Flaws in the Yosemite Decimal System


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Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 12, 2017 - 04:00pm PT
From Royal's "Fail Falling - My Life - Volume Two":

"August 13, 1953 ... a new method of classifying climbs was introduced ... This method was called the Decimal System. It had been developed after long discussions between [Chuck] Wilts, Don Wilson, and me ... this new way of classifying climbs caught on and made its way across the United States as the Yosemite Decimal System, but it was born at Tahquitz Rock." [emphasis mine].

Now Gear Guy at Rock & Ice brings up this:


BITD we used the Stoney Point System: Easy or Hard.

Just noticed Gear Guy says "Unfortunately, in 85 years of use ..." Do the math: 2017-1953=64 not 85.

Trad climber
Portland Oregon
Sep 12, 2017 - 04:05pm PT
BITD we used the Stoney Point System: Easy or Hard.

Ours was a lot more sophisticated.

Five easy
Too damn hard
I coulda done it but it was getting late

And the two worst grades were Eldo ( or Seneca) 5.9+ and Stannard 5.10.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Sep 12, 2017 - 04:11pm PT
The only way to objectively rate a climb is by having some three or four dimensional system, hardest move + exposure + sustained moves . . etc. The decimal system puts you in the ball park. Easy enough to find beta about climbs, plus it gives climbers something to flap their jaws about. Gill had the right idea.

Boulder climber
The high prairie of southern Colorado
Sep 12, 2017 - 04:12pm PT
My three-level rating system for bouldering used to be adequate when there were relatively few serious boulderers. Then, as the bouldering population increased a lot of pluses and minuses began to appear. That did it. Time for the Verm. Jim Holloway, once the finest boulderer in the world, used a somewhat similar 3-level private system.

Trad climber
Sep 12, 2017 - 04:29pm PT
My system makes up for some of the flaws pointed out. They include suffixes like "heady-la-roo", "spicy", "mindless" oppositely "jigery pokery", "WILD", "RAD" (WILD and RAD are not the same), "cruiser", "pump-o-rama", "vegemite", "18b/c". I actually can use some new suffixes if there are any folks who can add...



I guess they are more like descriptions

Sep 12, 2017 - 04:33pm PT
Back East it is/was pretty much 9+ that was the most feared grade--anywhere. Didn't Bridwell have a PDE, PDH, DFU system?
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Sep 12, 2017 - 06:23pm PT
Rating systems are easy to criticize given the variety in climbing and the strengths and weaknesses that climbers exhibit. For me, it is quite remarkable that given all this variability, there is considerable consensus in climbing ratings.

Social climber
Wilds of New Mexico
Sep 12, 2017 - 06:44pm PT
I like the British ratings though I don't understand any of it. I'm hardly very serious.

Ice climber
Sep 12, 2017 - 06:47pm PT
Just give it a 10 and head on down the road and always floss after eating.

If there's anyone who knows, is there anyone who cares.
-Hollis Brown


A long way from where I started
Sep 12, 2017 - 06:56pm PT
It's all intellectual bullsh#t. There have only ever been two grades, and there are still only two grades: Either you can get up it, or you can't.

Boulder climber
Sep 12, 2017 - 07:06pm PT
Nah, there's also I haven't gotten up it yet. For growth learners.

Maybe the flaw was thinking we'd never learn to outgrow the Yosemite Decimal System?

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 12, 2017 - 07:07pm PT
Zbrown...regarding your grading system going to 10. In that particular category only the binary scale matters....0 or 1, you would or you wouldn't. Of course the binary scale applies to both sexes.

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Sep 12, 2017 - 10:35pm PT
The grading system I heard bitd is one I still find just granular enough:

Hard, really hard, and I can't do it.

There are no easy climbs. If it's easy enough to be below the grade-scale, it's a hike not a climb.

Mountain climber
13,000 feet
Sep 12, 2017 - 11:03pm PT
I remember arguing with Tony Yaniro about the fact that he thought it was 14, but he rated it 13.d.

"Come on Tony, you did the first 13, and you called it 13!"

"Yeah, but that was c."

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Sep 13, 2017 - 02:01am PT
For me, the rating is just a way to get in the right ball-park for a type of experience I'm seeking.

I have never felt the YDS is insufficient, and whenever I am worried and seeking more beta, that is when I look to stuff like per-pitch or per-section ratings, descriptors ("sustained","scary","sandy","loose") knowledge of the FA party, etc.

Trad climber
Sep 13, 2017 - 03:25am PT
Whipper, whistler, screamer, crater. Ropeless, free, bolted, boulder.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Sep 13, 2017 - 05:18am PT
The overly modest YDS went off with a, b, c, and d grades. A 5.10b should rate at 5.11, 5.11a should be 5.14, the first 5.16a would be 5.34 and so on.

Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Sep 13, 2017 - 06:03am PT
a = "almost"
b = "barely"
c = "certainly"
d = "definitely"

BITD 5.9+ was the most suspect rating there was.

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
Sep 13, 2017 - 06:07am PT
In 1968 the YDS seemed natural and dependable at the Gunks, where I could definitely notice the difference between 5.2 and 5.3. There were a few question marks but on average it worked well. Funny thing was, when I made it to Yosemite in the 70s the YDS was all wrong and there was no 5.2.


Sep 13, 2017 - 06:56am PT
The YDS has always seemed fine to me. Simple enough not to give you a headache that might keep you from climbing, and imprecise enough to keep the spirit of adventure kicking, or at least squirming around a bit.
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