Difficulty Ratings

As any piece of gear will tell, mountaineering is a dangerous activity. Before embarking on a trip it is important to understand the risks involved, accept them and be prepared to deal with them. It is important to know your limitations and be willing to turn around before things get too dicey. Finally, you must understand that things can go wrong, really wrong, at any time. A sudden change in weather, an unexpected patch of snow, getting off course, a little stumble or any number of other things can turn an easy trip into a fight for your life.

I want to show you the wonders of the mountains and encourage (even help) you to get out there. Accordingly, I believe it is also my duty to do what I can to prepare you for what you’ll encounter. Part of that is in describing the trials as well as the triumphs of mountaineering. The other is in describing the terrain. There are two parts to that. The first is a rating in the details section of the trip report and the second is in the photos themselves.

While the goal of rating systems is to provide a standard and fairly objective measure of difficulty, they are inherently subjective because…well…we are very subjective. They generally reflect the difficulty under “ideal” conditions. A little wetness or snow can make a big difference when climbing rock, as do exhaustion and stress. They also describe the route I went up (or could have gone up if I didn’t randomly decide to climb more challenging terrain just for the sake of it). If you are off trail or taking a different route up the difficulty of the terrain could be very, very different.

Finally, before getting into the ratings themselves, I want to give credit where credit is due. Vern’s website, Explor8ion.com, has been my go-to resource for the last few years and my inspiration to move from Facebook posts to a blog of my very own. I have found his posts to be by far the most detailed, honest and thoughtful of any trip reports I’ve found for the Canadian Rockies (including my own). A lot of the things I’m doing on my blog are based on his (including the rating system and the use of RC’s quips). So go check him out! That being said the reports and the ratings are my own and may not necessarily agree with his.

The Ratings

I will do my best to grade each climb using the Yosemite Decimal System and add a few quick comments about the terrain. As is tradition, the grade is based on the hardest move on the climb. Albeit a full days worth of class 4 terrain will be much more challenging and dangerous than an easy trail with one low 5th class move (e.g. a short rock step). I hope that the notes under the rating will help rectify that.

Below are my best attempt to describe the different classes (based on Wikipedia, Climber.org and Explor8ion) along with the RJ Secor’s quips for each rating, which while not really that accurate or useful are fun.

Class 1: You fall, you’re stupid…
Walking on a clear trail. Low chance of injury.

Class 2: You fall, you break your arm…
Simple scrambling. Trail is rougher with potential to occasionally use hands. Slightly higher change of injury.
I would put most of Kane’s easy scrambles under this class.

Class 3: You fall, you break your leg…
Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are often required. Falls could be fatal.
I would put most of Kane’s moderate scrambles under this class.

Class 4: You fall, you are almost dead…
Simple climbing with exposure. Falls will likely be very serious if not fatal.
I would put most of Kane’s difficult scrambles under this class.

Class 5: You fall, you are dead…
Technical rock climbing with more complicated moves. Falls will kill or cause serious injury (sometimes even if you are using a rope).


The photo at the top of the page is of my friend Ryan while we were waiting for a storm to pass on our first attempt on Mt. Engadine. Lighting on our summit push and flowing water on our retreat made that trip a lot more dangerous than it would be normally. Ryan passed away a year later in a mountaineering accident.