International Mountaineering and Climbing Grade Comparison chart
Here's a direct comparison between the New Zealand (Mt Cook system), French Alpine Grade, UIAA Grade and the Russian Grade. When I first looked for a useful comparison nearly 10 years ago there were no sources which directly compared them all with that of New Zealand, and that remained the case until now. I have taken the liberty of rectifying this with my own interpretation based on personal experience. Comments are welcome.
|NZ||Alpine Grade||UIAA Grade||Russian Grade|
|7||ED3 and up||VII||6B|
Mt Cook system
The Mt Cook system, devised by Hugh Logan in his 1982 ‘The Mt Cook Guidebook’ is a grading from 1 to 7 with + and – variations. Factors that determine grade are (in descending order of importance): technical difficulty, objective danger, length, and access.
In general, the easier grades tend to be harder than expected compared to the French. There are some very committing NZ 2 climbs; often, the challenge of the route comes from the fluctuating maritime climate and the long approach and descent, rather than technical difficulty. These challenges tend to have the opposite effect for the upper grades; heavy packs and multi-day access result in a higher grade than elsewhere.
As such, they are just a guideline and with experience you will see that one NZ grade 3+ is not the same as another NZ grade 3+
• Grade 1: Easy scramble. Use of rope generally only for glacier travel.
• Grade 2: Steeper trickier sections may need a rope.
• Grade 3: Longer steeper sections generally. Use of technical equipment necessary. Ice climbs may require two tools.
• Grade 4: Technical climbing. Knowledge of how to place ice and rock gear quickly and efficiently a must. Involves a long day.
• Grade 5: Sustained technical climbing. May have vertical sections of ice.
• Grade 6: Multiple crux sections. Vertical ice may not have adequate protection. Good mental attitude and solid technique necessary. May require a bivvy on the route and be a long way from civilization.
• Grade 7: Vertical ice/rock which may not have adequate protection. Rock grades in the high 20s (Ewbank). Climb may be in remote area. May require a bivvy on route.
International French Alpine System
The French adjectival alpine system evaluates the overall difficulty of a route, taking into consideration the length, difficulty, exposure and commitment-level of the route (i.e., how hard it may be to retreat). The overall grade combines altitude; length and difficulty of approach and descent; number of difficult pitches and how sustained they are; exposure; and quality of rock, snow and ice.
• F: facile (easy). Straightforward, possibly a glacial approach, snow and ice will often be at an easy angle.
• PD: peu difficile (slightly difficult). Routes may be longer at altitude, with snow and ice slopes up to 45 degrees. Glaciers are more complex, scrambling is harder, climbing may require some belaying, descent may involve rappelling. More objective hazards.
• AD: assez difficile (fairly difficult). Fairly hard, snow and ice at an angle of 45-65 degrees, rock climbing up to UIAA grade III, but not sustained, belayed climbing in addition to a large amount of exposed but easier terrain. Significant objective hazard.
• D: difficile (difficult). Hard, more serious with rock climbing at IV and V, snow and ice slopes at 50-70 degrees. Routes may be long and sustained or harder but shorter. Serious objective hazards.
• TD: très difficile (very difficult). Very hard, routes at this grades are serious undertakings with high level of objective danger. Sustained snow and ice at an angle of 65-80 degrees, rock climbing at grade V and VI with possible aid, very long sections of hard climbing.
•ED1/2/3/4: extrêmement difficile (extremely difficult). Extremely hard, exceptional objective danger, vertical ice slopes and rock climbing, with possible aid pitches.
Often a + (pronounced Sup for supérieur) or a − (pronounced Inf for inférieur) is placed after the grade to indicate if a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g., a climb slightly harder than “PD+” might be “AD−”).
The Darrans system was introduced by Alan Uren and Craig Jefferies to grade winter routes in their The Darran Mountains guidebook (2006). This system introduces a ‘commitment’ grade to indicate the overall seriousness of a route, alongside technical grades.
• I–II: A short to medium day; generally low risk of objective danger on access, route and descent; relatively close to shelter (camp or hut).
• III: A long day; moderate objective danger possible on access, route and descent; may be several hours from hut or camp.
• IV: Speed and efficiency needed to complete in a day; access, route and descent may involve known objective hazards; may require lengthy return to hut or camp.
• V: Bivvy gear required; access, route and descent may require lengthy exposure to objective hazards; may require lengthy return to hut or camp.
• VI: Multi-day route; access, route and descent may require lengthy exposure to objective hazards which may be difficult to assess; no helicopter access possible; may require lengthy return to hut or camp, or descent into adjoining catchment.
For snow, ice and mixed climbing, technical ratings broadly match those listed above in the Mt Cook system. Rock difficulties are rated using the Ewbank system (see below). Aid, Water Ice (WI) and Mixed (M) systems may also be employed.
For technical alpine routes (about grade 4 and above on the Mt Cook system) this is now the recommended system to use in the New Zealand mountains.
The open-ended Ewbank system grades the technical difficulty of rock climbs in Australia and New Zealand.
Water Ice (WI) grades are usually applied to shorter pure ice routes, but may be useful to grade the technical difficulty of ice on alpine routes. Grade indications are from the American Alpine Journal grade comparison chart.
• WI1: Low angle ice; no tools required.
• WI2: Consistent 60º ice with possible bulges; good protection.
• WI3: Sustained 70º with possible long bulges of 80º–90º; reasonable rests and good stances for placing screws.
• WI4: Continuous 80º ice fairly long sections of 90º ice broken up by occasional rests.
• WI5: Long and strenuous, with a rope length of 85º-90º ice offering few good rests; or a shorter pitch of thin or bad ice with protection that’s difficult to place.
• WI6: A full rope length of near-90º ice with no rests, or a shorter pitch even more tenuous than WI 5. Highly technical.
M grades are used when dry tooling – climbing rock (and usually also ice) with crampons and ice tools. Grade indications are from the American Alpine Journal grade comparison chart.
• M1–3: Easy. Low angle; usually no tools.
• M4: Slabby to vertical with some technical dry tooling.
• M5: Some sustained vertical dry tooling.
• M6: Vertical to overhanging with difficult dry tooling.
• M7: Overhanging; powerful and technical dry tooling; less than 10m of hard climbing.
• M8: Some nearly horizontal overhangs requiring very powerful and technical dry tooling; bouldery or longer cruxes than M7.
• M9: Either continuously vertical or slightly overhanging with marginal or technical holds, or a juggy roof of 2 to 3 body lengths.
• M10: At least 10 metres of horizontal rock or 30 meters of overhanging dry tooling with powerful moves and no rests.
• M11: A ropelength of overhanging gymnastic climbing, or up to 15 metres of roof.
• M12: M11 with bouldery, dynamic moves and tenuous technical holds.
Aid climbing is rare in the New Zealand mountains. ‘Original’ rather than ‘New Wave’ aid ratings are used. (See the American Alpine Journal grade comparison chart.)
• A0: Occasional aid moves often done without aiders (etriers) or climbed on fixed gear.
• A1: All placements are solid and easy.
• A2: Good placements, but sometimes tricky.
• A3: Many difficult, insecure placements, but with little risk.
• A4: Many placements in a row that hold nothing more than body weight.
• A5: Enough body-weight placements in a row that one failure results in a fall of at least 20 metres.