(C) Rockfax
Southern Sandstone is going through a grading revolution. 

Until now the only grade used on Southern Sandstone was the UK technical grade which had evolved from the French font grading system. These technical grades were then later adopted for use with traditional climbs, which were paired with the historical adjectival grade, to give more overall information using a two-part grade. This dual grading system has become almost exclusively used for traditional climbs in the UK with the adjectival grade and technical grade working side by side (eg. HVS 5a) to give separate appraisals on different aspects of the climbing.

On Southern Sandstone, as climbers look for more information from their grading systems, the continued use of the UK technical grade on its own has created problems. The adjectival grade gives information primarily on traditionally protected ascents so is less relevant on Southern Sandstone where routes are usually top-roped, so it had never been established in use. Sandstone had no relevant adjectival grade to give an overall impression of how hard a route was, only the technical grade concerning the single hardest move. As a result, there has been a gradual shift away from how the UK technical grade is interpreted in the rest of the country, and the Southern Sandstone technical grade has adopted an identity of its own. It has also become distorted due to its inflexibility, with single grades covering a wide range of difficulty and different route styles. 

Guidebook writers have been laying the foundations to tackle this problem for a number of years. David Atchison-Jones published a guidebook with a ‘plus system’ to the UK technical grade to add more sub-divisions. He soon replaced it with the font grade in 2010. Ben Read and James O’Neil moved to exclusively using the font grade to describe boulder problems and highball problems in their 2011 bouldering guide. In 2017 Daimon Beail introduced the sport grade to sit alongside the UK technical grade in the Rockfax guidebook.

(c) Southern Sandstone Climbs

What became apparent while working on the 2017 book is that the different interpretation of the UK technical grade on Southern Sandstone was straining to cope with the increase in standards. A UK technical grade of 6b could span everything from sport 7a to sport 8a which is a vast range of difficulty. 

When the 2017 Rockfax guide was published the sport grade was presented alongside the old UK technical grade. This leads to the sport grade being the dominant descriptive grade for the overall difficulty of the route and the UK technical grade only offering information on that single hardest move as it does with normal UK traditional grade routes. 

In the Rockfax guide the font grade is only used for bouldering and highball problems and the sport grade for routes (which are top-roped). This presents the overall difficulty of a route/problem, is familiar to those using indoor walls and brings consistency with other areas of the UK. The UK technical grade is still in the 2017 Rockfax (but not the app) and is there to help with the transition to the French grade, and offer information on the hardest single move. 

The sport grades presented in the 2017 Rockfax guide are mostly new grades which haven’t been applied before. They were established by combining the experience of author, personal feedback from other climbers, and comments and votes from UKC Logbook entries. The grades are as accurate as they can be for a first try but there will no doubt be some discrepancies, especially with less popular routes.

(c) UKClimbing

Using online feedback we have an opportunity to establish a much better consensus on these grades and the use of the sport grade allows many more sub-divisions to properly reflect the range of difficulty levels.

You can help by using the Rockfax guide or app, and giving your feedback on the UKC Logbook pages to let everyone know what you think of the grade no matter how outlandish your thoughts may be. This way we can build up a strong consensus on grades on Southern Sandstone and improve the overall information.

This is a very exciting time to be climbing on southern sandstone and help reshape its future, so get a Rockfax guide to see the sport grades and get involved with feedback!

Feedback can also be left here.