Mountain Grading Systems

The system used by mountain sessions

Trying to make sense of grading systems when it comes to getting out in the mountains can be a real head ache. Different sports have different grading systems and more often than not the same sport has many different grading systems. In one country you might be on a T5 hiking route and the same route in another country might be a 4 Boots hike! And thats just hiking. When it comes to rock climbing things are no more simple. Is it a HVS 5C a 6a- or a V10.

You can’t really hold it against anyone for this complete mess. People were developing their skill all over the world at the same time and therefore developing their grading own systems. Now that the world is a smaller place the mess seems even bigger. Don’t despair however because these few tips will help you see the wood from the trees and hopefully make life in the mountains easier for you to understand.

Tip #1: Gather as much info about the route you intend to do.

Irrelevant of elaborate grading systems you need to know what the real characteristics of a route are. This refers not only to the physical elements of the route (hight gain, distance, type of rock, water level etc) but to the meteorological elements as well as your own physical condition. You could be on a “easy” route, but if the storm of the century break out, it will soon turn into a very dangerous route. Likewise you maybe on an “easy” route but if your lacking in the physical capacity to complete it then it will soon become very dangerous.

Tip #2: Choose the grading that suits you and stick with it.

Eventually we have to turn towards the grading systems to prepare a route. The grading systems are like a language that need to be translated into the one you understand. If French climbing grades is what you know best then try and get the grading of a climbing route in French climbing grade system. This is because you know what your comfortable with in one particular grading system because thats what your used to.

Tip #3: Interest yourself in the other grading systems.

This takes the understanding of grading to the next level. It’s like when your in a car and you see a speed limit of 60mph and know immediately without doing the calculation that your in a 90kph speed limit zone. So it should be the same for mountain grading. When you climb a 6a French grading you should know that it’s V10 US grading. This skill doesn’t come with memorising all the grading systems. It come with experiencing them. By climbing a 6a and then by climbing a V10 you will learn what they are.

Finally, remember that grading systems are subjective. They were put in place by certain people that are not you. Kilian Jornet, who crossed the Pyrenees in 7 days, when it normally takes two months, will feel the trail is easier than you do. So know the trail, which brings us back to tip No.1. It’s complicated and a lot of work, but lets at least be grateful Kilian is not in charge of the grading!

Below are the grading systems i have become familiar with. Use them if you like, or use other systems, thats fine. Just so long as when your out in the mountains your safe and having a good time.

HIKING

T1: Hike

Trail/Terrain
Well marked trail. Flat or low slope, no risk of falling.
Requirements
None in particular, suitable for trainers. In general, the orientation, even without a map is possible.

T2: Hike in the mountains

Trail/Terrain
Uninterrupted trail. Sometimes steep terrain, fall hazards are not to be excluded.
Requirements
Having a sure footing. Trekking boots are recommended. Elementary orientation capacity is necessary.

T3: Challenging Mountain Hikes

Trail/Terrain
Trail not always visible. The exposed parts might be equipped with ropes or chains. Hand support might eventually be needed for balance. Some passages are exposed with a risk of falling, scree, rocky slopes mingled without trace.
Requirements
Being very surefooted. Good trekking shoes. An average guidance capacity. Elementary mountain experience.

T4: Alpine hiking

Trail/Terrain
Trail is sometimes missing. The use of hands is sometimes necessary for progression. Terrain already quite exposed, tricky grass slopes, mixed slopes of rocks and snowfields easy passages on non-snow-covered glacier.
Requirements
Familiarity of exposed terrain. Rigid trekking shoes. Some evaluation capacity of the ground and a good orienteering ability. Alpine experience. In case of bad weather the downturn can be difficult.

T5: Demanding alpine hiking

Trail/Terrain
Often without trace. Some easy climbing sections. If marked: white-blue-white. Land exposed, demanding steep slopes interspersed with rocks. Glaciers and snowfields at risk of slipping.
Requirements
Mountain boots. Evaluation of safe ground and very good orienteering capacity. Good experience of high mountains and basic knowledge of the handling of the ice ax and rope.

T6: Challenging Alpine hiking

Trail/Terrain
Most of the time without a trail, climbing sections up to grade II. Generally not marked. Often very exposed. Slopes of mixed delicate rocks. Glaciers with increased risk of slipping.

Requirements

Excellent ability for orienteering. Confirmed alpine experience and habit of using technical mountaineering equipment.
Climbing
The grading systems is numerical from 2 to 9 (1 being walking). Added to this is a sub system using letter a to c. There can be a ‘+’ or ‘-‘ added to the end figure to donate weather the route is a little harder or a little easier, allowing for a broader spectrum. For example: 5c, 5c+,6a-, 6a, 6a+, 6b-, 6b, 6b+, 7a- , 7a, 7a+, 7b-, 7b, 7b+ etc
Mountain biking
Mountain bike routes of France uses the same system a the ski slopes of France.
Green – Very easy
Blue – Easy
Red – Hard
Black – Very Hard