point, I’m pretty comfortable topping out on climbs that are rated 5.7 and 5.8 in our gym.
For bouldering (maybe my favorite type of climbing), the Hueco Scale, or “V” Scale, is common in the States, ranging from V0 (easy) to V16 (very difficult). At our gym, as in some others, there is also a VB rating, designating a Beginner climb.
Sometimes a “+” or “-” is appended to indicate a slightly harder or easier route than the rating indicates. I’ve completed the VB climbs and am working on the V0 routes now – as I lose weight, become stronger, and gain more experience, I’ll keep moving up.
Climbing grades are completely subjective; one man’s 5.7 is another’s 5.9c, even to the point where two 5.7s in the same gym are not the same difficulty. Still, it’s a good way to get some indication of whether the climb is doable for a particular set of skills (…”But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” haha).