The YDS Classification System

The most common and widely accepted rating system for climbing route difficulty rating is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS).  Route setters and those who rate climbing routes have decided on this system in order for climbers to have a good sense of what a route might expect of them before climbing.

The base base designation of the numeral “5” is used for all routes, and a two digit decimal number is added after the 5 to rate the climb.

Quite often, cloth route setting tape is used to identify routes of different difficulties, with contrasting tape colors designating one route from another

Other numerals are used for rating difficulty of hikes and walks, but the number 5 is reserved for rock climbing.

Larger numbers designate more difficult routes.  That is, a route rated 5.10 is less difficult than one rated 5.11.    Additional information regarding the  difficulty and complexity of the route is conveyed through the use a a letter between “a” and “d”.  The use of “a” is at the top of the scale with other letters (b-d) used for less challenging routes.

The YDS system was first developed by the Sierra Club in the 1930s when it was used to grade the difficulty of hikes in the Sierra Nevadas.

The five levels used by the YDS system are:

Class 1-Walking-Little risk

Class 2-Simple scrambling-some use of hands may be required

Class 3-Complex scrambling with use of hands with some non-fatal risk

Class 4-Simple climbing, often using ropes with possibly fatal risks

Class 5-Technical free  climbing, involving belaying, ropes, and climbing hardware with risk of serious injury or death