The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is one of the most commonly used rating systems for rock climbing routes. It’s ratings are subjective to the user and the area, but here for you today are the basics for talking the talk before you rock the rock. The YDS is broken up into five different classes. These classes reflect the amount of exposure, danger, and difficulty one will face at the hardest part of the route (the crux). The class systems are described as follows:
Don’t get too worried about this one. If you are on a Class 1 route that means you might be taking a walk on a slightly elevated sidewalk, or cruising a bike along a greenway. You don’t need any ropes for this class, and if you do, you’re probably doing something terribly wrong.
This is where we can introduce simple scrambling. You may suddenly find yourself using your hands a little more as you hop from boulder to boulder or step onto a slippery slope. Once again, if you’re on a Class 2 climb, your elevation change won’t justify using ropes and your danger level will be at a minimum.
Take Class 2 scrambling and add a little height to it, and you get some Class 3 action. Ropes are not yet required because routes with a Class 3 rating tend to offer some solid footing, but this is where you need to start thinking about the consequences of falling. Not that falling on a Class 3 would necessarily be fatal, but it would dish up a major inconvenience to your day.
Alrighty, here we go. Class 4 climbs are still going to offer some decent footing and you’re not 100% vertical, but clipping or tying yourself into a rope at this point is not a bad idea. These falls are not extremely likely, but if they do occur, there is a chance that they would be fatal. Think of canyoneering and walking along steep canyon walls.
Now we’re talking. Class 5 is the most common Class for genuine free-climbing (not to be mistaken with free-soloing), and is the class most talked about at the crag site. These climbs are vertical, and if you’re like most normal human beings, you will require rope and belayer to attempt these upward adventures. The YDS has gone even further in the Class 5 rating systems and broken up climbs into, well, into decimals:
5.0 — 5.6
This first grouping of Class 5 routes is really good for beginners. 5.0 — 5.6 routes will typically have two footholds and two handholds for every move and are often referred to as “ladders.” But make no mistake, just because they are classified as beginner routes, doesn’t mean every beginner will get them.
This section is for the non-beginners. It takes a bit of time to climb smoothly at the 5.7 range and a lot of practice to climb fluidly at the 5.10 range. Footholds began to disappear and a lot of reliance is put into crimpy handholds. This range reflects more technique, balance, and strength than your beginner climbs.
The most claimed yet un-coveted set of rock climbing ratings. To climb at these levels (more so as the numbers increase) one must put a lot of time on the rock or be born with some incredible unfair amount of natural talent. Whichever way, who needs handholds or footholds when you have either.