Class Ratings Definitions
* by Edward Earl
Class Ratings Definitions
Class ratings contain a very subjective element which renders the value assigned
to a specific route a subject of potential endless debate among those who have
actually been there. The following definitions serve as a guideline that
agrees fairly well with a broad cross-section of the mountaineering community.
- "Class 0"
- Drive-up. A passenger car can be driven to the immediate vicinity
of the high point. A short walk may be necessary; I am loathe to give a
specific distance, but it must be too short to satisfy most people's definition
of a "hike".
- Class 1
- Walking. Trail or easy cross-country (e.g. meadow, sand/gravel bar, slickrock).
- Class 2
- Scrambling. Hands are occasionally used for balance. Off-trail
travel does not necessarily constitute class 2. I draw the line between class
1 and class 2 by whether or not you can keep your hands in your pockets.
Admittedly this entails individual judgement and it is perhaps best to use
some average opinion.
- Class 3
- Bouldering. You have to take a little time to find specific handholds
and footholds. Inexperienced climbers may ask for a rope. I draw the line
between class 2 and class 3 according to whether or not exposure is at least
body height (but see below).
- Class 4
- Climbing. Nearly vertical rock with great exposure. A rope is strongly
advised. Roped glacier travel also constitutes class 4 since the party
should have class 4 skills available for safety reasons, even if they are not
actually used on a given climb. I draw the line between class 3 and class 4
according to whether a fall would be free, at least momentarily (but see below).
- Class 5
- Lead climbing. A rope is absolutely essential, and the leader must
periodically place protection in case s/he falls. However, the route can still
be climbed using natural handholds and footholds, with the rope only for safety.
- Class 6
- Aid climbing. The party must use artificial holds.
There have been some questions raised about whether this system is a difficulty
rating or a danger rating. Mountaineers have traditionally used it as the
former since long before there was any county highpointing. So, in that
sense, one should not define it according to the exposure. If that becomes a
question, I deal with it by extrapolating the surface I'm actually on below me,
and then I ask myself what the exposure would be.
The key ledge of the
Le Conte route on North Palisade is class 2.
Although the exposure below is severe, it is not representative of the surface
you're actually on, which requires (very careful!) use of hands for balance,
but not much more.
The ledge behind the
Keyhole on Longs Peak is class 1 or 2. Although it's
nearly vertical above and below, and people have died falling off it, the
dropoff would not have been "predicted" if one extrapolated the surface down below.
John Mitchler offers, somewhat tongue-in-cheek,
alternative class definitions
using both a difficulty metric and an exposure metric.