In the United States, we have the V system for bouldering problems. In France, they use the Fontainebleau, or font scale. Yet, while Germany has its own UIAA system for roped climbs, there is no standard for bouldering which initially confuses us poor foreigners.
How boulder problems are often set in Germany:
First of all, I can’t promise everyone uses this system. But it’s common in one variant or another. Problems are color coded with a letter to indicate the wall and number for the route, written on a colored tag. So, you’ll see “M5” at the start of a route and then you look at the top to find the end of M5. Note the grade is indicated by the color, NOT the number since boulder problems are numbered instead of named. And best of all, problems are set in a single color. You won’t find a mess of tape surrounding every hold like in the US. The same goes for normal routes. Ordnung muss sein!
My gym’s modified font scale
Below, you’ll see a photo I recently snapped of the new bouldering grades at my local gym in Stuttgart. It was a new year’s surprise and came in response to customer gripes. In German, it says on top “Explanation of the Grade Signs” and then features a table with the French or Fontainebleau grading scale on the left hand side and the gym’s new system on the right.
The bouldering grades at my gym were originally white, yellow, blue, red, black (from easiest to hardest). But this of course meant each color contained many grades. The new sign explains they are split into six categories: easy, moderate, medium, tricky, difficult, and extreme and still color coded. Basically they just added orange. Nearby Cafe Kraft in Vaihingen uses the standard font system which includes several additional colors. For more info on the history of bouldering and grading systems, check out 99boulders.
Below, is the “true” font scale that Cafe Kraft uses. Given they’re a purely bouldering gym or Boulderhalle, it is unsurprising.
Stay tuned for a brief overview of the UIAA grading system for roped climbs.