By: Joan Shine
Climbers trying to scale a mountain need to know what its characteristics are and the level of difficulty involved for a successful climb. This is why mountains have a rating system for climbing. For beginner climbers and climb leaders, this is one of the most important technical information about mountain climbing that they should learn.
The rating system is a widely accepted grading method that tells a climber the level of skill and stamina required to scale a particular mountain for free climbing. The system rating also varies from one country to another. There are several types of mountain climbing rating systems, including the Ewbank, UIAA, French and British and Irish.
Ewbank Developed by John Ewbank, the Ewbank system was originally intended to provide a rating for the difficulty level of individual moves required for a climb. These days, other considerations are included, such as technical difficulty, strenuousness, exposure and protection levels. This is a system that is used in countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
UIAA The UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) is a rating system used for Austria and Western Germany. The French rating system is used in France, Italy and Spain. You probably might encounter this system for especially difficult climbs.
British and Irish The British rating system uses the technical grading and the adjectival grading. The technical grading establishes the level of movement difficulties required for the climb and the adjectival grading rates the general difficulty level. It uses the same system as the French rating and grades are often prefixed with ‘F’.
An adjectival rating system indicates the general difficulty assessment of a climb. Essentially, it consists of: M – Moderate D/Diff – Difficult VD/VDiff – Very Difficult HVD – Hard Very Difficult S – Severe HS – Hard Severe VS – Very Severe HVS – Hard Very Severe E1, E2, E3, E4, etc. – Extremely Very Severe. This is also an open-ended rating, although the latest climb with the hardest grade is at E11. A confirmed climb graded with the highest difficulty so far is E9.
In case you’re wondering, ‘E’ for Easy is hardly used as an adjectival rating for mountain climbing. Also, if you looked in some guidebooks, you might find more detailed descriptions to rate a climb, such as ‘Mild Severe’ or ‘Mild Difficult’. These are used to include several factors that could vary such as conditions from the ground and on different elevations.
The YDS The YDS or the Yosemite Decimal System was developed particularly for mountain climbing in the Sierra Nevada. It consists of the climbing grade, class and protection, although usage for the latter two varies. This is the rating system that is used in North America and often consists of two numbers. The first number indicates the class while the second indicates the level of difficulty.
The grade indicates the approximate number of hours that a normal climb requires and is often used for mountaineering. This isn’t used for shorter rock climbs. Grade I – requires 1-2 hours Grade II – less than 1/2 day Grade III – one-half day Grade IV – one day climb Grade V – two days Grade VI – more than two days Grade VII – one week or more
The YDS Class indicates the technical difficulty of a climb. Class 1 – indicates a mountain climb that is good for trail walking, with a small chance of sustaining a fall or injury that is fatal.
Class 2 – indicates a mountain that is possibly steep and requires some scrambling, especially off-trail. A Class 2 climb can mean that a climber will need to use his hands or a tool like an ice axe for balance or to pull himself up. This class also indicates a greater chance of sustaining a severe injury, although it’s still not considered fatal.
Class 3 – means that the mountain climb will require hand and foot holds and tools such as crampons and ice axes. The use of ropes may also be indicated.
Class 4 – requires ropes and anchored belays. Otherwise, falls could prove fatal to the climber.
Class 5 – not only requires ropes and anchored belays but also protection points, spread intermittently throughout the climb. This can also indicate increasing difficulty as the climb progresses. Class 5 also indicates rock climbing on a nearly vertical or vertical rock.
The protection rating used by the YDS is often optional, but it is quite useful when trying to determine the requirement for protection quality and spacing during a climb. G – stands for Good, indicating solid protection. PG – is Pretty Good, with a few sections where placements are either non-existent or poor at best. R – is Runout, meaning some placements are spaced far apart X -means no protection and that the climb is very dangerous
Some guidebooks list a rating system for a climb in extremely detailed figures, such as 4.5, 5.2 or 5.6 that’s why climbers need to study the rating systems used in a particular area to familiarize themselves. It is also important to note that improvements in climbing gear and equipment and increase in climbing standards also meant that a climb rated with a high level of difficulty may currently be recognized as a moderate climb. These are some slight changes that mountain climbers should be aware of.
For successful and safe mountain climbing, it is absolutely necessary to familiarize yourself with the rating system used. Wherever you are in the world, you will know what to expect and be prepared for your climb.
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