Aid Ratings explained: The rating of any aid pitch is incredibly arbitrary. Many factors like skill/experience, having the right equipment, height, free climbing ability, cleanlines of the cracks, or the condition of fixed gear like bolts, pitons and copperheads can easily make a pitch easier or more difficult than what the rating suggests. Totem Cams rule! Be prepared for anything on the wall and you will be able to be safe and have fun. Above all, never assume that a rating on a topo supercedes your actual experience on a pitch. Trust yourself.
“A” means ‘Aid’ and stands for placements that require a hammer, like pitons and copperheads.
“C” means ‘clean’ and stands for placements which are passively placed, like cams,hooks, and nuts.
Grade V(5): refers to shorter bigwalls, routes that usually take only one or two nights on the wall.
Grade VI(6): refers to most bigwall routes in Yosemite, which require 2-7 nights on the wall.
Grade VII(7): Extreme bigwalls that require more than 7 nights on the wall and are also associated with remoteness, weather complications, ect.
A0 or “French Free”: refers to short sections of aid where pieces(often bolts) are pulled on for upward progress but that the majority of the pitch is free climbed.
Beginner: A1, C1-C2
Straight forward, mostly secure placements
For most climbers, even beginner bigwalls are rarely easy. A solid trad-climbing knowledge base helps tremendously. Some aid climbing gear, like hooks, cam hooks, even a couple pitons(which are often fixed on beginner routes)may be necessary. These routes are approachable with basic skills, enough time and equipment. Examples: South Face of Washington Column, Lost Arrow Direct, Gold Wall
Intermediate: A2-A3, C2-C3
some awkward/difficult placements but no long fall potential; more aid gear required.
Intermediate routes may require you to hook, nail a piton, or paste in a copperhead or two though generally sparingly. Any technical/tricky aid sections are short and are preceded/followed by secure placements. Examples: The Prow, Zodiac, West Face of Leaning Tower,
Advanced: A3+-A4, C3-C4
more consistently tricky/dangerous climbing.
Advanced routes require you to camhook liberally, nail multiple pitons/copperheads, or hook several times on any given pitch. The most popular routes often have much fixed gear, like sections of copperheads, that are relatively quick and secure for most parties but are still considered this grade because the fixed gear will not hold falls and would be difficult to replace. Examples: Most El Cap and Half Dome routes.
continuously tricky/delicate/ingenious and/or dangerous climbing, long fall potential.
Expert routes require skills that can only be developed through experience. These routes push the limits of what is technically possible. Expert routes require advanced technical knowledge and even greater mental fortitude.