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Distinguishing between protection ratings R and X


Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
Tradiban wrote: I prefer the more modern "movie ratings" for climbs. (PG-13, R, X) "X" isn't the only rating that means death, you can and people have died on easy "PG" 5.6 routes (See Goran Kropp). The movie rating system works better because one mans "R" is another man's "X" and these movie ratings don't really have any distinguishing characteristic that changes it from one rating to another. These ratings are just like difficulty ratings, they are vague guidelines to help people seek and get on routes that are suitable for themselves. To answer your question directly Mark, there is no once characteristic to distinguish "R" from "X", only that "X" is generally more serious than "R". For clarification and because there are many guidebooks and people who still use the more old school definition of "R" and "X", "R" is run-out with good potential for injury and "X" is run-out with suspect gear placements and if placements pull good potential for serious injury or death. Hope that helps 

Quoting myself again so y'all don't get confused.

To paraphrase myself, ratings are vague guidelines to help you avoid getting in over your head and do not have distinguishing characteristics.
Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,859
Tradiban wrote:
Quoting myself again so y'all don't get confused.

To paraphrase myself, ratings are vague guidelines to help you avoid getting in over your head and do not have distinguishing characteristics.

Always gotta dumb it down to one liners...

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
Morgan Patterson wrote:

Always gotta dumb it down to one liners...

Quality over quantity.

David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144

A few things:

  1. Runout distance is a dumb way to do this. I've taken falls over 10ft runouts that led to nice clean 25ft falls. I've also been very scared over 3 ft runouts with falls that ended in sharp rocks (luckily, I did not fall). Fall distance has very little to do with safety, but a lot of people who write gear ratings seem to concern themselves mostly with the spacing of the gear.
  2. These ratings seem to correlate with difficulty of the climb. In the Gunks, for example, it's almost never a good idea to fall on a 5.5, but most 5.5 climbs get no safety ratings at all on MP. Meanwhile, I've seen folks take whips repeatedly on 5.12PG13 and 5.12R climbs here, without ill effect. This likely is related to #1.
  3. Any time this topic comes up someone say something like "G doesn't mean safe--there are G routes where a fall would result in injury or death" (see Tradiban's comment in this thread for an example--but it's not a great example because he may just be trolling).
  4. Just because you bring the wrong gear doesn't mean the climb isn't protectable. But it seems like anything that takes #4 or larger, or micro nuts, seems to get at least a PG13 rating, even if it's obvious from the ground what you should bring.
Because of this, I believe the safety ratings are basically useless. They could be useful if people used them better, but the way people use them has very little to do with the actual safety of the route.
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
David K wrote: A few things:

  1. Runout distance is a dumb way to do this. I've taken falls over 10ft runouts that led to nice clean 25ft falls. I've also been very scared over 3 ft runouts with falls that ended in sharp rocks (luckily, I did not fall). Fall distance has very little to do with safety, but a lot of people who write gear ratings seem to concern themselves mostly with the spacing of the gear.
  2. These ratings seem to correlate with difficulty of the climb. In the Gunks, for example, it's almost never a good idea to fall on a 5.5, but most 5.5 climbs get no safety ratings at all on MP. Meanwhile, I've seen folks take whips repeatedly on 5.12PG13 and 5.12R climbs here, without ill effect. This likely is related to #1.
  3. Any time this topic comes up someone say something like "G doesn't mean safe--there are G routes where a fall would result in injury or death" (see Tradiban's dead on comment in this thread for an example)
  4. Just because you bring the wrong gear doesn't mean the climb isn't protectable. But it seems like anything that takes #4 or larger, or micro nuts, seems to get at least a PG13 rating, even if it's obvious from the ground what you should bring.
Because of this, I believe the safety ratings are basically useless. They could be useful if people used them better, but the way people use them has very little to do with the actual safety of the route.

Safety ratings don't indicate if you will get hurt if you fall, they indicate the likely hood that you will get hurt if you make a mistake. And again, they are a vague indication of that because everyone is different.

Derek Field · · California · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 4,372
Vince Buffalini wrote
The difficulty grade should not be taken into consideration.  If the climb is 5.10, but the first 40ft. is 5.6 without pro, the climb is 5.10X.  This is no different that difficulty grades. If a climb is 100ft. of 5.5 slab, but ramps up to one 5.11 move somewhere along the way, the climb should be graded 5.11.  

I respectfully disagree. The route should only get a R/X rating if the scary part is at or near the overall route grade. Of course, trivial runouts should be called out in the pitch-by-pitch grades, but it should not translate into the overall route grade. For example, Screaming Sky Crack (Grand Canyon) gets the ominous rating of 5.11a R which is great for bragging rights and all (sounds impressive, no?), but in truth the only runout section is a pitch of low-5th-class ridge-humping. The grade is completely misleading in that it is nowhere near the same level of danger as 5.11a R routes in Tuolumne - not even close. Everything oughta be proportional. I personally fancy the Greg Barnes system (see page 1 of this thread; see also his Tuolumne guide) in that it best prepares the climber for the experience. Tradiban's summary is good too.

Vince Buffalini · · Las Vegas, Nevada · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 120
Derek Field wrote:

I respectfully disagree. The route should only get a R/X rating if the scary part is at or near the overall route grade. Of course, trivial runouts should be called out in the pitch-by-pitch grades, but it should not translate into the overall route grade. For example, Screaming Sky Crack (Grand Canyon) gets the ominous rating of 5.11a R which is great for bragging rights and all (sounds impressive, no?), but in truth the only runout section is a pitch of low-5th-class ridge-humping. The grade is completely misleading in that it is nowhere near the same level of danger as 5.11a R routes in Tuolumne - not even close. Everything oughta be proportional. I personally fancy the Greg Barnes system (see page 1 of this thread; see also his Tuolumne guide) in that it best prepares the climber for the experience. Tradiban's summary is good too.

Honestly, my initial opinion was that objectivity is the best approach, but yeah this makes a lot of sense also.  

David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144
Tradiban wrote: 

Safety ratings don't indicate if you will get hurt if you fall, they indicate the likely hood that you will get hurt if you make a mistake.

Okay... how is this a response to my criticisms?

If you make a mistake on the crux moves of the second pitch of RMC, you will hit the ledge, and hit it hard--people have broken ankles here. MF Direct I saw someone fall on--a huge fall!--into clean space. But RMC gets no safety rating (implicit G?) and MF Direct gets an R?

You can argue that someone is less likely to fall on RMC because it's a 5.5 and MF Direct is a 5.10. But I'd argue that the people who care about safety ratings on a 5.5 (or any grade) are the ones who have a significant chance of falling.

And again, they are a vague indication of that because everyone is different.
Everyone is different, but the ratings aren't for everyone, they're for people who have a chance of falling at the grade. If you're comfortable soloing it, the safety rating doesn't matter.
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
David K wrote:

Okay... how is this a response to my criticisms?

If you make a mistake on the crux moves of the second pitch of RMC, you will hit the ledge, and hit it hard--people have broken ankles here. MF Direct I saw someone fall on--a huge fall!--into clean space. But RMC gets no safety rating (implicit G?) and MF Direct gets an R?

You can argue that someone is less likely to fall on RMC because it's a 5.5 and MF Direct is a 5.10. But I'd argue that the people who care about safety ratings on a 5.5 (or any grade) are the ones who have a significant chance of falling.
It's the "likelyhood" someone will fall and get hurt and falling on 5.5 is unlikely or should be anyway.

On MF they probably just got lucky, the gear is not that great but that one time you saw, it happen to hold or the fall has potential to be bad but wasn't that time.


Everyone is different, but the ratings aren't for everyone, they're for people who have a chance of falling at the grade. If you're comfortable soloing it, the safety rating doesn't matter.

Soloing's inherent safety rating is "x". No mistakes allowed. The safety rating you are talking about or for leaders. Capisce?

Again, safety ratings are a vague indication of the danger level of a route and are meant as a simple "heads up" to a prospective leader. They are arbitrary just like difficulty ratings. Don't over think it.
David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144
Tradiban wrote: It's the "likelyhood" someone will fall and get hurt and falling on 5.5 is unlikely or should be anyway.
Okay, so every 5.5 is G? Why even have a separate safety rating if it's just determined by the difficulty?

While we're at it, you really shouldn't climb anything that you might fall in if the fall would cause you injury. So dangerous falls are unlikely, or should be anyway. So I guess that makes everything G.

On MF they probably just got lucky, the gear is not that great but that one time you saw, it happen to hold or the fall has potential to be bad but wasn't that time.
Maybe that's your ideal, but I'm saying that's not how people are using the rating system. There's some danger in the fall because the unprotected section above the roof is slabby, but most likely you're going to fall into space. If you don't trust the pin, it's easy to back it up. I'd likely rate the actual danger a PG, PG13 at worst, but people are giving it an R because the fall is huge.

Soloing's inherent safety rating is "x". No mistakes allowed. The safety rating you are talking about or for leaders. Capisce?
No, according to your previous logic, soloing's inherent safety rating is "G", because "falling on [solo] is unlikely or should be anyway". :D

What I'm saying is that if a leader is comfortable soloing 5.5, the safety rating of a 5.5 doesn't enter their considerations. It's the leaders who DO have a chance of falling on a 5.5 who care about the safety ratings of a 5.5, and giving every 5.5 a G rating because it's a 5.5 makes the ratings useless for those leaders, the only people who they could be useful for.

Again, safety ratings are a vague indication of the danger level of a route and are meant as a simple "heads up" to a prospective leader.

"Heads up! The route you're about to get on is G! Don't mind the loose rock and giant fall potential onto literal spikes. It's a 5.5 so falling is unlikely for everyone, even beginners!"

abandon moderation · · Tahoe · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 204
David K wrote: A few things:

  1. Runout distance is a dumb way to do this. I've taken falls over 10ft runouts that led to nice clean 25ft falls. I've also been very scared over 3 ft runouts with falls that ended in sharp rocks (luckily, I did not fall). Fall distance has very little to do with safety, but a lot of people who write gear ratings seem to concern themselves mostly with the spacing of the gear.
  2. These ratings seem to correlate with difficulty of the climb. In the Gunks, for example, it's almost never a good idea to fall on a 5.5, but most 5.5 climbs get no safety ratings at all on MP. Meanwhile, I've seen folks take whips repeatedly on 5.12PG13 and 5.12R climbs here, without ill effect. This likely is related to #1.
  3. Any time this topic comes up someone say something like "G doesn't mean safe--there are G routes where a fall would result in injury or death" (see Tradiban's comment in this thread for an example--but it's not a great example because he may just be trolling).
  4. Just because you bring the wrong gear doesn't mean the climb isn't protectable. But it seems like anything that takes #4 or larger, or micro nuts, seems to get at least a PG13 rating, even if it's obvious from the ground what you should bring.
Because of this, I believe the safety ratings are basically useless. They could be useful if people used them better, but the way people use them has very little to do with the actual safety of the route.

A Gunks specific comment:

In the Gunks most of the ratings (PG13/R) were established before micro nuts and micro cams were a thing. There's a fair number of R rated gunks climbs that protect ok (maybe become PG13) with a set of C3s and micronuts (but not all, of course). In the Gunks I always thought PG13 was safe if you didn't skip/miss any potential placements, but you will have to pull the crux well above gear and go for a long ride. On a PG/G climb, you can usually miss placements and still be relatively safe.

Also, the protection ratings used in the Dick Williams guides are just for the hardest moves. This is why climbs like "To Be or Not To Be" are graded something like "5.12 G" but also "5.11d X" - my point being that even if a 5.5 is dangerous to fall on, you won't see the danger rating unless the crux move is poorly protected.

There are newer guides that maybe take a different approach (I don't know), but like anything in the Gunks there's a lot of history, and I think that's why the protection ratings are the way they are.

EDIT: To answer the original question, to me R means "likely injury" and X means "likely death". Ratings on MP often get this wrong and R just means "scary"
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
David K wrote: Okay, so every 5.5 is G? Why even have a separate safety rating if it's just determined by the difficulty?
No, there's a few 5.5 that might go PG13 or more because of loose rock or something. The difficulty doesn't really come into play until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.

While we're at it, you really shouldn't climb anything that you might fall in if the fall would cause you injury. So dangerous falls are unlikely, or should be anyway. So I guess that makes everything G.
No, all falls have potential to be dangerous, just some falls more so than others. Like I said, it's arbitrary.


Maybe that's your ideal, but I'm saying that's not how people are using the rating system. There's some danger in the fall because the unprotected section above the roof is slabby, but most likely you're going to fall into space. If you don't trust the pin, it's easy to back it up. I'd likely rate the actual danger a PG, PG13 at worst, but people are giving it an R because the fall is huge.
Not my problem that people don't understand the system, but like I said, it's arbitrary.


No, according to your previous logic, soloing's inherent safety rating is "G", because "falling on [solo] is unlikely or should be anyway". :D
Safety rating doesn't come into play until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.

What I'm saying is that if a leader is comfortable soloing 5.5, the safety rating of a 5.5 doesn't enter their considerations. It's the leaders who DO have a chance of falling on a 5.5 who care about the safety ratings of a 5.5, and giving every 5.5 a G rating because it's a 5.5 makes the ratings useless for those leaders, the only people who they could be useful for.
Safety ratings don't fly until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.


"Heads up! The route you're about to get on is G! Don't mind the loose rock and giant fall potential onto literal spikes. It's a 5.5 so falling is unlikely for everyone, even beginners!"

Like I said, it's arbitrary, you have to use your own brain sometimes.

Dillon Schwertz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2014 · Points: 0
Bill Duncan wrote: "When in doubt, run it out!"

I think this is more seriously referring to short roping and short pitching and more jokingly referring to leading trad. I didn't realize this when i first heard it and was so confused!


David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144
abandon moderation wrote: Also, the protection ratings used in the Dick Williams guides are just for the hardest moves. This is why climbs like "To Be or Not To Be" are graded something like "5.12 G" but also "5.11d X" - my point being that even if a 5.5 is dangerous to fall on, you won't see the danger rating unless the crux move is poorly protected.

Yeah--but I've pointed out examples where the crux move was dangerous to fall on, and it still got a G--and that seems to be what Tradiban is arguing for as well (though, as always, he may just be trolling).

David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144
Tradiban wrote: No, there's a few 5.5 that might go PG13 or more because of loose rock or something. The difficulty doesn't really come into play until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.

No, all falls have potential to be dangerous, just some falls more so than others. Like I said, it's arbitrary.

Not my problem that people don't understand the system, but like I said, it's arbitrary.

Safety rating doesn't come into play until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.
Safety ratings don't fly until 5.8 or so. Like I said, it's arbitrary.

Like I said, it's arbitrary, you have to use your own brain sometimes.

Yes, we agree it's arbitrary. But you're saying that as if that means I can't say the ratings are wrong--I'm saying that the rating system shouldn't be arbitrary because it being arbitrary makes it useless.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
David K wrote:

Yes, we agree it's arbitrary. But you're saying that as if that means I can't say the ratings are wrong--I'm saying that the rating system shouldn't be arbitrary because it being arbitrary makes it useless.

It's not useless when it is meant to be a vague indication to help climbers from getting in over their heads. 

Honestly, it sounds like in the gunks it's all messed up! Where I climb(ed) it has been fairly spot on.

Dr. Ake · · San Francisco · Joined May 2018 · Points: 85

Ok I'm curious what you all think about Snake Dike. Here on MP it gets an R rating, and if my memory serves me correctly, in the Supertopo book it gets R/X. I've climbed it several times and refer to it as an X rated climb for these reasons:

1) it has runouts legitimately over 50' on a slab: if ya fall, I feel like you'll probably die or at very least wish you were dead
2) taking a 100'+ whipper onto the double button-head bolt anchors? Maybe I don't know enough about the old school bolts, but I don't seem them holding that kind of a fall: whole party decks in that scenario
3) some of the pro you'll place towards the bottom of the climb is pretty small, and not always that good, and the pro you can get in up high is pretty spaced out

I treat the entire route as a no fall zone, which I think is justified, especially because no one wants to take big air on a slab. Yes, the route is easy, and no one *should* fall on it. But with the potential of taking a 100'+ whipper, regardless of technical difficulty, I'm curious why folks call it R. 

Marc H · · Longmont, CO · Joined May 2007 · Points: 250
David Coley wrote: Of course this would all evaporate as a problem if everyone came to their senses and switched to using the British grading system for trad........

The problem is that we have routes that are longer than 40 feet.

David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 144
Tradiban wrote:

It's not useless when it is meant to be a vague indication to help climbers from getting in over their heads. 

It's not even that, at least not in the lower grades.

Honestly, it sounds like in the gunks it's all messed up! Where I climb(ed) it has been fairly spot on.

Eh, I've had similar experiences elsewhere, Gunks is just where I have the most experiences to draw examples from.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
David K wrote: It's not even that, at least not in the lower grades.

Eh, I've had similar experiences elsewhere, Gunks is just where I have the most experiences to draw examples from.

I think your confusion comes from the Gunks crusties clinging to the old "R" = "runout" system vs. movie rating system.

You are free to add PG-13, R, or X to any 5.5 you like because it's just an opinion. Arguing with people about the distinction between these grades is pointless because it's all an opinion coming from people with different weaknesses and strengths.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
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