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How Does the UK Grading System Work?


by Kelly Bates

December 29, 2001

From uk.rec.climbing FAQ:

The UK lead grading scale consists of an adjectival grading, taking into account things like the state and availability of protection, the landing, the state of the rock, and also how sustained the route is. This grading consists of (in order of increasing severity): Easy, Moderate, Difficult, Very Difficult, Severe, Hard Severe, Very Severe, Hard Very Severe and Extreme. The Extreme grade is open-ended, and such routes are graded E1, E2, E3 etc, with at the time of writing, the top confirmed grade being E9, and one or two claimed E10s.

Further, a technical difficulty grade is given, consisting of a number and a letter (a-c). Tech grades start at 4a, and should represent the purely technical difficulty of the hardest move on the route.

What makes the UK grading system useful is what you can read from the adjectival grade in combination with the tech grade. As one might expect, there is a certain correlation between them, but not always. Hence, routes given an adjectival grade of E1 might have tech grades ranging from perhaps 4c to 6a, where the climber could expect E1 4c to mean easyish individual moves, but in a serious setting, non-existent protection, bad landing etc. On the other hand, E1 6a might mean a tricky crux move, but probably near bomber protection, or low down etc. For some real examples, consider Cenotaph Corner on the Dinas Cromlech. It is given a grade of E1 5c, because although it is sustained, it is safe -- you can lace it with as much gear as you have the strength to place. Compare this with The Great Slab at Froggatt Edge. It's graded E3 5b, but an infinitely more serious proposition, although the technical difficulty is lower.

Note that the UK tech grades (although they look similar) do not correspond to the French sport climbing tech grades. As a very crude conversion rule, take the UK tech grade, add one numeric unit, and subtract one letter unit, for example UK tech 5c will correspond roughly to F6b.

It is also worth pointing out that the UK grades are for on-sight climbing only. In the UK, only a handful people has ever on-sighted E7, and so far, there has been no on-sights at E8 or above. It is generally believed that it would be easier to head-point an E9 or E10, than to on-sight an E8.

Update Oct '00 Young super talent Ben Bransby has become the first to on-sight E9! A staggering feat, although Mr Modesty Bransby thought the route may warrant a downgrade.

To summarise: the UK grading system conveys a lot of information about the nature of a climb (once you finally get the hang of it).

A more detailed discussion on the UK grading scheme can be found at UK Climbing (

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