Winter climbing grades

Posted by Steve Long on 06/11/2004
Photo: Steve Long.

Just when you thought you had grades mastered, here’s another system.

Winter routes are graded for difficulty and commitment in a similar way to rock. The overall grade, comparable to the adjectival rock grade is given in a roman
numeral, currently from I to X.

I - The easiest climbs. Straightforward snow slopes upto 50 degrees, or simple scrambles on snowed up rock.

II - Steeper sections with ice but still normally less than vertical.

III + Increasingly long sections of steep climbing and commitment.

Above III, individual crux pitches are also graded. For example, Point Five Gully at V,5 is a benchmark V, while a well protected hard mixed climb might be graded V,7. Zero Gully is less technical but serious so gets V,4.

Mix it up
Mixed climbs are predominantly rock with varying degrees of ice coating. To qualify as a mixed route plenty of snow and ice should be covering any ledges, otherwise you’ll be “dry tooling”. This style of climbing is inappropriate at most UK venues as it causes damage. Controversially, some mixed climbs look black when viewed from below and fresh arguments rage each winter.

Winter ethics
Ethics are obtuse for winter, but the underlying theme is the same as for rock. The tools are regarded as free climbing assistance. Hooking into protection is not allowed, just like pulling on runners is regarded as cheating in summer. The use of wrist loops is generally accepted, however clipping a leash into your harness and hanging from that is regarded as a rest point and therefore an impure ascent. These distinctions may seem a bit contrived, but they seem to fit reasonably within the free climbing philosophy and evolve as equipment and standards develop.



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