Difficulty of a climb: Discussion, References and Comparisons.

This section is being developed, it is currently incomplete.

The many attempts to describe or classify the difficulty of ascending a specific mountain have resulted in a very comlex "jungle" of different systems. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward way to compare these (However, see below). Perhaps even more important, such classifications tend to be highly subjective and obviously, the rating depends not only on the exact route taken, but also on the day of the climb. Conditions are often affected by the season (summer, winter etc.), but also of the weather, rain and wet, or sunny and dry. Avalanches, the melting of glaciers, many factors contribute to the variability of a given mountain route.

Still, most hikers and climbers agree that a certain level of description is useful and can be used (with caution) to plan a trip. Many systems for rating the (technical) difficulty of a climb only considers "the crux", the single most difficult passage on the route. Such a classification often assumes "perfect conditions" (eg. dry rock and sunshine) and also ignores the (for many highly relevant) issues of exposure and consequences of a fall. Other systems tries (with mixed success) to also take the overall committment, the level of sustained difficulty as well as the overall effort into consideration.

On these pages, I have adopted the American YDS (Yosemite Decimal System) in order to give a rating to most, often non-technical climbs. To complement this, I also use the French Alpine Grades as well as the UIAA rock climbing classification. Finally, climbs on snow and ice often list the general steepness of such slopes in degrees. A snow slope of less than 30 degrees is called "Easy", between 30 and 45 degrees, "Moderate", while steeper than 45 degrees is called "Steep".

First, let us have a look at the YDS system:
YDS class 1: This grade is used if the peak can be climbed by walking on a trail from the parking lot (trailhead) to the summit. No use of hands shall be needed, however, the trail can be somewhat narrow and somewhat steep. There may be exposure and possibly unpleasant consequences if one falls off the trail. It is essential that there be a trail, a section of level, unobstructed terrain can sometimes also be sufficiently easy to class at this level.
YDS class 2: This grade is used to classify a climb where the climber must walk off-trail. The terrain can have considerably variation and care may be needed in order to place your foot safely. Fields and sections with boulders are class 2 terrain. The climber may, from time to time, use a hand for support and balance. Still, there is a clear notion of walking. Again, there may be exposure and unpleasant consequences from a fall. Easy snow slopes (and sometimes moderate snow slopes) may be part of the route. The level of attention required to your movements is definitely higher than for a class 1 trail.
YDS class 2+: This grade (introduced by Gerry Roach?) is used to characterize a climb that really falls between walking and easy climbing. Easy scrambling falls into this category. Hands are used more frequently than permitted under a class 2 grading, but the "look and feel" is still more walking than climbing.
YDS class 3: This grade broadly coveres what is often termed scrambling. You do need to use your hands in order to facilitate upward movement, but hand and footholds are quite plentyful. There are often many alternate variations of the route. Short sections of class 3 are almost always climbed without the security of a rope, however many people would feel more comfortable having a rope on long, sustained sections as well as passages with significant exposure. A long snow slope of moderate steepness (as well as short sections of steep snow) also falls into this category. Down climbing a class 3 route requires careful moves and considerable attention, this is almost always easier with the assistance of a rope.
YDS class 4: This grade is the first level of real climbing. A class 4 pitch requires full focus on the upward movement. There are fewer variations in how one the move can be done. Short sections may still be done unroped, longer sections are almost always done with the security of a rope. Longer sections of steep snow are class 4. Most people would prefer to rapell (abseil) instead of down-climbing a class 4 pitch of more than a few meter.
YDS class 5.x: This grade, with "x" ranging from 0-14, is used to characterize technical climbing. A rating with "x" exceeding 6-7 is extremely difficult and almost never needed in an mountaineering sense, with the specific objective to climb the "easiest route" on a (large) mountain.

A main motivation for using the YDS system on these pages (aside from the familiarity to American readers) is that it seems to be the more well developed and mature and suitable system for classification of hikes/climbs that do not fall into the domain of technical climbing. When climbing most mountains on their easiest route, this is, after all, a frequent situation.
The French Alpine Grades
Next, let us look at the French Alpine Grading. Unlike the YDS system described above, the French Alpine Grading also considers the overall committment and sustained difficulty of the climb.
Facile, abbreviated F:
Peu Difficile, abbreviated PD:
Axxx Difficile, abbreviated AD:
Difficile, abbreviated D:
TXXXX Difficile, abbreviated TD:
Each grade is also often used with a "plus" or a "minus" to further differentiate the scale.
The UIAA system
Finally, let us consider the UIAA system for rating rock climbing difficulty.
Also here, one often uses a "plus" or "minus" to indicate intermediate classifications.
The biggest error in comparison between systems seems to be when translating between UIAA and YDS. One more often than not, will find statements that equals a low UIAA grade with a low 5.x grade in YDS. This is totally off target, as YDS class 3 and YDS class 4 certainly takes care of UIAA grades I and II (and sometimes III as well). Thus, in most cases the YDS 5.x grades start around an UIAA IV grade.
It is claimed (reasonably correctly) that the Norwegian rating system equals the UIAA system for the lower grades (at least including UIAA IV), except for the cosmetic difference that the Norwegian system uses Arabic numerals instead of Roman.
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