Difficulty level (climbing)

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As a difficulty scale is called the climbing and mountaineering a scale of (Arabic or Roman) numbers and / or letters, with the difficulty of climbing routes can be described. By using a rating scale, the difficulty (also: the degree of difficulty) of different climbing routes can be compared.

There are different rating scales for the various forms of climbing and mountaineering , which take into account the specific demands of this sport. For example, other factors play a role in free climbing than in technical or ice climbing . While scales designed for the alpine area often try to take into account the variety of different requirements such as seriousness (e.g. exposure, security quality, fragility) or physical stress (e.g. length of the tour) Scales in sport climbing are mostly based on the climbing difficulty. The difficulty of the key point is decisive for the evaluation .

The evaluation of the difficulty of a route is based on normal conditions. So it must not be ignored that wet or icy rock places much greater demands on the hiker.

Usually the first climber of a route has the right to make an initial evaluation suggestion, but often several climbers discuss the evaluation and judge together in order to keep the criteria as uniform as possible. Rating suggestions can also be changed if a large number of climbers consider the suggested rating to be inappropriate. Changes to the route (e.g. by breaking a grip) can also result in a re-evaluation. Difficulty assessments are of course always very subjective and subject to discussion. People are physically and mentally different, so such information should only be seen as a guide.

In addition, rating scales are subject to significant historical change, but also local traditions. New developments such as B. the emergence of new climbing styles or improvements in the equipment area make ongoing extensions or adaptations of the various scales necessary.


Graphic representation of the Welzenbach scale (1926)

Fritz Benesch , author of the Raxführer from 1894, tried in the first edition of his guide book to define the first alpine difficulty rating with a "comparative ranking of the climbs according to their difficulty". This Benesch scale had seven levels of difficulty. Benesch rated the easiest routes with level VII, with level I the most difficult routes at the time. Soon even more difficult climbs were made, which were then rated with level 0 and later with level 00 (about IV – V according to UIAA ). Other scales such as the Welzenbach scale proposed by Wilhelm “Willo” Welzenbach in 1923 reversed the direction of the assessment, so that the most difficult climbs were now assigned the highest numbers. This resulted in the six-step Alpine scale designed in Chamonix in 1947 , which became internationally accepted and was renamed the UIAA scale in 1968. From 1977 to 1979 it was opened to the top.

Evaluation scales in free climbing

While there is only one rating scale for most forms of climbing, a large number of rating systems have developed for free climbing, some of which also set different priorities for the influencing factors. Most of these scales are only of regional importance, only three or four are used nationwide and thus also serve as a reference for “converting” the other scales. The nationally used rating scales are the French scale, the UIAA scale, partly also the American scale and, for bouldering, the Fontainebleau or Fb scale for short. There is also a Polish and a Scandinavian difficulty scale.

The UIAA scale, which used to be generally used in the Alps and in western Germany , is increasingly being replaced by the French rating for sport climbing, especially in climbing areas that are often visited by climbers from other nations. The boundary where the French scale applies is fluid to the south and west .

In the Saxon Switzerland climbing area, there is the Saxon scale, which was already in use before the Second World War, and which initially developed further through the division of Germany, unaffected by the other scales. From the end of the 1970s, the upper levels of difficulty were based heavily on the UIAA scale. It is also used in other East German climbing areas, such as in the Zittau Mountains . For historical reasons it is also used on the sandstone rocks in the north of the Czech Republic ( Bohemian Switzerland , Lusatian Mountains , Český ráj ). There it is known today as the JPK scale ( Jednotná pískovcová klasifikace ).

The conversion of the various rating scales is not linear, so this is usually done with the help of tables.

The most common rating scales

The UIAA scale is given in Roman or Arabic numerals. Whole numbers, revaluations or devaluations are possible by adding a “+” or “-” as well as fine gradations such as “VII + / VIII−” (between a VII + and an VIII−).

The French scale is given in Arabic numerals and one letter (a, b or c). As in the UIAA scale, intermediate values ​​and revaluation with “+” are possible, but no devaluation with “-”.

The recognized most difficult routes are in the area XII− (UIAA) or 9b + (French). The first route of this level whose difficulty has been confirmed is the route “ La Dura Dura ” in Oliana , which Adam Ondra first climbed in February 2013 and which Chris Sharma repeated in March 2013 . Previously, the difficulty 9b + (French) had been suggested several times by various climbers.

In September 2017 Adam Ondra managed the “ Silence ” route in Flatanger, Norway . The rating 9c (XII, 5.15d) proposed by him has not yet been confirmed.

Comparison table

Comparison of different route evaluation systems
Tech / Adj
French UIAA
(Central Europe)
Australia Saxon
(Saxony /
Northern Bohemia 1 )
Scandinavia Brazil Fb scale
5.2 1 I. I. Isup
5.3 2 II 11 II II
5.4 3 III 12 III IIsup 2
5.5 4a VD 4th IV IV III 3
5.6 S. 5a V− 13 V 5− IIIsup
5.7 4b HS V 14th VI 5 IV 4a
4c 5b V + 15th
5.8 VS VI− 16 VIIa 5+ IVsup
5.9 5a HVS 5c VI 17th VIIb V 4b
5.10a E1 6a VI + 18th VIIc 6− Vsup
5.10b 5b 6a + VII− 19th VIIIa VI
5.10c E2 6b VII 20th VIIIb 6th
5.10d 5c 6b + VII + 21st VIIIc VIsup 4c
5.11a E3 6c VII + / VIII− 22nd 6+ VIIa 5a
5.11b 6c + VIII− 23 IXa
5.11c 6a E4 7a VIII 24 IXb 7− VIIb 5b
5.11d 7a + VIII + 25th IXc 7th VIIc 5c
5.12a E5 7b VIII + / IX− 26th 7+ VIIIa 6a
5.12b 6b 7b + IX− Xa 8− VIIIb 6b
5.12c E6 7c IX 27 Xb 8th VIIIc 6c
5.12d 6c 7c + IX + 28 Xc 8+ IXa 7a
5.13a E7 8a IX + / X− 29 9− IXb 7a +
5.13b 9 IXc 7b
5.13c 7a 8a + X− 30th XIa 9+ Xa 7b +
5.13d E8 8b X 31 XIb 10− Xb 7c +
5.14a 8b + X + 32 XIc 10 Xc 8a
5.14b 7b 8c XI- 33 XIIa 10+ XIa 8a +
5.14c E9 8c + XI− / XI 34 XIIa / XIIb 11− 8b
5.14d 7c 9a XI 35 XIIb 11 8b +
5.15a 9a + XI / XI + 11+ 8c +
9a + / 9b XI +
5.15b 9b XI + / XII−
5.15c 9b +
5.15d 9c
Tech / Adj
French UIAA
(Central Europe)
Australia Saxon
(Saxony /
Northern Bohemia 1 )
Scandinavia Brazil Fb scale
1 The Saxon scale is only valid to a limited extent in the Czech Republic, as it stuck to the original seven-point scale until the 1990s.

Further rating scales

The Saxon scale is given in Roman numerals. It starts with I and is open at the top. From VII the levels of difficulty are further subdivided with the addition of the letters a, b and c. The most difficult climbing routes in Saxon Switzerland reach the confirmed difficulty XIc. In addition, there is a scale for jumps in Saxony. It is given in Arabic numerals and starts with a difficulty level that is open at the top, starting from 1. Jumps up to difficulty 6 are recognized. A scale derived from this is the Czech JPK (Jednotná pískovcová klasifikace) difficulty scale. This ended longer than the Saxon scale, up to the 1990s, at the seventh grade and is therefore only partially (especially in the lower ranges) identical to the Saxon scale. After that, the Saxon scale, which is open to the top, was used again in the Bohemian sandstone regions, so that the grades in the upper range are again identical to the Saxon scale. Difficulty level XIIb was reached in Bohemian Switzerland.

Explanation of the UIAA scale

The following verbal description of the UIAA scale dates back to before the emergence of modern sport climbing . It can therefore only be transferred to a very limited extent to this form of climbing with its improved safety and equipment options. In the meantime, the UIAA has advised against such attempts at definition due to their lack of objectivity and the difficulty of adequate descriptions. This is why numerical evaluation has prevailed, especially in the higher difficulty area. In the lowest difficulty area, however, short verbal descriptions are still quite common: Alpine, also pathless, terrain that requires little or no use of the hands is usually referred to as “easy”, “not very difficult” or, less often, “easy” However, names are used inconsistently and in some cases even up to the I. UIAA level of difficulty.

rating Explanation
I. Little difficulty, easiest form of rock climbing (but no easy walking terrain). The hands are required to support balance. Beginners must be secured on the rope. A head for heights is already required.
II Moderate difficulty. This is where the climbing begins, which requires the three-point posture .
III Medium difficulty. Practiced and experienced climbers can climb passages of this difficulty without safety ropes. Vertical spots already require effort.
IV Great difficulties. The climbing in a sharper direction begins here. Considerable climbing experience required. Longer climbing sections usually require several intermediate securing devices. Even practiced and experienced climbers can usually no longer cope with passages of this difficulty without a safety rope.
V Very big trouble. An increasing number of intermediate backups is the rule. Increased demands on physical conditions, climbing technique and experience. Long high-alpine routes of difficulty level V are already among the really big ventures in the Alps and regions outside the Alps.
VI Very big trouble. Climbing requires above-average ability and an excellent level of training. Great exposure, often combined with small stands. Passages of this difficulty can usually only be conquered in good conditions.
VII Extraordinary difficulties. A level of difficulty achieved through increased training and improved equipment. Even the best climbers need training adapted to the type of rock in order to master passages of this difficulty close to the fall limit. In addition to acrobatic climbing ability, the mastery of sophisticated safety techniques is essential.
VIII and above no literal equivalent

Rating scales for other areas of climbing and mountaineering


Bouldering is climbing on boulders, rock walls or on artificial climbing walls at jump height. There are different rating systems for assessing the difficulty of these climbs.

John Gill first introduced a rating system for the difficulty of individual bouldering problems. This "John Gill B-Scale" was classified in its original form from B1 to B3. The rating B1 stands for a level of difficulty at which the bouldering problem is more difficult than an extremely difficult climbing route in top rope style. B2 should be significantly more difficult than B1. B3 is awarded if a boulder has been mastered once by a climber. This closed evaluation system could not be maintained for long, which led to an opening of the scale and the introduction of new levels of difficulty. This process was also accelerated by the open, V-scale developed by John Sherman ("Vermin") in the USA. This is based on the level of difficulty on the B-scale.

The Fb scale (Fontainebleau scale) is most widespread in bouldering. This was developed in the traditional French bouldering area Fontainebleau and differentiates a bouldering problem according to whether it is a pure bouldering problem (Fb-Bloc) or a traverse problem (Fb-Trav).

The currently heaviest boulder (bloc) is in Finland, near Helsinki, and was developed and climbed by the Finn Nalle Hukkataival over four years as part of the Lappnor project . In October 2016 he was able to finish this project and named the Boulder Burden of Dreams - the suggested evaluation is 9a.

Rating scales for bouldering
B-scale V-scale Fb-Bloc Fb-Trav
2a 2 B
2 B 2c
2c 3a
3a 3b
3b 3c
3c 4a
4a 4b
4b 4c
4c 5a
5a 5b
5b 5c
B 1 V 0 5c 5c +
B 2 5c + 6a
B 3 V 1 6a 6a +
6a + 6b
B 4 V 2 6b 6b +
B 5 V 3 6b + 6c
V 4 6c 6c +
B 6 V 5 6c + 7a
B 7 V 6 7a 7b
B 8 V 7 7b 7b +
B 9 V 8 7b + 7c
V 9 7c 7c +
B 10 V 10 7c + 8a
B 11 V 11 8a 8a +
B 12 V 12 8a + 8b
V 13 8b 8b +
V 14 8b +
V 15 8c
V 16 8c +
V 17 9a
B-scale V-scale Fb-Bloc Fb-Trav

SAC mountain and mountaineering scale

The SAC mountain and alpine touring scale is another difficulty scale for climbing developed by the SAC (Swiss Alpine Club) especially for high-alpine rock and ice tours. It is used to graduate the individual alpine routes as a reference in normal and dry weather conditions and is based on the key point . In addition, the SAC has developed a hiking scale , safety scale , ski touring scale and snowshoe tour scale .

Technical climbing

The rating scale in technical climbing ranges from A0 to A5. In principle, A0 corresponds to free climbing, whereby individual securing points are used for holding or pedaling. With a difficulty of A5, the locomotion only takes place at artificial stopping points that - with the exception of the stand securing devices - can just bear the body weight of the climber. Breaking out one of the breakpoints in an A5 route leads to the breakout of the entire chain of breakpoints, to long falls, usually into the safety of the stand, and it is very likely that serious injuries will result.

scale description
A0 A securing point is used for movement (as a step or a grip).
A1 A step loop is attached and used.
A2 Two step loops or step ladders are used to move around.
A3 Two step ladders - but the hooks are of poor quality.
A4 Like A3 under difficult conditions (safety points are difficult to attach) and overcoming the climbing passage requires strength and endurance.
A5 The locomotion takes place exclusively or almost exclusively at artificial stopping points, the quality of which is usually so bad that a fall is only stopped by the stand security.

Ice climbing and mixed climbing

There are also separate scales for ice and mixed climbing . The actual difficulty of icefalls and mixed tours depends on factors such as ice formation, temperature, solar radiation and the like and can deviate by up to one and a half degrees from the specified difficulty.

Mixed routes are rated using the twelve-point M-scale. For the degrees, a finer classification is achieved with + or -. The Scottish Mixed Scale consists of a Roman numeral followed by an Arabic numeral, with the Roman representing the overall rating and the Arabic representing the most difficult technical section. The scale ranges from I to IX or from 4 to 9.

The difficulty of ice climbing is rated on the seven-point WI scale, WI stands for Water Ice .

In 2010, Will Gadd and Tim Emmett proposed a difficulty level of WI10 for the route "Spray On" at Helmcken Falls, British Columbia. However, this degree has not yet found its way into the generally accepted scale.

scale Steepness [°] Ice condition Security options Others
WI1 40-60 Fuses are easy to attach
WI2 60-70 compact ice good security options
WI3 70-80 alternating steeper and flatter passages
WI4 80 short passages with tube ice possible short sections of vertical ice possible
WI5 85-90 longer vertical passages
WI6 90 Tube ice and free-standing ice pillars partly bad security options
WI7 overhanging thin free-standing pillars of ice, free-hanging ice very poor security options

Seriousness of a route

As a supplement to the UIAA, the mixed (M) and the water ice fall (WI) scale, a seriousness rating is useful.

Via ferratas

There is no generally recognized scale for via ferratas. Different four- to six-point scales are used. One of the best known is the verbal “Hüsler scale” (“little difficult” to “extremely difficult”). According to Eugen Hüsler , these levels are designated with K1 to K5, otherwise often simply with the letters A to E. This variant, introduced by the via ferrata guide author Kurt Schall , has largely established itself in the German-speaking world. There are now also via ferratas with the categorization F and one with the categorization G.

Hüsler sound description
K1 A. little difficult
K2 B. moderately difficult
K3 C. difficult
K4 D. very difficult
K5 E. extremely difficult

Web links

Wikibooks: Overview of rating scales  - learning and teaching materials

Individual evidence

  1. Benesch , Pruscha, Holl: Guide to the Raxalpe , Friends of Nature Austria , Vienna 1973.
  2. Tom Duration: The Charm of Standards . In: DAV (Ed.): Panorama . No. 4 , 2006 ( alpenverein.de [PDF; accessed on April 27, 2014]).
  3. The fight is over: Chris Sharma repeats La Dura Dura 9b +. In: klettern.de. March 25, 2013, accessed June 14, 2016 .
  4. Adam Ondra climbs first 9c! alpin.de, September 4, 2017
  5. NEWSFLASH: Adam Ondra climbs World's first 9c? - Project Hard , ukclimbing.com, September 3, 2017
  6. Saxon climbing rules , Chapter 5.5 Levels of difficulty
  7. The new Saxon mountain climber MITTEILUNGSBLATT DES SBB , page 27, inflation of jumping difficulties
  8. ^ Pit Schubert : Alpine rock technique . Ed .: ÖAV . 5th edition. Bergverlag Rother, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-7633-6073-5 , p. 207 .
  9. ^ Heinrich and Walter Klier : Alpine Club Guide Zillertal Alps . Rother Bergverlag, 1990.
  10. ^ Heinrich and Walter Klier : Alpine Club Guide Stubai Alps . Rother Bergverlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7633-1212-9 , p. 56 .
  11. ^ Gadd Speaks Out on Spray On , alpinist.com, accessed October 18, 2012
  12. a b Walter Würtl, Peter Plattner: scale jungle. Difficulty rating for via ferrata. (PDF) In: Uphill. Austrian Alpine Club , 2009, accessed September 1, 2015 .
  13. Gran Canaria - the new "via ferrata archipelago". In: www.tourendatenbank.com. June 5, 2012, Retrieved September 18, 2012 .