It has come to my attention that some member's of our illustrious climbing society have a little trouble manoeuvring their intellects around the finer points of our (in)famous grading system. Originally designed to fool foreigners and bamboozle bumblies, It is actually quite simple once you understand it.
The grade is actually two grades, one for technical severity (what that is the hardest move that is) and an adjective grade.
The technical grade is easy to understand, it tells you if the climb is too hard, too easy, or just challenging (like porridge). The catch being it is entirely subjective and depends on you doing lots of other climbs in the first place, to the beginner that means seconding by trial or error/epic/sandbag. The technical grade shows the exact difficulty of the hardest move/ moves/ jump/ squirm/ gibber. The subjectivity of this grade (4a,4b,4c 5a,5b,5c etc) is that it is surmised in comparison to the other climbs in that area, frame of mind or the individual ascentionists opinion.
The adjective grade indicates the amount of sweat, tears, and possibly urine you are likely to produce through the leading, and possibly seconding (Valkyrie anyone...) of the specific route (not counting off route rambling epics). It is an indication of the mental attitude/condition needed for a clean assent. Like porridge again, its what you like, what you wouldn't touch with a excrement smeared twig-like thing, and what you may attempt intoxicated, in the rain with your grandfather's slippers on.
By observing both the adjective and technical grade, a rounded dread filled assessment of the climb can be made. Each adjective grade has an optimum technical grade, where the gear is adequate and possibly not too strenuous (if you have to lean back at 45 degrees to look at the climb- beware..). If a specific climb is low in its technical grade for its adjective grade, then it may have sparse protection, or multiple crux's (hardest moves...not a person's rude area). If it is high in its technical grade then it may be very well protected, or have a single crux with easy ground elsewhere.
Here's the fun bit...Each climbing area has different rock types and >locals which dictate what's adequate and what's hard.....you get the picture.. Northern hardmen, Cornish nutters, sensible Peak dwellers (hah) and the Welsh.....
This is all very well but without experience the exact intricacies of the system is lost. What follows is my own experiences of the grades, and a bit of spice...proceed with caution.
The family Diff
This group of little adjectives are a minor delight, or major annoyance. This all depends on when/where it was put up and how popular it is. The old monster's may seem to be easy, but are similar to walking over a very thin bridge over lots of pointy things, i.e. Sparse gear. In general these are lovely chirpy tykes which are bountiful in jugs and more protection than a spotty adolescent on an 18-30 holiday......oh yes, popular means polished....And beware of a Moderate with a technical grade.
Ooh... like being told off by your gran. This is where things are no longer a happy stroll and tend to involve muscles and such like. They often don't have a grade, although S 4a is fairly optimum gear wise in a perfect world. Unfortunately protection is no longer given away and it may not be exactly where you want it, i.e. above you....no need for skyhooks though. (P.s. there are S 6a's in the north, Ooer)
The adolescent bully stealing your sweets, I've never climbed an easy HS, Highly Suspicious more like it. These can be awkward, strenuous, run out, or just plain rude. There is gear however, if a bit hard won, and optimum tech grade is about 4a/4b, it is rare to see them ungraded technically. A classic example is Diamond crack at Froggat
After HS, VS is a delight. Technically more challenging but with well protected crux's at an optimum tech grade of 4c (5a in Northumbria!!) VS 4a's and 4b's can be Very Sparse, but without a real kick in the knacker's of a crux. Caution...there are many sandbags that may be HVS's in disguise(Anvil Chorus at Baggy), especially if you're a bit soft , so do your research.
Hard Very Severe
This can be strenuous, silly, stupid or serious. With an optimum grade of about 5b/5a it is not something you should just walk into (you might bang your nose). There is generally enough gear provided you can confidently pass over the easier ground (those bits that aren't the ground, or the crux) and shouldn't result in grounding out amongst barbed wire and randy sheep. There is, however the opportunity for large falls and copious swearing. This is butch stuff to be taken on the chin (or bum, if fallen). This is where the extremes of technical grade start to kick in (like the first big wave as you wade into the North Sea (the lads understand). HVS 4c can be a horror story of strenuous pulling on lumps of choss above appalling gear and a hungry sea. HVS 5c can be a pigging bitch with loads of gear if you have the strength to place it.
This is generally serious, although some are just HVS's that have been deemed too hard core. Most are just technically challenging with sp(arse) gear. You can hurt your self on these (well on any climb really, but the dice are loaded on extremes) as I found out earlier these can be about more than a clean ascent, but about survival. 5b is an optimum grade with 5a been sparsely protected or strenuous/awkward. 5c/6a's may or may not have bags of gear (probably not where you want it). E1 4c is a dirty film of a grade, a classic being California Arete on slate. No gear, loose rock, 50m high, with a Vlad the Impaler crash mat (its on my tick list).
The above in sack loads, optimum grade 5c.
The E's HVS. very serious or like climbing with an elephant clamped to your private parts. Optimum grade 5c/6a.
Actually it gets a bit easier here, as long as you don't mind dying if you fall off. I've only seconded one, (fell off) and as long as you can do the moves its OK, the non stupidly hard bits tend to have no protection but if you can do the impossibly hard bits (optimum grade 6a/b) then you wont fall off those. A little like lighting your farts with napalm, however.
Silly silly silly
Arghhh die die
you can tell I'm bored
Some one can do them
Ahh, now John Dunne does these.
Those as well
Not been done yet (probably only Scottish HVS)
Xs Not really harder than E11, but a euphemism for a climb that is extreme in a unique and ungradeable way. HXS is occasionally used for ungradeables at an E6-9 level XS is easier than that(!!) They do give technical grades but they are only an indication. They tend to have a very high objective danger level (dragons, tigers, loose rock) in fact some are so loose that an entire climb may fall down before a 2nd ascent (or in one memorable case during the 1st ascent).
There we go, enough sand to bag a whole legion. Above all, remember that if you can't do the moves, don't do the climb, or is that the time....do you like hospital food.
P.S. If you're seconding things might be a little less deadly, at least while the ropes above you and your leader's strong (or has a winch).