Classifying the difficulty of alpine routes - UIAA and IFAS
Things to know about the evaluation of alpine routes
When evaluating alpine routes, it has proven to be important to focus more on the character of the route (length, the requirement for continuity, objective danger, exposure, quality of protection, fragility, etc.) and less on the technical difficulty of the climbing passages.
Therefore, the routes on our portal can be rated according to the UIAA scale as well as the IFAS scale (SAC mountain and high routes scale). For alpine routes, potential dangers and the steepness of the ice are also crucial.
- Rock: Low difficulty - easy terrain (scree and simple block ridge). Hands are required to support balance. Beginners must be secured by rope. A head for heights is required.
- Firn and glacier: easy firn slopes and hardly any crevasses
- Rock: Moderate difficulty - clearly arranged climbing sections. This is where the climbing begins, which requires three point posture.
- Firn and glacier: usually not very steep slopes, short steeper passages, few crevasses, retreat always possible
- Rock: Medium difficulty - intermediate securing in exposed places is recommended, vertical places require effort. Experienced and skilled climbers can climb passages of this difficulty without using a rope.
- Firn and glaciers: steeper slopes, occasionally belaying is necessary, many crevasses, small cracks and retreats can be problematic.
- Rock: Very difficult - Here the climbing begins more sharply. Considerable climbing experience is necessary and longer climbing sections usually require several intermediate belaying devices. Even skilled and experienced climbers usually can't master passages of this difficulty without rope protection. A good sense of direction is also required.
- Firn and glaciers: Very steep slopes, mostly belaying is necessary, many crevasses, large chasms and retreats are rarely possible.
- Rock: Great difficulty - Increasing number of intermediate belays and there are increased demands on physical condition, climbing technique and experience. Long high alpine routes in difficulty grade V are among the major challenges in the Alps and extra-alpine regions.
- Firn and glacier: continuous steep terrain and continuous belaying
- Rock: Extremely difficult - Climbing requires far above-average ability and excellent training. Great exposure is often associated with small pitches. Passages of this difficulty can usually only be conquered under ideal conditions.
- Firn and glacier: Very steep and vertical sections require ice climbing.
- Rock: Exceptional Difficulty - This level of difficulty can only be achieved through increased training and advanced equipment. Even the best climbers need training adapted to the type of rock in order to master passages of this difficulty near the fall limit. In addition to acrobatic climbing skills, the mastery of sophisticated belaying techniques is essential.
- Firn and glacier: extremely steep and overhanging passages with ice climbing
+/- : Intermediate levels indicate whether the score is at the upper (+) or lower (-) limit of the level of difficulty.
IFAS / SAC Mountain and High Routes Scale
F = facile (easy for the trained) = I
Easiest routes over the glacier and on the rock. Hands are only used for balance support.
PD = peu difficile (a little difficult) = II
The choice of the route is easy and the experienced amateur can master the requirements of the guiding technique. In the event of a sudden change of weather, it is possible to retreat quickly.
AD = assez difficile (quite difficult) = III
The choice of route requires a trained eye. Good rope handling and belaying techniques are required. In case of a sudden change of weather, the conditions can become difficult.
D = difficile (difficult) = IV
The routes are long and demanding. The choice of route requires a lot of experience. Many of the great alpine routes fall into this category. The guiding technique has to be efficient and requires a lot of routine and absolute safety from the first rope.
TD = très difficile (very difficult) = V
The choice of route is very difficult and if wrongly assessed, a retreat can be dangerous or almost impossible. Routes of this kind belong to very big undertakings of the Alps.
ED = extrêmement difficile (extremely difficult) = VI
The routes can be very confusing and security points are largely missing. The retreat is only possible under very high risk. These routes are reserved for a few specialists, who have extensive experience in all areas.
EX/ABO = exceptionellement difficile/abominable (extremely difficult) = VII
Some of the most advanced routes. They exceed the ED difficulty level. These routes are extremely steep, partly overhanging wall passages.
+/- : Intermediate levels indicate whether the rating is at the upper (+) or lower (-) limit of the mentioned degree of difficulty.
Ice steepness (WI scale)
The WI scale (Water Ice) is used on our portal to measure the steepness of ice surfaces:
WI 1: 40°–60°
WI 2: 60°–70 °
WI 3: 70°–80°
WI 4: 80°
WI 5: 85°–90°
WI 6: 90°
WI 7: 100° + / overhanging
Potential dangers and exposure
The Arabic numerals 1-6 indicate the potential danger at high altitudes. This is determined from variables such as the quality of the protection, the fragility of the rock, slope inclination, orientation, avalanche danger, cornices, key points, danger of crevasses, and the length of the route. The variable with the highest hazard rating determines the level of hazard potential. The wind rose for exposure shows the predominant orientation of the slopes on which you are moving.
Danger potential 1:
- The route leads through flat, level terrain.
- The course of the path is easy to recognize, no dangers along the way.
- There is no danger of avalanches.
- The route has no key points.
- There is no danger of crevasses.
- There is no danger of falling branches.
Danger potential 2:
- The route leads mostly through flat, even terrain.
- The route is easy to recognize, no dangers along the way.
- There is hardly any danger of avalanches.
- The route has hardly any key points.
- On glaciers: There is hardly any danger of crevasses.
- There is hardly any danger of breaking off snow cornices.
Potential danger 3:
- The route sometimes leads through steep terrain up to 30° slope.
- The path is not always easy to recognize, there is hardly any danger on the way.
- There is a partial danger of avalanches.
- The route has some key points.
- On glaciers: There is sometimes a danger of crevasses.
- There is a partial danger of snowdrifts.
Potential danger 4:
- The route leads through steep terrain up to 34° slope inclination.
- The route is not easily recognizable, numerous dangers along the way.
- There is a danger of avalanches.
- The route has numerous key points.
- On glaciers: There is an increased danger of crevasses.
- There is an increased danger of snowdrifts breaking off.
Potential danger 5:
- The route leads through steep terrain with 34° to 40° slope inclination.
- The path is difficult to recognize, many dangers along the way.
- There is a high risk of avalanches.
- The route has many key points.
- On glaciers: There is a high risk of crevasses.
- There is a great danger of canyoning.
Potential danger 6:
- The route leads through steep terrain over 40° slope inclination.
- The route is very difficult to recognize, many dangers along the way.
- There is a very high risk of avalanches.
- The route has many key points.
- On glaciers: There is a very high risk of crevasses.
- There is a very high risk of falling branches.