How do you interpret safety ratings?


Original Post
Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

I realize all ratings in climbing are subjective. But I'm curious how others interpret safety ratings to decide how I should interpret them. The main issue is with PG-13, with R and X I expect runouts and/or questionable placements to be almost more common than solid placements. But I have seen PG-13 given to routes that I thought had pretty good placements and on routes that describe (what I read as) dangerous runouts. I have generally avoided PG-13 routes because of the uncertainty, so maybe I would be more comfortable than I expect on some of those climbs.

So does PG-13 mean "there may be runouts/questionable placements, but only on terrain that will be easy if you are comfortable at the grade" or "You can expect to find good placements throughout" or something else in between?

Perhaps this would be more clear if we actually used G and/or PG? When I'm looking at routes and they don't list PG-13, R, or X then I have to wonder if it's because the person did not bother to post it, or is it safer than PG-13? Or do we not use G/PG because PG-13 is the safest option for climbing?

Mike13 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 10

Some guidebooks do use G and PG. Levin's Eldo book for example

JSchloem · · Homer, AK · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 210

Guides occasionally use G/PG (Gunks for sure). As for PG-13...usually safe, could mean long runouts for slabbish stuff. R starts getting pretty sketch or needs small gear.

JSchloem · · Homer, AK · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 210

But hey, leader never falls

Daniel H. Bryant · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 275

With a grain of salt, just like I do difficulty ratings.

The unfortunate subjective nature leaves the interpretation up to you. Trust your gut.

Eric Chabot · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 35

You have to be able to assess your ability to protect the climb from the ground when looking at the climb, regardless of what the guidebook says. That depends on your skill, experience, fitness level, and the gear you brought with you to the crag.

That being said, when a guide gives a pro rating, it's often kind of specific to the area / guide you're looking at. In some areas, (ahem Daks ahem) the protection rating is only for the crux--G might mean gear at your face for the crux, but may mean substantial runouts on easier ground. In other areas it is for the whole route--G means a crack that eats gear from bottom to top, easy to aid your way to the top if need be. It just depends on the area. In a new area, I start on the G routes and move up from there.

In my mind:
G- pro is "Good" whatever that means
PG- pro is "Pretty Good"
PG-13- pro is a little scary / sporty. Gear might be small, tough to place, not available in the crux or there's a crunchy ledge right below the crux, etc. Basically means heads up, you could get seriously injured on this route.
R- Runout. pro not available for longer sections than pg13. While you might get gear some places, you could fall a long way and could go to the hospital.
X- Death route. No pro for most of the route. Fall you die.

Again your ability to protect the climb is more important than the guidebook or MP protection rating, as these can be very area-specific. Some areas require specialized climbing skills (you need to jam to climb at Indian Creek) and some require specialized head skills (you need to manage runouts to climb at the needles, SD where the bar for a climb being 'R' is just higher). I live in SLC and pg13 at American Fork (bolted sport climbing) might be manageable for me while pg13 in Little Cottonwood (granite slabs and cracks) will have me shitting my new prana.

A climb might say pg13 but if you don't have the right small cams / ball nutz / big cams / painted 2x4s or whatever all of a sudden you're way over your head. Likewise if you're laybacking a crack in a corner at your limit placing the gear will be hard even if it's available everywhere on the climb. Is this 'G'? PG? PG13? depends on your ability.

maybe try a pg13 couple number grades below your limit. Or find a rope gun or TR-able line and suss it out. Or be ready to downclimb.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

In general, imho, the PG-13 thing is essentially saying- be solid at whatever grade is in front of this, and you'll be fine. If you're not solid, you'll probably get spooked, but probably not hurt if you pop.

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

I'm in Denver and so I wouldn't be surprised if the ratings are going to be less consistent with some many different people in a relatively small area, and more still coming in.

But if I'm looking on MP or such to decide a specific area to head to for the day then I might skip over an area if it's only PG-13 at my limit or harder, so then I wouldn't have the view from the bottom.
This past weekend I tried Warn'r and was still able to aid up it when I chickened out on doing the moves free. I did not really expect to be able to do that. But the start is runout over easy terrain, you can get pieces in but they weren't that great until I got into the nook.

And although I did not state it, I was kind of basing off the the assumption that you have a standard rack for the area plus any extra pieces listed in the guidebook/MP.
But it sounds like my ideas on it are pretty standard.

Mark Thesing · · Central Indiana · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 60

It appears at times a rating can have to do with your proficiency in placing protection. I did a lot of climbing back in the early 80's and then got out of it for about 30 years. When I got back into it I found that for the most part people relied very heavily on cams. It seams a lot of times that if a climb does not readily accept cams it safety rating is bumped up regardless if there are good passive options.

There is a climb that I did the FA on back in 1984. At the time I though it was very safe and well protected. I was able to lace it up with small to medium sized stoppers and hexes. When I got back into climbing and found the climb written up on MP, I was shocked to see it listed as an R. My only guess is if you are relying on cams to protect it, it may be a little eye opening. If you leave the cams on the ground and head up with a rack of passive pro that is geared toward from small to medium then you probably won't have much of a problem.

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 6

The US safety ratings were based of the MPAA movie ratings. Back in the day those ratings were: G / PG / R /X. (Note the lack of PG13). Many climbs/climbing areas still just grade on this scale -- without a PG13. Then, it was decided that PG was a bit too broad, the ratings a bit too conservative (as values changed) and the MPAA had forgotten/not properly trademarked X for a rating (resulting in XXX porn movies, for example), and this scale has been updated to G / PG / PG13 / R / NC17. Apparently some protection grading has absorbed the new "PG13" but not the change from "X" to "NC17".

Of course, these grades are, like all grades, relative to the area, and a judgement call.

G - generally good gear throughout, and especially at the crux. On lower grades, this will also suggest that placement is generally done from a non-stressed position -- you'll mostly have stance or a rest hold to place the gear. This may, still, include run-out sections of easier climbing, though such may get a split rating such as 5.8G (5.4 R), suggesting that the harder climbing on the pitch or climb (5.5-5.8) is well protected, but there longish sections of poorly protected 5.4 (or easier) climbing. This would be generally be a good climb on which to climb at/near or pushing your limit.

PG/PG13 - gear is less frequent, or harder to place/find, or less solid than for G. If PG is split from PG13 (don't assume this unless you see both in the guide/area), then PG13 will be more so. Placement positions may be more stressed. Often the climb description will give some idea of the nature of the "PG"ness of the climb. Probably not a good climb to be pushing your grade on.

R - the climb is distinctly run-out, longish distance between placement and these may be at the grade of the climb. Falls are a bad choice, likely to hurt, good chance of injury. You should be absolutely solid at the grade.

X - you are effectively free-soloing while dragging a rope for significant portions of the climb. Severe injury or death is a likely result of a fall at the wrong point.

Yes, it would be really nice if guide books clearly distinguished between "no rating means its G" and "no rating means we don't know the rating" for safety. Perhaps U to mean "this climb is not yet rated".

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

Also MP doesn't even give G or PG as options for rating routes.
I have used MP more than I have used actual guidebooks and so have not seen anything as of yet listed as G or PG.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

G, PG and PG-13 shouldn't even exist. Hell, X maybe not either because very few climbs are really X..very few.

I think it's more about your ability to place gear than about real dangers.

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

While I see how ones ability to place gear will effect how the rating applies, there are some climbs that just don't offer much for gear placements. Which should be what the rating is referring to. Sure, you can expect a slab to have few, if any, placements and parallel sided cracks are going to tend to have plenty of placements. So those you can figure out from the description alone, but face climbs might take a lot and might not take any. Those are where the rating are really useful (and of course there are exceptions where there could be a slab that takes lots of gear or a crack that might not take much).

Michael Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 735
Brady3 wrote:While I see how ones ability to place gear will effect how the rating applies, there are some climbs that just don't offer much for gear placements. Which should be what the rating is referring to. Sure, you can expect a slab to have few, if any, placements and parallel sided cracks are going to tend to have plenty of placements. So those you can figure out from the description alone, but face climbs might take a lot and might not take any. Those are where the rating are really useful (and of course there are exceptions where there could be a slab that takes lots of gear or a crack that might not take much).
Man, how did we ever climb anything before the Internet. The Idea that any rock climb is safe
Is news to most of us, with @ least 10 yrs experience.

A hint at the difficulties is nice if you want a reason not to try something.

Look before you Climb, take what typically is your standard rack and give it a go.

What I ,at my short stature, call PG13 is not what a 6 foot tall climber would call PG,

The idea that you can trust the opinion of written or internet guides &/or locals is also a problem.
( when it is your home crag it is more often always PG not PG13, due to familiarity.)

I think you are in Colorado?
The different areas there are a great example. El Do, pg13 vs Lumpy Ridge pg13? , Ive Been on 11s at both areas and would have called all of Eldo, R, until id climbed there a few times.
Or the bolts, but not sport climbs, in the South Platt? vs Penitent or the Rockgarden?
20 kN · · Hawaii · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,352
John Wilder wrote:, If you're not solid, you'll probably get spooked, but probably not hurt if you pop.
Most of the routes that are PG-13 that I've climbed or rated as PG-13 means a fall in the wrong place very likely will result in serious injury or a large fall. The main difference between PG-13 and R to me is that PG13 means the climbing in the dangerous section is probably easy so the fall is unlikely, whereas with R the climbing is probably harder, or the runout is longer. However, with both PG13 and R, minding some exceptions, falling at the wrong time will likely result in injury.
Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15
Michael Schneider wrote: Man, how did we ever climb anything before the Internet. The Idea that any rock climb is safe Is news to most of us, with @ least 10 yrs experience. A hint at the difficulties is nice if you want a reason not to try something. Look before you Climb, take what typically is your standard rack and give it a go. What I ,at my short stature, call PG13 is not what a 6 foot tall climber would call PG, The idea that you can trust the opinion of written or internet guides &/or locals is also a problem. ( when it is your home crag it is more often always PG not PG13, due to familiarity.) I think you are in Colorado? The different areas there are a great example. El Do, pg13 vs Lumpy Ridge pg13? , Ive Been on 11s at both areas and would have called all of Eldo, R, until id climbed there a few times. Or the bolts, but not sport climbs, in the South Platt? vs Penitent or the Rockgarden?
It's more so that I can get an idea of the climb before I look at it. I only have a couple climbing partners that want to do trad, a few more that will follow trad, and none that will tolerate a hike more than 15 min. So I am often left to areas that will only have a couple trad climbs, thus I don't want to drive out to a crag with only one thing that I really want to climb only to find that I won't be comfortable with the placements.
The reason I decided to go ahead and try Warn'r even though it is PG-13 is because I had looked at it and thought it looked ok for gear, it still turned out better than I expected because I assumed it to be worse than it looked based off the rating.

I realize that all ratings in climbing are subjective and are only useful to a certain point. But they are still useful. From what others are saying, I won't make a special trip for a PG-13 climb until I'm more comfortable at that grade, if I end up looking at a PG-13 climb close to my limit I may still climb it depending on how it looks to me and how I feel that day.
Michael Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 735
Brady3 wrote: It's more so that I can get an idea of the climb before I look at it. I only have a couple climbing partners that want to do trad, a few more that will follow trad, and none that will tolerate a hike more than 15 min. So I am often left to areas that will only have a couple trad climbs, thus I don't want to drive out to a crag with only one thing that I really want to climb only to find that I won't be comfortable with the placements. The reason I decided to go ahead and try Warn'r even though it is PG-13 is because I had looked at it and thought it looked ok for gear, it still turned out better than I expected because I assumed it to be worse than it looked based off the rating. I realize that all ratings in climbing are subjective and are only useful to a certain point. But they are still useful. From what others are saying, I won't make a special trip for a PG-13 climb until I'm more comfortable at that grade, if I end up looking at a PG-13 climb close to my limit I may still climb it depending on how it looks to me and how I feel that day.
I'm sorry to hear that sport climbing has outpaced the American driven art of climbing by fair means.
The innovations in gear, the overall reduction of the total weight of everything, makes taking & placing lots of gear, climbing farther and farther afield so much easier than it has ever been.

Your comment about the current trend to cluster at the roadside climbing zones seem like a lack of
awareness of the vast opportunities that the technology was designed to give us.

I'm really sad to hear that approaches and solitude are not a higher priority to so many climbers.
Back in the day comment avoided. . .

This should not be viewed as a slap, it just is the progression of the activity. It is a trend seen 1st in Europe that led to the initial rise in sport climbing as well as climbing standards.

The availability of Conveniences, & safety should be high priorities. The increased levels of sheer climbing abilities of gym trained climbers, has out-paced their learning curve.

Climbers do not gain the experience on moderate routes, instead they lean on all the information of
the supposed difficulties that might be encountered.
Then get on climbs that may be above their comfort level to lead without hanging or falling.
Going at climbing this way certainly warrants a well schooled, as fully informed as possible approach. Bolts and support of others fill out the safest way to go.

I get that, and certainly take full advantage of the progress, that has taken over climbing.

Climbing is dangerous the physical side and the safety side often play catch up with each other.
I try to stress that milage, practice and careful progress are more important than made up numbers.

That message has mostly hit cement as opposed to fertile soil. Not deaf ears just more often, it is the
hubris of youth ~
"A get out of the way grand-pa,, we are Rad crushers sending by hanging our way up"

It is different from older ways of learning to climb, and fosters a faith in the gear, I'm glad the gear, the protection is up to the challenge.

Knees and ankles, the ravages of time should be the only reason that today's climbers stay close to the truck.
john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

Michael,,just great stuff...thanks for saying it.

I'm glad that there are still lots of places that even my crusty knees can make it to

Alex James · · Ballard, WA · Joined May 2016 · Points: 153
Brady3 wrote: It's more so that I can get an idea of the climb before I look at it. I only have a couple climbing partners that want to do trad, a few more that will follow trad, and none that will tolerate a hike more than 15 min. So I am often left to areas that will only have a couple trad climbs, thus I don't want to drive out to a crag with only one thing that I really want to climb only to find that I won't be comfortable with the placements. The reason I decided to go ahead and try Warn'r even though it is PG-13 is because I had looked at it and thought it looked ok for gear, it still turned out better than I expected because I assumed it to be worse than it looked based off the rating. I realize that all ratings in climbing are subjective and are only useful to a certain point. But they are still useful. From what others are saying, I won't make a special trip for a PG-13 climb until I'm more comfortable at that grade, if I end up looking at a PG-13 climb close to my limit I may still climb it depending on how it looks to me and how I feel that day.
From my experience, the rating scale is relative to each area. The more front-country the area, the less runout something is before it gets a rating. The more backcountry, the more runout something will be before a rating. As such, I'm warier of PG13 climbs in mountain ranges.

As for PG/PG13 in general, my take would be I'd expect the potential for a really long fall but most likely not hitting much OR a short fall but hitting something but not enough to warrant say R. I think this second case might apply to the climbs you felt were well protected but had PG-13 ratings. They might have had a not really runout section but the short fall you would have taken would have landed you square onto a slab or ledge or tree or something.

(also sorry for digging up a post from September, I was bored)
ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 230
G - No Risk.
PG - May hurt a little.
PG-13 - May end up in hospital if you fall at the right spot but likely just get hurt really bad and get carried / limp home.
R - Good chance a fall will end up in a hospital, if you are lucky your friends will carry you to the car and you will go have a beer afterwards.
X - At least half the route you are free soloing or are placing only mental gear to help stop the shaking.
frank minunni · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2011 · Points: 96

G- It's the Shit
PG- Pretty Cool
PG13- Shit!
R- Shit Fuck!
X-I am so Fucked!

By the way Michael et al. I do think that reliance on cams has really changed the way folks lead and it's not for the good, especially in places like the Gunks where nuts are often much better than cams. When I would teach someone to lead, I would select routes that ate nuts and not them take cams on the route.

I used to really like those "Shit Fuck!" and "I am so Fucked!" routes. What was I thinking?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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