Grading for deep water soloing

Grading for deep water soloing

The subject of climbing grades in this country seems to instil fear in most foreign visitors, as they are used to more simple representation. While we are brought up on a diet of bizarre, over-complicated grades, that seem designed to thwart us. This article aims to establish the basis by which the grades applied to DWS came about and how they work.

The 'S' grade

This was first devised by the authors of the 1995 Climber's Club Dorset DWS guide (the first dedicated guide for the 'medium' of DWS), and was designed to provide a basic understanding of the potential danger (or lack of it) attached to each route in the guide, whilst not taking into consideration the overall difficulty of the route. The system thus gave us S0, S1, S2 and S3; these embellishments were added to the more general grade, much as the Yorkshire guide later came up with a 'P' rating for injury potential, and the Americans have their PG, R and X ratings.

At this point, it would be desirable to offer the original table itself, with one or two later revisions. It goes like this:

  • S0: Safe at most tides, not particularly high crux moves. This grade is essentially safe; climb until you fall!
  • S1: Care required; either tide or depth needs checking, or maybe there is a high-ish crux.
  • S2: A little more risky than an S1; possibly a spring tide-only route (higher water levels). 'Landings' may be more important - maybe a crash landing into shallow water required. Likely to have a high crux, possibly a little dubious rock, or maybe the route contains some inverted moves. Take care.
  • S3: A connoisseur's route only - do the S1s and S2s first! S3 will either be too high for comfort, be slightly loose, have far too high or inverted a crux, or not get enough water for complete safety, even with help from spring tides. Additionally, some of the moves may be above rock (although not the crux). Play it safe, it's not advisable to on sight an S3!  
General grades

Lastly, let's take a peek at the more general grades. These may confuse as, for our DWS descriptions, you'll find attached a combination of British 'E' grades, French 'F' grades, and the ubiquitous 'XS' grades! You may not be so familiar with the XS grade (originally applied to such routes as Mick Fowler-esque chalk sea stacks and other esoteric offerings); simply, it tells of the hardest move, and generally applies to DWS routes that are low or short, especially boulder problem routes, although there are some higher exceptions!

The grade mix found in the guides can be unusual, but consider this contemporary titbit: more and more, French 'F' grades are being applied to DWS routes, in part due to the fact that DWSs have no gear-placing element (much like sport routes). Thus at Conner Cove, Fathoms is considered F6B, Freeborn Man is known (especially to foreign visitors) as F6C, and the 'desperate' Hermann Borg's, to its left, is known as 'that tricky F7B+'!

Hope this gets you off the ground (sea?). Good luck!

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