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The Backcountry Pros Guide to Utah's Climbing Grades

city of rocks climbing guides The Backcountry Pros

Embracing the allure of Utah's rugged landscapes comes with its share of challenges, especially when it involves mountain climbing. But with the right information and guidance, even challenging terrain can become a playground for a prepared outdoor enthusiast. This article explains what you need to know about Utah's climbing grades, offering insights from expert backcountry adventurers to help you navigate the vertical domain successfully.

Understanding the Basics of Climbing Grades

Before we delve into the specifics of Utah's climbing grades, it's essential to clarify what climbing grades are. These are classification systems used to describe the difficulty and danger factor involved in conquering a specific climbing route.

Climbing Route Difficulty

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)

Also known as the American grading system, YDS is used extensively across North America, and Utah is no exception. This system features five classes with Class 5 being the most challenging. When referenced in Utah, these classes often come with a decimal and subsequent number to indicate further difficulty (for example, 5.10). At 5.10 and above the rating system is then broken into subclasses with letter grades a, b, c or d or simply + or - for great precision in the rating.

Bouldering Grades: V- Scale

Bouldering is all about short routes that are really hard. The rating system starts with quite challenging climbing and is determined by the hardest moves on the climb, or problem. V0 is equivalent to around a 5.9. The scale goes up incrementally to V15+.

Route Length - Commitment

The length of a route plays into how committing it is. In North America this is Highlighted in roman numerals: I - VI. For instance, a grade III climb is something that takes most of a day, while a grade V climb is usually a huge day or greater. Short climbs generally are just not addressed with the scale at all.

Factoring in Altitude

Given Utah's high altitudes, they significantly affect climbing grades for those that are not acclimatized. High altitudes can intensify the difficulty and seriousness of a climb due to less partial pressure of oxygen and a propensity for harsher weather conditions.

Specific Challenges of Climbing in Utah

Choosing an appropriate climb for the season and the weather conditions on the day is critical. If a climb is baking in the sun it can be equally as dangerous as if it is cold or even wet!

Rock types vary across the state of Utah from one venue to the next. Any soft and porous rock should only be climbed on only when dry, as climbing on wet rock can damage routes or be dangerous. Sandstone is particularly vulnerable to saturation.

High elevations are highly vulnerable to thunderstorms during summer (monsoon season). Any forays into the exposed high country should only take on with a good weather forecast window and start very early in the day to avoid weather that may build in the afternoon heat.

FAQs about Climbing Grades in Utah

Q: What does '5.9+' mean in Utah's climbing grades?

A: When you see a '+', it's indicating that the climbing route is harder than average for that grade level.

Q: How should first-timers choose their climbing routes?

A: Beginners are advised to start with lower grade climbs and gradually work their way up as their confidence and skills improve.


Understanding Utah's climbing grades can be the difference between a successful adventure and an unwelcome surprise. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these grading systems and consider the specific challenges that Utah's unique terrain presents. Remember, every great climber started at the beginning - progress comes with patience, practice and, over time, conquering those towering Utah peaks.


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