Grade (bouldering)

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In the sport of bouldering, problems are assigned technical grades according to several established systems, which are often distinct from those used in roped climbing. Bouldering grade systems in wide use include the Hueco "V" grades (known as the V-scale), Fontainebleau technical grades, route colors, Peak District grades, and British technical grades. Historically, the three-level "B" system and even the Yosemite Decimal System (sometimes with a "B" prepended, as in "B5.12") were also used.

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The Gill "B" system

The B-System conceived by John Gill in the 1950s was a universal rating scheme for bouldering, having three categories: "B1" was defined as "... the highest level of difficulty in traditional roped climbing" , "B2" was harder than B1, or "bouldering level", and the grade "B3" designated a route ascended only once, although tried by others on several occasions. When a B3 was ascended a second time, it was reclassified as a B2, or B1. Gill's idea was to attract climbers to the "new" sport of bouldering, but discourage turning that sport into a numbers race. His system depended heavily on traditional climbing standards, long before sport climbing came into existence. It was assumed that the scale would shift as traditional difficulty levels rose. Thus, e.g., a B1(1958) would be easier than a B1(1968).

The system - designed in the early days of "modern bouldering" (i.e., bouldering interpreted as a legitimate form of rock climbing to be practiced anywhere the terrain is suitable , and not simply as training or as a minor, playful divertissement) - has never been in worldwide use. Occasionally climbers visiting bouldering destinations in North America encounter boulder problems with B ratings. The difficulty of these problems are now commonly quantified by John Sherman's V-Scale. The Gill B-System is respected, and has amusing and historical connotations, but has limitations in modern, competitive bouldering involving many climbers. Gill, citing the fragmentation of his categories into "B1-", "B1+", etc., blames the decline in popularity of his B-System upon it being "against the grain of normal competitive structures, where a simple open progression of numbers or letters indicates progress." [1][2][3]

Fontainebleau grades

In Europe the Fontainebleau grading is the most widely used. The numerical system ranges from 1a to 8c+ (the equivalent of V16 or B16), but problems easier than 2b are rarely found. The adjectival system goes from F- (Facile Inf, easy inferior) to ED+ (Extrêmement Difficile Sup, Extremely Difficult Higher). The system was first devised to classify the sandstone climbing in the Fontainebleau area, but is now widely used also in other bouldering areas around the world.

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