Sport climbing is a type of technical free climbing where climbers clip into permanent anchors that have been set into the rock face. Free climbing means that upward mobility is made using only hands, feet and other parts of the body rather than artificial means. Because sport climbing does not require placing removable protection, climbers can focus on the technical ability and strength required for the climb, rather than taking the time to place their own gear into the rock.
Sport climbs are assigned difficulty ratings, which can be used to help climbers identify routes that fall within their skill level or that represent the next level of challenge. Because of evolving climbing standards and changes in the rock over time, ratings should be considered subjective. Different countries and climbing communities use different rating systems.
The Yosemite Rating System
In North America, climbs are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Climbs are typically rated based on the hardest move, or the crux, of the route, although modern rating may also take into consideration the overall length and difficulty of a climb. The YDS was initially developed by the Sierra Club in the 1930s to classify hikes and climbs and consists of five classes: Class 1 is categorized by walking on an established trail. Class 2 refers to hiking or scrambling up a steep incline. Hands may be used for balance. Class 3 refers to scrambling with increased exposure up a steep hillside. Class 4 is simple climbing with increased exposure. A rope is often used. Class 5 is technical free climbing involving rope and other gear for safety.
Class 5 Subdivisions
In the 1950s, Class 5 was subdivided into classes such as 5.0, 5.1, etc. At the time, 5.9 was considered the most difficult climb possible. Further classes of 5.10, 5.11 and higher were later added. Current grades for sport routes vary between 5.0 (very easy) to 5.15 (extremely hard). Further designations of plus and minus (for example, 5.8+, 5.10-) can be used to create even more precise ratings. A breakdown of current climbing grades looks like this:
5.0 to 5.4: Very easy climbing with good holds.
5.5 to 5.7: Steeper climbing with good holds.
5.8: Vertical climbing with smaller holds. This is the upper end of climbs considered suitable for beginners.
5.9: Route may be slightly overhung with smaller holds.
5.10: Far more technically challenging, possibly more overhung with small holds. The difference between a 5.10 and a 5.11 is drastic, so letters a through d are often used to further classify climbs at this level (e.g. 5.10d, 5.11a).
5.11: Steep and difficult routes that require exceptional technique and a high level of strength.
5.12: Very difficult, often professional-grade climbs.
5.13 to 5.15: Extremely difficult climbs considered among the hardest in the world.
The Hardest Known Climb
In September of 2008, professional climber Chris Sharma sent a 250-foot project at Clark Mountain in Southern California. Sharma said the route, which he named Jumbo Love, was the hardest route he has ever climbed. The route has been graded a 5.15b, the hardest known climb in existence.