Difficulty Ratings in Mountain and Rock Climbing

The Bolivian Andes climbing difficulty rank

Aldo Riveros
IFMGA High Mountain Guide
AGMT President

The principle of the mountain journey ranking in the Bolivian Andes is based on different factors to those that are used to rank in the Alps, but the principle is the same one and it is based on the global rank system.
These factors are:

• The height:  in the Bolivian Andes, the base camps are located at around the 4600m; therefore a good acclimatization is obligatory before undertaking a summit. Also, the fact of maneuvering between 5000 and 6000m can reduce the climber's physical capacity (climber) in 50%. If in the Alps it is possible to cover a difference of 500m/hour during an ascent, in the Bolivian Andes, the average is located among 150 and 250m/hour

• The mountain conditions (snow, ice, rock): the high mountain season in Bolivia evolves in winter and not in spring like in the Alps. On one hand, the climate is stable because the winter is cold and dry, but on the other hand precisely because of the lack of pluvial precipitations and of the general setback of the glaciers, the mountain journeys become journeys on ice or sometimes mixed/rocky journeys. 

Noticing those factors, the ranking is the following one.

 

Notation
Description
Accessibilité
F

Easy

Suitable for beginners

PD

Not very difficult, don't confuse it with
"Not difficult"!!! (passage from 2 to 3)

Suitable for beginners

AD


 

Quite difficult (passage from 3 to 4)

Suitable for gifted beginners
MEDIUM CLIMBER

D

Difficult (passage from 4 to 5)

It requires of a good mastery on the techniques
CONFIRMED CLIMBER

TD

Very Difficult (passage from 5 to 6a)

It requires of a good mastery on the techniques and training
VERY CONFIRMED CLIMBER

ED

Extremely Difficult (passage 6)


Mastery, training, technique.
SPECIALIST CLIMBER

ABO or EX

Abominably difficult (sustained passage 6 with numerous passages 7)

Truly very hard, specific training.
SPECIALIST CLIMBER

I have attached immediately the grades of difficulty, the sub-ranks marked with
(+ or -)
The ranking on the escalade on ice is a function of the uprightness of the wall, of the height of the most difficult section, of the configuration and of the quality of the ice (fine, compact, aerated, etc.)
The principle is a double ranking entrance that allows distinguishing the “serious part” of the journey expressed in Roman figures (Grade) and the grade of “technical difficulty” expressed in Arab figures.

Grade I:  Moderate inclination 45º, good ice condition.
Grade II:  Little inclination, 55º - 65º, good ice condition.
Grade III:  Little inclination, 75° with numerous projections. Very compact ice.
Grade III+:  Identical to the grade III with a more arduous projection (80°).
Grade IV:  Arduous passage at 85° for around 10 meters with compact ice.
Grade IV+:  Identical to the Grade IV, but the most arduous passage can become into uprightness for around 15 meters.

Grade V:  Vertical 20 meters passages. The ice begins to be aired and it creates particular forms as the "cigares" in an ice cascade.
Grade V+:  More technical, the vertical passages can reach the 30 meters.
Grade VI:  Technical, the vertical passages can reach up from 40 to 50 meters.
Grade VI+: Completely vertical route, with passages with small downfalls (leans more than 90º).
Grade VII: Extreme technical escalade. Very arduous, with big downfalls.

The grade of technical difficulty is spreaded out at intervals from 1 to 7 and it can vary depending on the ice conditions.

1:  Cascade that presents passages of 50 / 60°.
2:  Cascade that presents passages of 60 / 70° with good fastening possibilities.
3:  Cascade that presents passages of 70 / 80°.
4:  Cascade that presents passages of 75 / 85° with a short vertical section.
5:  Cascade that presents a section of 85 / 90°, delicate ice condition.
6:  Cascade that presents a difficult section that demands a good technical mastery. Delicate ice quality, difficult anchorages.
7:  Very difficult, Great technical and mental mastery.

COMPROMISING(ENGAGEMENT) SITUATION RANKING ON SNOW, ICE AND MIXED:
The compromising situation ranking takes into account the grade of danger in which would be a cordada if a problem appeared. It is a subjective scale that takes into account not only the technical difficulty, but also the level difference, the surface exposure, the snow quality, the ice and the rock, the easiness to complete the itinerary, or to descend in case of abandonment.


Level
Description

Accessibility

I

Short itinerary, not very far away itinerary, easy descent, next to the camp.

NOT COMPROMISING

II

Itinerary a little longer, the descent sometimes requires of attention, little objective danger. It is easy to return.

NOT VERY COMPROMISING

III

Longer itinerary, sometimes far away, possible abandonment but delicate.

QUITE COMPROMISING

IV

Wide itinerary that demands good experience. Long approach and complicated descent. Objective risks and delicate abandonment. Dangerous itinerary in case of bad time.

COMPROMISING

V

Long itinerary and conformed by a great wall of difficult access. Route selection, difficult and sustained sections. Difficult abandonment and descent, important objective risks. Impossibility of returning. In the case of bad time, the itinerary turns into very dangerous.

VERY COMPROMISING

VI

Itinerary of big walls (faces) in which all the sections are sustained. Complicated fastening, aleatory abandonment. Long and difficult descent. Itinerary exposed to objective dangers. The cordada should be able to count on itself in case of problems or bad time.

EXTREMELY COMPROMISING

VII

The above-mentioned, taken to the extreme…

EXCEPTIONALLY COMPROMISING

Escalade ranking

The first ranking was originated in 1925 thanks to the German mountaineer Willy Welzenbach (1900-1934). In his time, it was composed by 6 levels only. In 1977, Claude Droyer attached a level that was officialized one year later by the UIAA. In the current French ranking system, the routes are delimited with a cipher that indicates the level of growing difficulty that goes from 3 to 9 and a letter “a, b or c” that subdivides those levels. Some years ago, the levels were simply specified by a "sup. / inf" or a "- / +." It is important to remember that each route can seem different according to people. In general, the ranking of a route indicates the level of the most difficult movement. Therefore it is possible to find routes of 30 meters ranked as 5c just because of only a movement requires overcoming that level while the rest of the road can be ranked 4c.

The level of a person is given by the maximum level of routes that he/she overcomes.
This level should also be dominated on all the types of rocks.
The following sample chart shows more escalade ranking scales comparing them among them.
Notice that the English system is ranked in the same way that the French system but their levels are different. Equally notice that these scales are even open to levels not yet overcome until our days.

 

France
UIAA
USA
Australia
UK
Routes appearance
3-4   5.0-5.4
5.5-5.6
10-11
12-13
 
Rectilinear movements with projections (supports) of different sizess
5a
5b
5c
V+
VI-
VI
5.7
5.8
5.9
14-15
16
17
4c

5a
More complex movements and serious slope. The projections become smaller.
6a

6b

VI+

VII-
VII
5.10a
5.10b
5.10c
5.10d
18
19
20
21
5b

5c
It may miss sometimes a foot or hand projection. It may require specific training. However it is attainable for most of people.
6c

7a


VIII-
VIII
VIII+
5.11a
5.11b
5.11c
5.11d
22
23
24
25
6a


6b
The projections are minuscule or practically nonexistent for most of the movements. The slope is very inclined or it is inclined one the other way around, requires technique to overcome certain sections.
7b

7c

IX-
IX
IX+
5.12a
5.12b
5.12c
5.12d
25-26
26-27
27
28

6c

The problems are more and more difficult to solve. The connection of movements becomes more complicated. The supports are very limited and extremely small in the inclined and big slopes in the almost horizontal overturned slope.
8a

8b

X-
X
X+
5.13a
5.13b
5.13c
5.13d
28-29
29-30
30-31
31-32
7a


7b
The same thing that in 7b, or 7c but even more difficult. Specific training is necessary. Few climbers arrive at this level.
8c

9a

XI-
XI
5.14a
5.14b
5.14c
5.14d
32
32-33
33-34
34
 
Unreal! It is like climbing on glass the other way around. World level. But it is possible; there are routes that have been ranked as 9+. But in general only their authors have been able to overcome them!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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