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Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Oct 12, 2012 9:16 am

The rating system has additional "qualifers" for more difficult climbing. For example, a 5.6 is easy technically, but you can also add a "grade" I, II, III etc. that takes into account the sustained difficulty and length of the climb. It is also becoming common to add a "G" "PG" "R" or "X" qualifier on rock climbs - "G" being pretty safe even for beginners and "X" being "fall you die" usually due to no way to protect the climb. Unfortunately, the easier ratings, Class 1-4 do not use these qualifiers. I am not for changing the definition of Class 1, 2, 3 but qualifers should be added. I have engaged in technical climbing for over 40 years and the rating system is very clear to me, but not everyone picking up a guidebook may be very experienced in rating systems. Secor's guide IS a CLIMBING guide - backpackers are not his priority. He is vague and terse on passes and descriptions on how to get to the climbs. Every guidebook writer has page limits, so you have to edit, and actual climbing route descriptions get higher priority.

And I have had the same experience as SSSDave- if you are a few feet off you can be in an entirely different situation. And what is "difficult" to someone may be easy for someone else. For me, Alpine Col was actually fun. I am very comfortable on talus, even large blocks. Also, just knowing a few climbing moves (like layback, hand jam techniques) helps a lot. Sometimes all it takes is one or two climbing moves and you are up.

I always carry some parachute cord for lowering and hauling my pack if need be. It does not take much pack weight to throw me off balance. I have had to lower my pack on several class 2 passes. I am short and it does not take much of a rock wall for me to have to "scramble" down.

Continous poor footing (ball bearing round scree or sand) on a steep pass makes it very dangerous, although not necessarily more "difficult" technically. A class 3 pass with poor footing, however, is NOT a class 5 pass. Class 5 is not just anything that anybody would use a rope on. It is a specific difficulty, confirmed repeatedly by experienced rock climbers. There really needs to be an ENTIRELY NEW classification system passes and easier terrain. By using the rock climbing classification you are trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Hopefully the lack of information in the guidbooks can be made up with our High Sierra Topix pass information. Thanks for everyone who is contributing!



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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby maverick » Fri Oct 12, 2012 12:27 pm

Secor's book is a guide, and that's it. When considering difficulty levels there
are constants and variables, and it is the variables that need to be considered.
The variables are not only the individuals experience and conditioning, but also
weather conditions and how that years snow conditions have effected a certain
pass which in some cases can make one pass easier but can also make another
more difficult. Even with a lot of experience and conditioning one may also have
a so called Achilles' heel for example: steep scree/talus, heights, climbing, boulders
or snow/ice.
Some may consider Harrison Pass more difficult to climb without snow than
with but the difference is in ones comfort level on snow, and timing the climb
right, which falls into the experience category. Having some climbing experience
as WD mentions can come in handy, if practiced, otherwise it can give you a false
sense of confidence that can get one into trouble. Did Isosceles Pass after a winter
of rock climbing and bouldering which made this pass easier, but someone with a
pack, who doesn't have some climbing/bouldering under there belt and is
uncomfortable on boulders this could be quite a tedious/dangerous route.
South Fork Pass is a very steep route where proper route finding is essential, also
one needs to be comfortable with very loose scree and/or steep snow. When
there is a mix of the two the route is very unstable and more difficult. The same
goes for example on Volcanic Pass which is a mix of steep talus and scree (not as
steep as SFP) and is made more difficult with pockets of snow thrown into the mix.
Wilts Col can be easier for some with snow (time right of the day) or not be a
issue for those with experience on slabs.
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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby lostcoyote » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:12 pm

direction also plays a factor... whether one is going up or down.... in route finding.

going up is easier to plan out ones route because it's easier to see things ahead when looking up.

going down is harder to see what lies ahead and it's all to easy to get hung up on cliffs that you could not see in advance.

sometimes, getting the correct route makes all the difference in having simple class 2 or getting into mixed class 2 and 3 stuff.
Last edited by lostcoyote on Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby SandStorm » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:31 pm

Excellent comments. Thanks for the info on those passes, Maverick.
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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:43 am

"Difficulty" and "Safety" can be two different things. I have never found any class 2 pass really "difficult" but many are very scarey and unsafe. You may have to do rock scrambling on class 2 passes. You may have to use hands or take off the pack to get over short cliffs if you are a short person. The aspect of class 2 passes that make them "sandbagged" for me is the "fall-you-die" nature. I personally do not think class 2 passes should be those with significant exposure. I however am not the one that devised the rating system! I do wish guidbook writers would add words to this effect. When covered with snow, any pass can be a totally different rating.

Some passes that I have had trouble with:

Sky Pilot Col (steep ball bearing footing)
Frozen Lake Pass (very steep, can get into some loose large talus on end of lower moraine)
Snow Tongue Pass (prone to rock slides when saturated after rain or end of snowmelt)
Pyra Queen col (seasonally hard ice and some steep loose talus)
Ruskie Pass (I thought there was some class 3 on it)
Horn Col (class 1 but builds a big cornice some years)
Longly (Class 1 but can get really messed up between pass and Reflection Lake)
Minaret Lake to Lake Ediza (steep snow- bad runout-into lake)
Sluggo Pass (seasonally steep snow - ledge detour very exposed)

I generally avoid passes that look too hard so have not been on some of the more notoriously dangerous passes and class 3 passes while backpacking.
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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby SandStorm » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:24 pm

Thanks for the tips on those passes, Wandering Daisy.
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Re: Which passes are most underrated in terms of difficulty?

Postby sparky » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:57 am

I keep my own mental notes about passes and have my own interpretation of the yds.

Class 1 is no hands no exposure.
class 2 is hands no exposure.
class 3 is hands and enough exposure to be injured
class 4 is hands and deadly exposure
Class 5 is technical climbing with deadly exposure

This is just my interpretation, im not a climber. For me, exposure is everything. I will leave official ratings to those with more experience
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