Ratings systems are designed to inform readers of the difficulty. While the numbers appear to be objective, there is a great deal of subjectivity built into them.
1. Kootenay Mountaineering Club TRIP GRADING SCALE
This is most used in this guide. All trips are graded with a letter and a number to help you choose a trip that is appropriate for your level of fitness and technical expertise.
Physical effort for all trips:
A = easy, less than four hours of travel, little elevation gain.
B = moderate, 4 to 6 hours of travel, 400 to 600 metres (1300 – 2000 ft) of elevation gain.
C = strenuous, 6 to 8 hours of travel, 600 to 1000 metres (2000 – 3300 ft) of elevation gain.
D = very strenuous, over 8 hours of travel, more than 1000 metres (3300 ft) of elevation gain.
E = extended, multi-day trip.
Technical difficulty for Hiking Trips:
1 = hike
2 = scramble
3 =-scramble, perhaps with some exposure
4 = climb
5 = climb, continual belay
EARL WHIPPLE’S GRADING SYSTEM
Seven categories of ratings have been used in his guidebooks.
The first two ratings are the presence of ice on the climb, and the necessity of travel over glaciers, both stated directly.
1. Ice on the Climb. The difficulty of ice climbs has not been estimated.
2. Glacier Travel
Note that all routes with glacier travel are at least Class 4 (rope necessary), even if the climbing on the peak itself is Class 3 (a scramble). Bergschrunds are often met, and the ice problems associated with them are not always stated as “Ice” in the text.
3. Duration. The third rating is that of duration, of the round trip, in other words the overall commitment to the climb. It is an attempt to estimate the length of the climb in time, which depends on distance (Distant basecamps require more time.), elevation gain, the degree of sustained difficulty, the physical condition of the party, its efficient or inefficient use of time, and conditions on the mountain. Such ratings are always approximate. In Roman numerals,
Grade I means a climb requiring a few hours.
Grade II – half a day.
Grade III most of a day.
Grade IV very long day, maybe with a bivouac.
Grade V one to two days.
Grade VI – several days.
4. Rock Climbing. The fourth rating is that of difficulty of the rock climbing, by the decimal system (omitted in pure snow and ice climbs). The table gives comparisons of two systems.
NCCS Decimal Adjective
F1 A walk
F2 Steep walk
F3 4 Rope necessary (including glaciers)
5.0 Possible protection
F4 5.1 Moderately
F5 5.3 Difficult
F6 5.6 Very difficult
F9 5.9 Extremely
F10 5.10 difficult
These ratings are not of sustained difficulty, but those of the hardest move.
5. Artificial Aid. The fifth rating, artificial aid, is from A1 to A4 when present. A0 indicates a rappel or a pendulum.
6. Snow. The sixth rating is whether snow is expected on the climb(s). Ascents over glaciers always have this. Presence of snow, of course, depends largely on the season. Many climbs on snow require crampons even when ice is not met.
7. Pleasing Nature of the Climb. The seventh rating is a measure of the overall pleasing nature of the climb, admittedly a question of opinion. This may be due, for instance, to sustained difficulty on sound rock, to fine snow climbing or to beautiful surroundings. It is given by one or two stars (*), two stars denoting an outstanding climb. The use of these has been sparing, but because the author cannot do all the routes, and because people’s opinions are subjective or were not sought, some routes may deserve one or two stars, but not bear them. Future experience will tell.
In some cases where descriptions were terse and incomplete, some guesswork has been used to estimate difficulties and lengths of climbs. Accuracy in all details in such a work as this is impossible, and when faced by guidebook inaccuracy should use his experience and common sense to reach a sound decision, and not rely on rote adherence to the guidebook.
Ratings, Snowfall, Glacial Retreat and Advance. Ratings give only limited information, therefore it is best to read the entire description before a decision is made whether to do a climb. The guidebook assumes a climbing party to be adequately equipped, in condition, and to have sound judgment and good weather. Often a general geological description of a group is given which may help the climber to judge rock solidity. It will be found in the introduction, or the introduction to each group, and sometimes as comments.
Snowfall is not constant from year to year, nor are snow conditions during stormy versus clear summers. Many routes are dependent on snow depth and cover. The descriptions in the text are hopefully typical. With different amounts of snow, the routes may vary greatly in difficulty and danger.
Since 1857 (see book, ’The Forms of Water’) there has been an average warming trend in the world climate, and the glaciers in the Columbia Mountains have retreated greatly since that time. At Glacier, the great Illecillewaet Glacier (for which the area was named) used to extend to a point not far from the old railroad roadbed at Glacier House, and was a tourist attraction. The tongue of the glacier has retreated several kilometres and is more than 700 meters higher today, a dramatic retreat lasting about a century and leaving moraines and bare quartzite slabs behind it.
All the glaciers of these mountains have behaved similarly, although not all so dramatically, and only on the more shadowed slopes under the highest peaks do glaciers still persist in strength, or in areas like ice fields where the provenance of winter snow is great. The melting of ice has modified some routes of access, and changes are continuing today. This retreat began earlier in the Alps, 1857 (see John Tyndall’s book).
Not all the glaciers are retreating. During the period 1977-1991 the Illecillewaet Glacier had advanced an average of six meters per year and an ice cliff had replaced a smoothly sloping glacier toe. A study in 1985 showed that 422 glaciers in Glacier National Park were enlarging and that there were 68 new ‘baby’ glaciers.
Glacier Travel – Increased familiarity with and travel on glaciers in the Columbia Mountains in the last few decades have unfortunately developed a disregard for the dangers of glacier travel among many climbers and have increased neglect for protection against falls into crevasses.
In the old days when the region was being prospected for minerals, the prospectors were afraid of the glaciers, and with good reason. When crossing a snow covered glacier alone, they sometimes tied a rope around the waist and dragged a long pole behind, hoping that the pole would span the hole if they fell into a crevasse. Modern lone travelers would profit from their experience, if not their technique.
To quote Don Munday, “Some mountaineering writers convey the impression that surface signs always mark presence of a crevasse roofed thinly enough to be dangerous. This is bad advice, and likely to lull the less experienced person into false sense of security.”
YOSEMITE DECIMAL SYSTEM (YDS)
Introduced by the Sierra Club on 1937, climbs are rated by their most difficult (crux) move, and by the length of commitment needed to complete a climb (the grade).
Class 1: Hiking. There is a trail (or pseudotrail) the entire way to the summit.
Class 2: Off-Trail Scrambling. These routes are more rugged and although you can probably walk to the summit, you may occasionally have to use your n
hands to climb.
Class 3: Climbing. These routes involve actual climbing.
Class 4:. Climbing with exposure. Belayed climbing. These routes involve climbing which may be no more difficult than Class 3 climbing, but do subject the climber to increased exposure.
Class 5: Belayed climbing with leader placing protection. This is “technical rock climbing, pure and simple. Some objectivity was added to what is extremely subjective set of numbers:
5.0-5.4 Good handholds and foot holds for each move. The size of the handholds determines the degree difficulty.
5.5-5.6 Handholds and footholds exist but are not obvious to the untrained
5.7 Either one handhold or foothold is missing
5.8 Two holds our of four are missing
5.9 Only one hold exists for each move
5.10 There are no holds at all
5.11 Such routes are impossible to climb but someone has done it
5.12 The rock is smooth and flawless.
5.13 The rock is both smooth and flawless and overhanging
Class 6: Involves artificial aid climbing, which utilizes pitons, bolts or any other hardware placed in the rock to serve as a hold or for support. Broken down into six sub-categories. Rock climbers are now climbing what were originally aid routes without artificial aids.
A0 Placement is used as a hold or to allow a resting spot
A1 Etriers (aid slings for your feet) are utilized Placements are solid and safe
A2 Placements are harder to locate and are less secure
A3 Placements are not likely to hold a significant fall
A4 Placements are downright shaky and cannot be expected to hold a fall
A5 Continuous use of A4 placements.