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Definitions of Technical?

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 7:56 am
by Strider
Excuse me if already discussed; search came up empty.

What are definitions for technical 1, 2 etc.?

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 8:00 am
by wingding
Currently, according to the climbing textbook Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the system divides all hikes and climbs into five classes:

Class 1: Hiking.
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with possible occasional use of the hands.
Class 3: Scrambling, a rope can be carried but is usually not required.
Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.
Class 5: Technical free climbing. Climbing involves rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety.

More information:

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 9:12 pm
by giantbrookie
They have detailed write ups in several guides, including one in Secor's book.

To elaborate a bit from one (ex?) peak bagger's perspective...

Class 1 and 2. All official trails and easy cross country walking are class 1. Easy means, say walking through meadows, up a wooded slope, over low angle slabs, and small low to moderate angle talus or scree. At the point where one has to use your hands for balance it becomes class 2, or, I think it's generally considered class 2 if you're on scree and it just gets very steep (even if you're not really using your hands to hold onto something). Typical boulder hopping and climbing over talus is generally considered class 2--hands are commonly used for balance there. In any case you really aren't exposed to a potentially long fall on Class 1 or 2. The potential for a potentially life threatening fall is known as "exposure". This doesn't mean that class 1 and 2 are hazard free, for boulders can shift and one can get hit by falling rocks.

Class 3. This involves hand over hand climbing with some exposure. How much? It's usually considered class 3 if the minimum height of the potential fall is somewhere around 8-10 feet (ie enough for potential major injury). The definition used to say "a belay may be required for the unsteady". There has been much "grade inflation" in terms of shifting a lot of class 3's to 4's (see below) during the 40-some-odd years I've been peak bagging. There haven't been nearly as many 2's that have gone to 3's. The level of exposure on some class 3 climbs can be fairly significant (ie possibility of falling hundreds of feet or more), and class 3 has claimed a fair number of lives over the years because folks generally aren't roped (the most hazardous factor is loose holds, commonly just called "loose rock", a factor not taken into account in the ratings system). Folks over the years have tended to refer to low 3rd, mid 3rd, and high 3rd, and this is very much a function of personal bias. My definition is that to get to mid to high you need to have either a fall high enough to have a high probability of fatality (plus can't be descended facing out, see below), or, if only a 10-foot pitch, it must be rather athletic and require some bouldering skill. I've also used descent mode to separate. If I can descend facing out (means it's really not all that steep), it's low 3rd (example, summit crack on std. route on Williamson that was once classed "officially" as low 3rd). If I can only descend by facing the rock, it's mid 3 or better (if the minimum fall requirement is met). This is by no means standard, and everyone will have their own interpretation of the rating system, so you'll need to keep this in mind when reading reports on or summitpost.

Class 4 is climbing protected by belay or "a belay is required by most". It's the "most" definition that has shifted this category through time (esp. the class 3 to 4 boundary). Many 3's have become 4's in the transition from Voge to Smatko to Roper to Secor. The level of exposure is universally high in 4th. I can't recall whether it's Roper or Secor who said, something to the effect, "while a fall on class 3 might result in serious injury, a fall on class 4 will almost certainly be your last." Note that there is no protection between the leader and the belayer, so if the leader falls (and is held by belay) on ascent he or she can fall twice the distance of the rope to the belayer, plus the stretch of the rope. This then leads for the need to further protect the leader which brings us to...

Class 5. Here "protection", in the form of pitons, chocks, etc. is placed between the belayer and the leader. If the highest protection holds, the fall distance it thus twice the distance to the highest protection (but sometimes they will pull out). At no time in class 4 or 5 is the rope or the protection used for direct support to aid climbing. It is there only to protect the climber if they fall. If the protection or rope is used to directly aid climbing, it is known as aid climbing which is designated as class A. There are lots of sublevels in class 5 depending on the degree of technique and skill needed to surmount a pitch (5.1,5.2...5.9,note 5.10 is harder than 5.9 and not an extra sig fig; I don't know what the highest is nowadays but it's probably around 5.14). Holds and such are much smaller than in 4th. There has been some debate on how high a potential fall or pitch must be to be considered class 5. For example there are some athletic walls requiring some technique, say 30 feet high that rise from a fairly easy, non-exposed slope (class 1 or 2). A belay for the leader does no good because if they come off they go the full 30 feet. So how high does such a wall have to be before "most" folks would want to place protection part way up and hence call it 5th?

Note also that this ratings system rates the hardest move in a climb. Thus an otherwise class 2 climb with one class 3 move becomes class 3, for example. The "grade" system rates the overall degree of difficulty (this is sort of the way the Europeans have done it for a long time), but is seldom or never applied in the Sierra for any climb that does not include at least one class 5 pitch (grades are given in Roman numerals I thru VI).

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 10:17 pm
by Snow Nymph
we just did Russell, which is class 3. The class 3 wasn't really that hard, but the class 5 exposure is what got me. :eek: You'll see it when I post the pics. :retard: I spent a lot of time scooting on my butt!

Once we got to the Russell-Carillon plateau, I tripped big time. I would have been dead if I did that up higher! :puke:

Posted: Thu Aug 31, 2006 9:14 pm
by ironmike
Just for (more or less, take your pick) clarity, the rating system being discussed here - and in great detail by giantbrookie - is the Yosemite Decimal System or YDS. Obviously it was developed in California, in particular in the Sierras, though its usage has now spread throughout the country. It has been extended beyond the simple 1-5 categorization to now include rockclimbing and aid climbing. Many other grading systems have been developed in different parts of the world (Europe, for example) or to address specific mountaineering environments (Alaska is a great example).

There is a nice intro to the various grading systems on wikipedia (not to most seminal mountaineering books). Look at this link:

Most of the interest in grading systems revolves around their subjectivity, which makes climbing stories so great around the campfire!!!

Posted: Sat Sep 02, 2006 7:16 am
by PhilB
I remember reading a very simplified description of the classes somewhere. It was based on the number of limbs you need to attempt the route.

Class 1 - Its a trail, you can hop along the route.
Class 2 - .... I'm sure you can work out the rest yourself.

Posted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 11:43 pm
by pcase
In the Sierra's generally....class 3 is where things get intersting, ...

Where beginners overestimate their abilities and where experts become careless.....

It's where 95% of the time a rope isn't needed and where 99% of the time a rope is nowhere to be that 4% margin you have problems.....

The standard route on Mt. Abbott is a class 3 and it has sent many would be peak baggers straight back to their cars. Class 3 covers a lot of terrain....steep, airy, loose, moderate, or flat out friggin anything in life do your research before you go and then evaluate conditions when you get there.....wind rain or ice can make a class 2 a class 5 so ratings aren't all that useful in a dynamic environment.

Class 4 generally connotes death potential and a need for ropes and belays
and Class 5 denotes the beginning of the rock climbing scale 5.1 - 5.15

Posted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 1:48 am
by revhobo
Great topic and very informative answers. Thanks! I have very little experience hiking/bouldering/climbing in Sierra Nevada, so I am trying to find some reference points for MRs in the Sierra. How would one classify routes like the one in the pictures #1, #2, and #3 below? They have steel assists (chains), which can be used for protection or as rope for climbing/descending if needed (although releasing the grip would not be advisable in that case). :unibrow:

What about a route with both chains and steel ladder steps hammered into the wall, but the route is much steeper - basically a straigth wall, about 50+ ft?

In the pictures below, as long as the rock is dry and one's nerves are in check, the route is reasonably safe. Some upper body strength is assumed, of course.

Picture #1:
Picture #2:
Picture #3:

Posted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 2:28 am
by pcase
I'm guessing that anything like your pictures is class 3 ish (maybe class 4?, but I doubt it) and the chain makes it class2 and doable for the average adventurer. I can assure you that the Sierra's have no chains....Mt. Shasta has some ropes at the Red Banks, Indian Canyon in Yosemite has a bolted ladder and Half Dome has Cable hand mechanical assistance exists, but for the routes I see in the High Sierras I know of none...and if they existed at all.... they would be considered bad form.

Hope that helps...Just try a few class 2's and when you feel like you're ready for something steeper and more exposed go class 3....I can't think of a good "starter" class 3 off the top of my head but they do exist....but to be honest 90% of class 3's involve commitment and risk....goes with the territory. I certainly wouldn't say there are any truly "safe" class 3's and most of my friends who are non-climbers find it difficult to get up your average class 2 peak, class 3 being out of the question.

Posted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 8:32 am
by revhobo
pcase wrote:Hope that helps...Just try a few class 2's and when you feel like you're ready for something steeper and more exposed go class 3....I can't think of a good "starter" class 3 off the top of my head but they do exist....but to be honest 90% of class 3's involve commitment and risk....goes with the territory. I certainly wouldn't say there are any truly "safe" class 3's
If the ones in the pictures are Class III and above, I guess I have certainly tried Class II. ;) Class II according to the definitions in previous posts requires occasional (if any) use of hands with moderate expositions.
most of my friends who are non-climbers find it difficult to get up your average class 2 peak
Then perhaps I am missing something here. You make it sound like Class II would be a climbing route.
I'm guessing that anything like your pictures is class 3 ish (maybe class 4?, but I doubt it) and the chain makes it class2 ish
So without the chains you would have a hard time classifying any of those as Class IV? I must have a poor understanding of the class system. And you're saying that chains automatically make them Class II? Wouldn't Class II imply that a fall is rarely fatal? I can tell you that a fall on most of the routes in the pictures can be fatal, and frequently is. Hm.