A Few Words on Ratings and Grades - Aid Climbing
The good news about aid climbing rating scales is that the whole world
uses a single scale that goes from A1 to A5. The bad news is that
there are many interpretations of that scale. It will all depend on where
and when that first ascent was made.
For most purposes, the following - general - aid rating scale will do:
- A1: All placements are rock solid and easy.
- A2: Placements are still bomber, but the placements are awkward
and a few difficult may be difficult.
- A3: Many placements are difficult, but there is the occasional
- A4: There are several placements in a row that will hold nothing
more than body weight.
- A5: 20 meters (60 ft) or more of body placements in a row.
In Europe, where most aid climbs were made long ago, this scale may
be adjusted downward. Put simply, A3 placements are difficult, but
will hold a short fall. A4 will involve some body weight placements,
but not necessarily many in a row. And A5 is just unheard of. In
Europe, A0 is used to indicate that fixed (and solid) pro is in place.
In the USA, modern equipment and the unrelentless drive to climb
ever bigger and more difficult Big Walls, has pushed aid climbing
to limits that were unimaginable a few decades ago. This
has also changed the interpretation of the rating scales. This is how John
Long and John Middendorf interpret the modern aid climbing ratings it in
their 'Big Wall' book:
- A0: Hanging from gear, stepping on pitons, pulling up on nuts,
etc. Everything that doesn't require aiders and can't be honestly called
'free climbing'. Also known as "french free".
- A1: Easy aid. Placements are easy and bomber. Each piece should
hold a fall.
- A2: Moderate aid. Solid but often awkward and strenuous
placements. Maybe a difficult placement or two above good pro. Falls pose
- A2+: Moderate aid, but with more tenuous placements above good
pro. There is a potential for serious falls, but these will
generally be otherwise uneventfull.
- A3: Hard aid. Requires many tenuous placements in a row and
pieces need to be tested before weighting them. There should be solid
placements within the pitch, but they are rather few and far between. During
a fall, up to eight pieces of pro may rip out, but there generally is little
serious danger. Takes several hours to complete a pitch.
- A3+: A3, but with a dangerous fall potential.
- A4: Serious aid. Most placements hold little less than body
weight and falls are serious affairs. Being 10 to 15 meters (30 to 50 ft)
above the last solid piece is not uncommon.
- A4+: Very serious aid. Placements are often very marginal and
pitches require many hours to complete.
- A5: Extreme aid. No piece in the whole pitch can be trusted to
hold a fall. No bolts or rivets in A5 pitches.
- A6: A5 with poor belays that won't hold a fall. The leader pops
and the whole team is airborne. No one sane has ever done this, and no one
insane who tried came back to tell us about it.
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