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American Alpine Journal
International Grade Comparison Chart
YDS=Yosemite Decimal System;
National Climbing Classification
NCCS grades, often called “commitment grades,” indicate the time investment in a route for an “average” climbing team.
I and II: Half a day or less for the technical
(5th class) portion of the route.
The overall seriousness of the complete route based on all factors of the final approach, ascent, and descent—including length, altitude, danger, commitment, and technical difficulty. This system originated with UIAA Roman numerals; it is now generally seen with French letters and is increasingly being used worldwide.
F: Facile/easy. Rock scrambling or easy snow
slopes; some glacier travel; often climbed
ropeless except on glaciers.
An overall grade reflecting the remote, cold, stormy nature of Alaskan climbing. Rarely applied outside Alaska.
1: Easy glacier route.
The overall grade factors in UIAA technical ratings (the Roman numerals).
1B: Some easy roped climbing.
Most climbs in the American Alpine Journal are described with an alphabet soup of difficulty ratings. The de facto grading system in the AAJ is a combination of the American systems described below. If a different system is used, it will generally be identified by its nationality or region. The grading systems described here are condensed and updated from detailed descriptions in the 1999 AAJ, pages 477-484. Ratings in the AAJ use the following sequence, as relevant to the climb and supplied by the climbers: commitment, rock, aid, mixed, ice, snow. Only direct experience can fully convey the meaning of each grade, which in any case varies widely from region to region. The following descriptions crudely approximate reality, albeit without any of the sweat, pain, fear, and joy involved with the actual climbing.
New routes put-up by big-wall aficionados often are given a “New Wave” rating using the original symbols with new definitions. When the letter “C” replaces “A,” the rating refers to “clean” climbing—i.e., without a hammer. Original Aid Rating System:
A0: Occasional aid moves often done without
aiders (etriers) or climbed on fixed gear;
sometimes called “French free.”
New Wave Aid Ratings:
A1: Easy aid.No risk of a piece pulling out.
Scottish Winter Grades:
These apply to ice and mixed conditions and are used primarily by climbers familiar with Scottish conditions. Roman numerals are the overall grades, while Arabic numbers are the technical grade of the hardest section. Scottish technical ratings are approximately 1 generous numeral higher than equivalent Water Ice or M-grades. Technical grade 5 is relatively straightforward, 6 is somewhat technical mixed climbing, and 7 and 8 are much more intricate, including harder snowed-up rock. The current range is 4-9. A complete grade is expressed as VI,8.
I: Snow gullies and easy ridges.
This combines length, hazard, and ove rall challenges.
I-II: 1 or 2 pitches near the car, but may
need to be avoided during avalanche season.
These routes require considerable dry tooling (modern ice tools used on bare rock) and are climbed in crampons; actual ice is optional but some ice is usually involved.
M1-3: Easy. Low angle; usually no tools.
Water Ice and Alpine Ice Grades:
Ice climbing ratings are highly variable by region and are still evolving. The following descriptions approximate the average systems. The WI acronym implies seasonal ice; AI is often substituted for year-around Alpine Ice and may be easier than a WI grade with the same number. Canadians often drop the WI symbol and hyphenate the technical grade after the Canadian commitment grade’s Roman numeral (example: II-5).
WI1: Low angle ice; no tools required.
Snow is often described by its steepest angle (ex.: 70º) or by a range approximating its steepest angle (ex.: 70º-80º).
The Gore Shipton/Tilman Grant:
Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman have inspired many outdoor enthusiasts to push themselves and follow their dreams. Shipton and Tilman preferred small teams, unburdened by porters and excessive bulk; they thrilled at getting by on the bare minimum. Selecting a team was as important as how they traveled: they chose close friends who shared respect and trust. W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. established the annual Shipton/Tilman Grant as a tribute to the spirit of adventure embodied by Shipton and Tilman. The Grant provides $30,000 each year to be divided among three to six expeditions that are most in harmony with Shipton and Tilman's philosophies. Applications are accepted from small, unencumbered teams of friends with daring and imaginative goals. The expedition team must plan to accomplish their feat in a self-propelled, environmentally sound, and cost- effective way. Eric Shipton and H.W. Tilman were prolific authors, and we encourage all applicants to read their books to gain a better understanding of their philosophies.
For more information, or to apply for the grant, visit www.gore-tex.com/stg
The American Alpine Club, founded in 1902, is the leading national organization devoted to mountaineering, climbing, and the multitude of issues facing climbers. To join or learn more about the AAC, visit www.americanalpineclub.org. More copies of this American Alpine Journal International Grade Comparison Chart can be downloaded from www.americanalpineclub. org/knowledge/publications-aaj.asp
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