Grading/Alpine

General

Character of alpine climbing

On mountains climbers are faced with varied conditions and often several types of climbing are encountered. Usually this means that while properly geared up climbers are sufficiently equipped for most foreseeable challenges, they seldom are ideally equipped for any type of climbing. Heavier clothing, footwear and perhaps most notably a backpack all limit technical ability. Climbers also typically must face the challenges when already feeling tired due the physical effort of the approach and climb itself, altitude etc.

In the mountains climbing mostly takes place with no previous knowledge of the route. Furthermore, while some mountain routes are equipped with bolts and other fixed gear, mostly climbers are to place protection themselves. This is made more difficult because limited size of rack and often less than perfect quality of rock and snow/ice. On moderately difficult snow and ice realiable protection is often especially difficult to arrange. While deadmen and snow stakes offer satisfactory protection on consolidated snow, they are often too consuming to place on the whole length of the route. Besides, due to greater length of mountain routes often healthy runouts, and sometimes simulclimbing and soloing the easier parts, are necessary for a party to be able to cover the route in a reasonable time.

Falling off at the sports crag is often relatively safe as routes are normally vertical or overhanging, thus when falling, the climber will only catch the air. On the mountains, however, routes often are not totally vertical which greatly increases the risk of a falling climber to hurt himself. Furthermore, uncontrolled nature of many falls on the mountains together with backpack dramatically increases risk of a fall to turn into upside down affair. Add together greater risk to hurt oneself when falling, greater length of the fall and poorer quality of protection and you should realise that taking a leader fall in the mountains is generally a really bad idea.

Conditions

It is impossible to exaggerate the impact conditions have on the route. Changing conditions can radically change the difficulty (usually for the more difficult) and character of a route. John Biggar, the author of "The Andes - a guide for Climbers" illustrates this by example of normal route of Illimani. He says he'd rate it AD in the 1992 conditions, F in 1995 and PD in 1996. Consensus grade is PD/AD. Unusually warm conditions in the European Alps during the summer 2003 generated many popular and normally straight forward glacier climbs such as Three Mont Blanc Route (PD/PD+) far more difficult and dangerous (big crevasses, vertical and overhanging steps, more like stiff D or TD than normal PD/PD+).

On rock, climbing gets much more difficult when the rock is of poor quality, dirty, wet, verglassed or all of the above. On ice and snow the difficulty and strenuousness of a route varies considerably. If ice/snow routes have a ready spur, they feel easier and far less strenuous. Also, on good firn conditions (typical in the European Alps during late winter and early summer), many classic ice climbs take much less time to complete and firn offers welcome support for the calf muscles (although reliable protection in such conditions may be problematic to arrange). In contrast, when the route features blank ice, it is typically much more strenuous and often also more difficult to climb (often easier to protect, though). If ice melts considerably, what was a straight forward ice climb in the winter may become technically difficult mixed climb on thin and poorly attached ice with bowel-emptying runouts and minimal (if any) possibilities for protection. Further still, bergschrunds typically gets more difficult to pass as snow cover diminishes. Sometimes passing the bergschrund may be significantly more difficult than the actual route itself.

Besides affecting the difficulty, melting can chance the seriousness of a route dramatically. This have turned many routes that once were pure ice routes and relatively free of objective danger into mixed affairs that are made very serious due to severe rock fall danger. Thus many classic ice routes in European Alps are nowadays reasonable only during the winter and spring. Weather patterns in the mountains are not to be forgotten, some routes are more prone to bad weather than others. Any route feels much harder in snow storm.

It is important not to forgert that gradings are typically gven assuming the conditions are good for the route in question. It is quite possible that many ice/snow routes must then be climbed outside the traditional (summer) season.

Technical difficulty

To be able to give more information about the technical difficulty and character of the route, many grading systems utilise technical grade of appropriate type of climbing (or several) together with overall alpine grade. Don't be fooled by the numbers though, crag (especially sport) climbing grades are of no significance in the mountains. Climbs graded similarly are supposed to be absolutely as difficult whether they locate in the mountains or in the crag. However, climbs located in the mountains most certainly will feell harder. If you just manage to redpoint a well trained sport climb rated VII at sea level when wearing rock climbing shoes, you definitely won't stand a slightest change doing a route with same level of technical difficulty in the mountains placing your own gear and wearing heavier clothing, footwear and pack.

Many guidebooks give degree of steepness on snow and ice sections as inclination angle. While this appears to be simple enough figure, in real world this seems not to be the case. In some cases there may well be short sections with greater inclinations, especially at the bergschrund. Be especially aware of long routes, on which only average angle is given. On some routes, the inclination may well be uniform for, say 1000m. On the other hand, a route with average angle of 55° for 1000m may have even long significantly steeper sections. Another consideration is the meaning of a degree. Many people, especially less experienced, tend to overrate the steepness. It is, for example, not seldom one hears the north flank of Col du Mont Maudit (part of Three Mont Blanc route) to be of steepness "near vertical" or "at least 60°". The reality is somewhere around 45°. Average angle of 60° is already steep for big ice routes, for example, Cornuau-Davaille (on North Face of Les Droites) has average inclination of 60° (and has several long sections that are far steeper graded at IV/AI4+ with overall difficulty at ED). On genuinely steep group, ice grading system is often used as it is much better able to communicate the difficulty.

Technical grades can also tell whole lot about the seriousness of a route. If the level of technical difficulties of a given route is low in comparison with other routes of similar alpine grade, there's a good reason to assume that the route is large scale or serious (propably both). Conversely, when a route features high technical difficulties in relation to routes having similar alpine grade, it can be assumed that the route is short, unserious or has a short crux that is considerably more difficult than the rest of the route (or misgraded).

Ice grading system in itself tells a whole lot about the character of the climb, in many cases way more than the actual alpine grade. For example, classic ice routes Cordier Couloir on Aiguille Verte and Goulotte Chèré on Mont Blanc du Tacul are both graded D+. Albeit both ice routes, they are totally different in nature. Goulotte Chèré is a modern classic and in many ways resembles closely ice fall climbing. It is very easily accessible from Aiguille du Midi telepherique and free of objective danger (save for climber-generated ice fall dangfer). It is also equipped with bolts facilitating easy retreat if need be. Descent is also easy either by rappelling from the bolts or continuing to the top on Mont Blanc du Tacul and walking down along the normal route (PD). The climb has altitude gain of 350m with WI4 (uncharacteristically steep for a climb graded D+) crux while mostly being WI3 and has easier sections. Cordier Couloir, on the other hand, is totally different kind of undertaking. It is nowhere near as steep but climbs up a 1000 meter face with average angle of 55° (AI1). It is heavily endangered by seracs and retreat is difficult and descent is everything but trivial as it involves descending Whymper Couloir (AD+/D), Moine Ridge (AD) or South Pillar of Grande Rocheuse (AD), all of which are 900m routes. If full ice grade is given, the nature of these undertakings is made clear, since Goulotte Chèré is II/WI4 while Cordier Couloir is V/AI1.

Comparing alpine grades

Comparing alpine grades between different grading systems is a classic example of comparing apples and oranges. The grade of different systems take into consideration different factors. Even when the factors considered might be same, their weight in the grade may not be, thus direct translation from one system into another is not possible.

There are especially big differences how different systems compare shorter but technically demanding routes to much longer but technically easier routes. Many grading systems give more emphasis to overall seriousness and scale of the climb than is the case with French adjectival systems. For example, while International French Adjectival System and G-rade system are mostly quite closely related, there are some notable exceptions. For example Ruta Normal on Aconcagua (6960m) has a very modest grade of F in French Adjectival system. This very same grade is given to straight forward and relatively small scale ascents like Glittertind in Norway (2464m). On the other hand, the G-grade of Aconcagua Ruta Normal is G5 while G-grade of Glittertind is G1 (mostly hike with some scrambling). Routes in the European Alps with a grade G5 are typically technically far more difficult than Aconcagua (I, 40°). For example well-known Hörnli Ridge on Matterhorn is also G5 and has technical difficulties up to III, A0 (International French Adjectival Grade AD-). The Russian system gives by far most emphasis on the altitude and sheer scale of the climb. Because of this, some climbers consider it to be the only system capable of communicating the demands of big climbs.

In the description part of grading systems, approximation of grades in other systems are derived from sample routes and various other sources. These are marked in parethesis after the descripton of the grade and denoted with "~". Once again, there are routes that just don't follow this pattern. Several routes have been graded with many systems, when alternative grades are known, they are given together with appropriate technical grades in order to give a more complete picture what is to be expected.

Take the following conversion chart with a very healthy portion of grain of salt:

ifasG-gradeAKNCCSNZRusNorSco (O)
FG1-2AK1INZ11A-BII
PDG3-4AK1-2I-IIINZ22A-BIIII
ADG4-6AK2-3I-IIINZ33A-BIII-IVIII
DG6-8AK3-4III-IVNZ44A-BIVIV
TDG8-12AK4-5IV-VNZ55A-5BVV
ED1-3G12-15AK5-6V-VIINZ65B-6AVIVI
ED4-5G16-20AK6VI-VIINZ76BVI+

Most grading systems used to grade alpine climbs try to combine a bunch of factors affecting the seriousness and difficulty of a climb into one grade. This is a very difficult task as climbs to be found in an alpine setting come in widest range of flavours. To make things even more difficult, conditions can greatly affect the difficulty and/or seriousness of a given route between (and within) seasons. When choosing an alpine route, make sure to have enough reserves in terms of technical difficulty.

Aforementioned complexity of the factors makes grading a difficult task. Unfortunately it also makes it somewhat subjective, so beware of surprises. If you read several guidebooks, you'll propably find out, that a certain route might have slightly different grade in different books.

International French Adjectival System

The most common grading system used in the European Alps is based on expanded Welzenbach scale and often referred as IFAS (for International French Adjectival System). The system is used in the Western Alps except for Bernese Alps and sometimes in the Eastern Alps. This same system is used also to grade climbs in the Andes, Himalaya and some other areas.

Traditionally the system has combined several factors affecting the difficulty and seriousness of the climb, the most important of them being:

  • The technical difficulty of the route (has by far the most impact)
  • The seriousness (length, quality of the rock, objective hazards, remoteness...)
  • The equipment (quality, serious passages...)
  • The conditions (altitude, climate...)

Currently overall commitment grade is sometimes added to complement the overall technical grade to create 2-tier system.

1) Commitment

Roman number running from I to VII is used to present the character of the route. It is determined by a number of factors such as:

  • length of the route
  • length and difficulty of approach and descent
  • how sustained the route is
  • the number of difficult pitches
  • how exposed the route is
  • frequency of ascents
  • possibilities to bail
  • in-situ gear
  • altitude
  • objective hazards

2) Overall technical difficulty

The system uses letters derived from French adjective to indicate overall difficulty of the route. Cotations "+" and "-" are sometimes used to indicate minor differences. There are two variations of the grading system may vary at the extreme end. Some use ED-, ED, ED+, ABO- and ABO to refine grading of the extreme routes whereas another way is to add a number after ED making ED grade open ended to classify such routes. The interralation with these cotation are roughly: ED- = ED1, ED = ED2, ED+ = ED3, ABO- = ED4 and ABO = ED5. This part of the grade is often used alone.

Note that this is a climbing grading system, thus it does not begin with no difficulties at all. So F does not mean a nice walk in the park. For instance, routes marked as PD may already have crevassed glaciers, rock climbing with long sections of UIAA II (short sections may be harder) and long sections of 35-45° snow/ice slopes (with short sections up around 50°).

GradeDescription
F; Lfacile (easy). May include glacier approach, moderate snow/ice (up to around 40°/ice grade F-PD) and some simple climbing (usually no more than UIAA I). Little objective danger. Note that this is a grading system for climbing, so the F is already a climbing route. Relatively easy via ferratas.
PD; WSpeu difficile (little difficult). Involves more complex glacier work and moderate steepness in snow/ice (significant sections of ice/snow up to 45°, steeper bulges possible/ice grade PD-AD). Typically includes UIAA II on rock (short sections of III/f3 not uncommon). Objective dangers apparent but retreat is usually not too complicated. Routes may be long and/or at reside at altitude. Harder via ferratas.
AD; ZSassez difficile (quite difficult). Sustained snow/ice up to 45-50deg; with bulges up to around 65 degrees (ice grade AD-AI/WI2, max AI/WI3). On mixed routes up to M3. Rock climbing up to around IV/f4 and sustained at III/f3. Routefinding may be difficult. Note that some guidebooks give time estimates of ice/snow ascents of this level of difficulty with an assumption that they are climbed without rope or simul-climbed. On ice routes two tools are usually needed. Thus they may take much longer if the party chooses to belay the route.
D; Sdifficile (difficult). Sustained snow/ice of 50-70 degrees (ice grade 1-3), may contain short section of AI/WI4. Mixed climbing up to M4. Sections of Rock climbing at UIAA IV-V/f5 and sustained at IV/f4. Can contain easy aid (usually no more A0). Some routes of this grade are serious undertakings. Several classic big routes are graded at D. Retreat can be difficult, thus routes of this caliber shall not be undertaken unless the weather is good (and is going to stay so).
TD; SStrès difficile (very difficult). Sustained snow/ice 50-70 with occasional pitches of AI/WI 4/5. Mixed climbing up to M5. Rock climbing up to UIAA V+-VI/f6. Can contain sections of A1. Serious undertakings with high objective danger.
ED1-3/ED; ASextrêment difficile (extremely difficult). Very hard routes. Extreme difficulties in rock (UIAA VI+ - VIII-/f7), significant sections requiring aid climbing at A2 or harder not uncommon) and ice (ice grades 4-6/80-90°) or mixed terrain at M5 or harder and/or with exceptional objective danger.
ED4-5/ABO; EXabominablement difficile (abominably difficult)/exceptionellement difficile (exceptionally difficult). Horrible... Everything that ED1-3 has to offer and more of it. Typically UIAA VIII/f7 or more on the rock, significant sections of hard aid (A3 and upwards) are typical; grade 5 or harder on ice (90+°), often with difficult mixed sections.

3) Technical difficulty

To give better idea of the difficulties found on a route, sometimes technical rock and/or ice grade is used to give impression on the technical difficulties of hardest moves/pitches. When these technical difficulties are indicated, the conditions are supposed to be good (for example the rock is supposed to be dry). If in-situ climbing aid exist (such as fixed ropes), the grading expects them to be used unless the contrary is explicitly stated (sometimes all-free grades are given separately).

For rock parts, either UIAA scale (Roman numbers) or French sport grade (Arabic numbers are used). The same value does not mean equal difficulties, although the systems are roughly identical up to around grade 4. In France it is a common practice that the longer the route, the less severe is the rating. Thus if the pitch would get a technical grade 6a at low-altitude crag, the same pitch high in the mountains would be graded a bit higher.

For snow and ice sections, inclination angle is typically used to indicate the difficulty (mostly maximum inclination, sometimes average). For genuinely steep climbs (usually around 60°or more), ice climbing grade, most commonly WI-grade but sometimes Scottish grade, might be used.

For mixed parts, sometimes WI-grade system is used (M-grade). However, it is more common to use normal rock grade, even though it might not tell that much about the actual difficulty.

Complete grade

In complex situations the whole alpine grade combined with appropriate technical grades can lead to pretty algeabric cotations like: D+ IV/AI3 M3 R III+ & A0 (VI+). This kind of cotations tell a whole lot about the route. First of all, since there are technical difficulties on both ice and rock, the route is obviously a mixed one. Furthermore, the order of these cotations tell that the crux is on ice/mixed terrain, has both alpine ice up to technical grade 3 and mixed terrain up to grade 3. Its also has long run-outs, possibly due the thin nature of the ice. The commitment ice grade IV is rathar hard for a climb of technical difficulty of the grade three, so it suggeststs that the climb may be remote, large scale or have some objective hazards (or quite possibly all of the mentioned). Rock part is up to UIAA III+ when using in situ gear (A0) and up to VI+ if climbed completely free. This all adds up to give a overall alpine grade D+.

Few considerations

One should always keep in mind that gradings are given supposing the conditions are good. The conditions can (and do) greatly affect the difficulty and seriousness of a route. Rock routes may feel several grades harder when the rock is wet, and even relatively moderate ice climbs can be very hard (or even impossible) and objectively hazardous when out of condition.

Although overall difficulty grade takes several factors into account, the technical difficulties have most impact on the grade. For example the NNE ridge of Aiguille de l'M (a relatively short (180m), well-protected rock climb with IV+, mostly III-IV-, at low-altitude and free from serious objective hazards) and the mega-classic Brenva Spur in the awesome East Face of Mont-Blanc (900m for the technical part, total of 1400m featuring mixed climbing with difficulties up to 50°, possibly more at the serac barrier, on snow/ice and III on rock and involves serious objective hazards due to seracs) receive the same rating: D- (Unfortunately Brenva Spur in it's classic form has been destroyd in a rock fall).

Finally, some of the very high but technically easy mountains have a low grade (normal route of Aconcagua for example has been graded F). Due the high altitude, more remote location, and overall scale of the undertaking, this kind of climbs are way more serious than a climb with the same grade in European Alps. Also, routes on more remote areas see far less traffic than more popular routes, which adds to the seriousness of a climb (routefinding problems, anyone?). Some other systems see the situation differently. The same Ruta Normal of Aconcagua is graded G5 with the system used in Bernese Alps. The routes in the Alps that receive the same grade of G5 are typically technically much more difficult, such as Hörnligrat of Matterhorn (AD with III and A0) or Mitteleggigrat on Eiger (AD/D, IV).

Examples

In the following table I have gathered the grades used with a short explanation. Technical difficulties given in the description part give the technical difficulty of the most difficult move/pitch that are typically encountered on the route. However, short sections may well be more difficult. Bear also in mind that the difficulties faced on a particular route may change significantly because of snow and ice conditions, rock falls etc. The gradings of the routes mentioned below as examples are based on various sources, so there are no guarantees to their validity.

GradeExamples
F; Lfacile (easy). May include glacier approach, moderate snow/ice (up to around 40°/ice grade F-PD) and some simple climbing (usually no more than UIAA I). Little objective danger. Note that this is a grading system for climbing, so the F is already a climbing route. Relatively easy via ferratas.
PD; WSpeu difficile (little difficult). Involves more complex glacier work and moderate steepness in snow/ice (significant sections of ice/snow up to 45°, steeper bulges possible/ice grade PD-AD). Typically includes UIAA II on rock (short sections of III/f3 not uncommon). Objective dangers apparent but retreat is usually not too complicated. Routes may be long and/or at reside at altitude. Harder via ferratas.
AD; ZSassez difficile (quite difficult). Sustained snow/ice up to 45-50deg; with bulges up to around 65 degrees (ice grade AD-AI/WI2, max AI/WI3). On mixed routes up to M3. Rock climbing up to around IV/f4 and sustained at III/f3. Routefinding may be difficult. Note that some guidebooks give time estimates of ice/snow ascents of this level of difficulty with an assumption that they are climbed without rope or simul-climbed. On ice routes two tools are usually needed. Thus they may take much longer if the party chooses to belay the route.
D; Sdifficile (difficult). Sustained snow/ice of 50-70 degrees (ice grade 1-3), may contain short section of AI/WI4. Mixed climbing up to M4. Sections of Rock climbing at UIAA IV-V/f5 and sustained at IV/f4. Can contain easy aid (usually no more A0). Some routes of this grade are serious undertakings. Several classic big routes are graded at D. Retreat can be difficult, thus routes of this caliber shall not be undertaken unless the weather is good (and is going to stay so).
TD; SStrès difficile (very difficult). Sustained snow/ice 50-70 with occasional pitches of AI/WI 4/5. Mixed climbing up to M5. Rock climbing up to UIAA V+-VI/f6. Can contain sections of A1. Serious undertakings with high objective danger.
ED1-3/ED; ASextrêment difficile (extremely difficult). Very hard routes. Extreme difficulties in rock (UIAA VI+ - VIII-/f7), significant sections requiring aid climbing at A2 or harder not uncommon) and ice (ice grades 4-6/80-90°) or mixed terrain at M5 or harder and/or with exceptional objective danger.
ED4-5/ABO; EXabominablement difficile (abominably difficult)/exceptionellement difficile (exceptionally difficult). Horrible... Everything that ED1-3 has to offer and more of it. Typically UIAA VIII/f7 or more on the rock, significant sections of hard aid (A3 and upwards) are typical; grade 5 or harder on ice (90+°), often with difficult mixed sections.

G-grade (Bernese Alps)

The G-grading system used in Bernese Alps is designed to indicate overall difficulty and seriousness of climbing routes (hiking routes are graded with BW1 - BW3). It consists of 20 grades, with mid-point cotated i.e. G6-7 (meaning G6,5). The grade is a product of following primary factors:

  • technical difficulty
  • alpine character: including altitude, creavsses, dependability of conditions, exposition.
  • objective hazards
  • physical demands/length of the route

The grade formed concerning the primary factors may then be rounded up or down based on the following secondary factors:

  • number and length of difficult sections
  • quality of rock
  • in-situ gear
  • protection possibilities
  • retreat options
  • descent options
  • popularity of a route
  • difficulty of route-finding

More emphasis is given on the seriousness and scale of the climb as is the case with IFAS-system. Mixed routes are typically graded harder than pure rock routes. On popular ice/snow routes the grade is given assuming there's a spur. If this is not the case, the grade could be (slightly) harder.

GradeExamples
G1(~F)
G2(~F+/PD-)
G3(~PD)
G4(~PD+/AD-)
G5(~AD)
G6(~AD+/D)
G7(~D/D+)
G8(~D+/TD)
G9(~TD-/TD)
G10(~TD)
G11(~TD+)
G12(~TD+/ED1
G13(~ED1-2)
G14(~ED2)
  • Eiger (3970m), North face, 1938 Route (G14 - V ED2; V-,A0, 50-70°; 1800m, 20-30h)
G15-20(~ED3-5)

Alaska grade

Because of Alaska's often horrible weather conditions (severe storms, cold, altitude, and extensive cornices) Boyd Everett Jr. introduced a unique grading system to indicate the seriousness of climbs in his 1966 paper "The Organization of an Alaskan Expedition." In the Alaska system, each ascending grade incorporates all the elements of the grades that precede it. Alaska grade system emphasises overall seriousness. Factors affecting this are time required to do the route, bivouac options, length of route, technical difficulty, how sustained the route is, descent and retreat options. Thus some routes with no or little technical difficulties may get a higher grade, if speed and avalanche awareness are keys to success on the route. "+" and "-" may be used to denote slight differences in difficulty.

GradeExamples
AK1Moderate with no technical difficulties (approximately max. YDS 3-4th class). Grade 1 routes are simple glacier ascents with no technical difficulties and can usually be climbed from base camp in a day. (~F-PD (longer routes), AD (shorter climbs), NCCS I-II).
AK2Moderate with no serious technical difficulties aside from knife-edges, high altitude, and weather. Typically multiday climbs featuring technical difficulties roughly equivalent of YDS 3-4th class or one day climbs featuring low 5th class. (~PD-AD, NCCS II-IV).
AK3Moderate to hard with mild technical climbing, steep sections, and cornicing. Multiday climbs have typically technical difficulties equivalent of YDS 4th or low 5th class. One day climbs may have difficulties at harder 5th class. (~AD/-D, NCCS IV-V).
AK4Hard to difficult multiday climbs involving more sustained climbing. Also routes with significant cornice problems. Furthermore, routes with considerable cornice problems and technical difficulty with long stretches of easy terrain are usually given Alaskan Grade 4. (~D-TD, NCCS IV-V).
AK5Difficult with sustained technical climbing and open bivouacs. Requires high level of commitment with sustained technical difficulties. (~TD-ED, NCCS V-VI).
AK6Extremely committing multiday climbs with typically poor retreat options. Very long sections with technical difficulties. (~ED-ED5, NCCS VI-VII).

North American Alpine Grade

North American Alpine Grading (or NCCS) system tries to combine technical and other difficulties of a given route to a single number representing an estimate of how long a competent party will take to complete the route. Like is the case with many other alpine grading systems, this overall grade is often used together with technical grade to give more complete picture of the climb. The system is often used to grade big wall routes also on other areas.

Time required for a route is highly subjective, however. Many routes that have traditionally taken several days, or even weeks, have been completed in a day or two. For example the first ascent of the Nose on El Capitan (mega classic grade VI climb in Yosemite, California) took 45 days in 1958. The same route was completed in a day in 1975 and 4,5 hours in 1992.

Sometimes the climbs have technical rock grade for a technical grade even if the route's principal technical difficulties are on ice or snow. For example The Regular North Face of Mount Athabasca is graded III 5.4 (involved 52 degree snow/ice).

Because NCCS grades give more emphasis to the length of a climb than French adjectival system, especially grades I-III can be just about anything in a French adjectival scale.

GradeExamples
ISeveral hours, any technical difficulty. (~F-AD/D)
IIA half day, any technical difficulty. (~PD-D)
IIIMost of a day for the technical part of the route, any technical difficulty. (~PD-D)
IVA very long day. Most difficult pitch is rated at least YDS 5.7. (~D/TD-)
VA climb of one-and-a-half to two days, at least one bivouac required. Most difficult pitch is rated at least YDS 5.8. (~TD/ED-).
VITwo or more days, several bivouacs required. Typically includes difficult free climbing and/or aid climbing. (~ED1-5, AK 5-6).
VII

New Zealand Alpine Grading

The grading system used to grade alpine climbs in New Zealand Alps resembles the one used in European Alps as it tries to combine numerous factors to indicate overall difficulty of a route. Factors affecting the grade are (in desceding order of importance): technical difficulty, objective danger, length and access. The system is open ended ranging traditionally from 1 to 6. Recently grades of 7 and 8 have been proposed. "+" and "-" can be used to refine the grade. On some routes, crux rock pitch, or, less often, all rock pitches, are given an Ewbank (that is to say Australian) rock grade. Alternatively, Yosemite Desimal system may be used to grade technical difficulty of rock climbing.

GradeExamples
NZ1Easy scramble. (~F)
NZ2Steeper sections may require a rope. (~PD)
NZ3Longer steeper sections. Ice climbs require generally two tools. (~PD+/AD)
NZ4Technical climbing. Knowledge of how to place ice and rock gear quickly and efficiently is necessary. Involves a long day. (~D)
NZ5Sustained technical climbing. May have vertical sections on ice. (~D+/TD)
NZ6Multiple crux sections. Vertical ice may not have adequate protection. Good mental attitude ans solid technique are prerequisites. May require bivouac on route and be far away from civilisation. (~TD/ED)
NZ7(ED)

Scottish grading system

On British Isles, Scottish system is applied to grade winter climbs. The system is also used in British guidebooks covering the Alps to grade crux pitches of alpine routes. The system is introduced with Ice climbing grading systems.

Russian alpine grade

In Russia and other parts of former Soviet Union, Russian scale is used. The system consists of two parts:

  1. Overall grade (CC, Category of Complexity, Kategoriya Slozhnosty) considers mainly the scale and complexity of the selected route. Thus deciding factors are(among others) altitude gain of the route, altitude of the summit, position of the key sections and time it takes of a competent party to climb the route. The scale runs from 1A (close to trekking) to 6B (mountaineering expedition). The scale runs from 1A to 6B. Normal route of Mount Elbrus is graded 2A (basic snow ascent on a 5642m meter peak, IFAS PD-). 6A is considered to be roughly as difficult as ED while 6B is domain of really desperate big routes, often on high mountains, for example Japanese Route on the North Ridge of K2 is graded 6B. This part is often used alone.
  2. Besides the overall grade, separate grade for the sections of the climb may be used to indicate technical difficulty. This difficulty grade is abbreviated CD (Category of Difficulty, Kategoriya Trudnosti). The scale runs from NC to 3b.

It is worthwhile to note, that unlike in most (all?) other grading systems, altitude is a major factor in Russian scale. Because of this all routes on very high peaks have high grade even if the ascent would have no technical difficulties. Because of the aforementioned significant role of altitude, direct conversion between Russian system and French adjectival system is difficult if not impossible. Robin Collomb and Andrej Wielochovski designed a conversion table for their 1995 "Pamir-Trans Alai Mountains" map is the most accurate we have at hand. This table, however, is based on an assumption of altitude around 5000m mark. If the mountains are considerable higher, their IFAS grade would be lower than suggested by the table.

For example, normal routes on Peak Lenin, Pik Kommunizma (Ismail Samani) and Pik Korzhenevskoy are all graded 5A, which is considered to be roughly equal of TD. However, none of these climbs are nearly as technical as is the case with typical alpine climbs graded TD. For example, normal route of Peak Lenin has IFAS grade of PD+/AD, which is similar to well known and straight forward Three Mont Blanc route in Mont Blanc Massif, which directly converted would be equal to Russian grade 2B or 3A. Routes graded 5A on much lower mountains are technically much harder, for example "Voie Messner - Marchal de la Brèche" on Pointe du Domino (Mont Blanc Massif" features ice climbing up to III/3 and has IFAS grade of TD.

GradeExamples
1AEasy routes on peaks of up to 4500m. (~F)
    1BEasy routes on peaks up to 5000m. Roped belay sometimes beneficial. (~F+)
    2AAscent of more than 500m on a peak between 2000-6000m or traverses at this height involving basic climbing. On rock, difficulties up to UIAA II. On snow or ice, sections of up to 30-35° (up to 100m). (~PD)
    2BMore technical routes on between 2000-6000m or traverses at this height. Require basic climbing and roped belay techniques. On rock, sections of up to UIAA III,on snow/ice sections of 35-45°. (~PD+)
    3ASlightly more technical ascent than 2B on peaks between 2500 and 6500m. Route length up to 600m (technical part). On rock typically at least 1-1,5 pitches of UIAA III. (~AD)
    3BTechnical climbing routes on peaks between 2500 and 6500m, route length 600m or more. Usually belayed and protected climbing is necessary also for experienced climbers. On rock short sections of UIAA IV or significant sections of III, on snow/ice long sections up to 45° (up to 300m) or shorter sections up to 55°. (~AD+/D-)
    4ARoutes of 600m or more on peaks between 2500m and 7000m. On peaks around 5000m rock pitches (20-50m) up to UIAA IV, on snow and ice significant sections (up to 300m) of 55°. Usually route takes at least 6 hours. (~D)
    4BRoutes of 600m or more on peaks between 2500m and 7000m. On peaks around 5000m rock pitches (40-80m) up to UIAA IV or short sections of V, on snow and ice long sections (300m or more) of 50° or more or difficult ridges with cornices. Usually route takes at least 8 hours.
    5AOn lower mountains, pure technical climbing of at least 600m, numerous edges and towers, vertical cliffs and roofs, rock and ice faces. On rock typically long sections of UIAA III-IV with several pitches of V, on ice/snow several hundred meters of 50° or more or difficult corniced ridges. Typically at leat 10 hours, often multiple days. (~TD). On high mountains (7000m or more, with mild technical difficulties. (~F - AD+)
    5BOn lower mountains, full set of different obstacles that can be found in mountains. On rock typically long sections of UIAA IV with full pitches of V and VI, on ice/snow several hundred meters of 50° or more or difficult corniced ridges. Route height typically at least 700m, typically at leat two days. (~TD+/ED1) On high mountains technical climbs (~D or more).
    6ALong technical routes (800m or more), often on high mountains or very difficult routes on lower mountains. On lower mountains sustained at uiaa IV-V and involves 20m or more of VI. Typically 40h or more of climbing. Alternatively a combination of at least three traverses of 5B. (~ED1/2)
    6BExtremely difficult routes, usually on high mountains or on big walls. Very high technical difficulties, often lots of (hard) aid climbing. Routes take typically several days and are often very serious. (~ED2-)

    Norway

    Sometimes Norwegian climbs (and possibly some climbs in Sweden) are graded with a system consisting of overall grade and complemented with pitch gradings. Overall grade considers ther maximum difficulty, length and seriousness of the climb. Rock parts are graded with Norwegian rock grade (which is derived from UIAA rock grade but are not identical) and with aid grade (when appropriate). Steepness of ice and snow parts are not often given, unless the difficulties are primarily on ice/snow and the inclination is genuinely steep (such as 70°; or more). Otherwise it may be said in the guidebook bluntly that the difficulties found on ice/snow is heavily depended on the conditions. This is true, of course, but it doesn't give you too much information about what to expect. This, by the way, is often the case with other beta about Scandinavian alpine climbs otherwise as well.

    That being said, the system is not always used. Most notably NTK guidebook for Jotunheimen uses typically no overall grade.

    GradeExamples
    IVery easy scrambles, possibly withy pitches of Nor 1 and 2. (~F)
    IIScrambles and easy climbs. Rope sometimes necessary. Usually pitches of Nor 2 and 3. (~PD)
    IIIClimbs suitable for inexperienced climbers. Mainly Nor 3, possibly some 4. (~AD)
    IVMainly Nor 4, with pitches of 5 and sometimes 6-. (~AD/D)
    VMainly Nor 5 with any amount of 6. (~TD)
    VIMainly Nor 6, possibly with pitches of of 6+ and any amount of aid climbing. (~ED)
    VI+Sustained Nor 6 and 6+ with any amount of aid climbing. (~ED-)

    Other areas

    Despite the plethora of alpine grading systems, there are areas that don't use one. For European climbers, the most notable of these areas are (parts) of Eastern Alps and Scandinavia.

    On Eastern parts of the Alps the same system that is applied to Western Alps is sometimes used. Also Bernese G-grade may be used, particularly on the climbs in Eastern Switzerland. Austrian and German guidebooks don't typically give any overall grade. Technical difficulties are normally given with UIAA rock grade, aid grade and steepness for snow and ice.