Challenge Ratings - Mountains
The following table gives a general explanation of the "Challenge" ratings given in the trip summary descriptions. Obviously the level of challenge will be somewhat subjective but this should give you a rough idea of waht to expect and also to allow you to compare two or more trips. Don't forget that there is a large amout of information on the trip pages which will expand upon what to expect and what level of fitness and experience the trip is suited to. As always, if you are unsure then do contact us to discuss it further.
(Click on the table to enlarge or print it)
In addition to the physical aspects outlined above, a significant amount of your performance will be governed by self management and an ability simply to look after yourself. This will have a drastic effect on your ability to function efficiently and in a healthy way over the course of a multi-day trip. This effectiveness will be built up naturally with experience but there are many aspects of mountain-craft that can be learned quickly from others or even by reading relevant resource materials.
It may sound obvious, but your feet will be very important on your trek. It is therefore very important that they are prepared beforehand and cared for during the trip. With a regular programme of hill walking before leaving you will naturally toughen up the skin on your feet. You would ideally be training in the very boots that you will be wearing on the trip. (Obviously this is not usually feasible for trips where you will be wearing plastic mountaineering boots on the trip.) This means that you will need to have bought any new boots well in advance of leaving. If you find that you are particularly susceptible to blisters you may also want to explore methods of pre-taping the affected areas, use of compeed plasters, liner socks, extra insoles and different boot manufacturers. Again there are methods of self-management that will play their part here too. Changing your socks regularly and drying your feet at the lunchtime break or lacing your boots carefully can have a significant effect. All of this takes time and needs to be found out long before you travel to give time to sort it out.
Long days of walking at altitude can be as much a mental battle as a physical one. You will generally be working at a reasonably low intensity so that often your body is theoretically able to continue for an extremely long time. In this scenario it is more often than not your mind and willpower that will govern your ability to continue or simply to continue enjoying the experience. Clearly a well prepared body will be crying out for rest a little less than an unconditioned one, however, even an extremely fit individual will still be fighting the urge to sit down on occasion.
It is therefore very important to prepare yourself mentally as well as physically. You will get more out of the trip if you are able to appreciate the many different stimuli that you will be immersed in. That way the cultural, physical and visual happenings around you will distract you from any degree of physical discomfort that you may be suffering. You can prime yourself to be in this state of mind by finding out a just small amount about subjects such as the culture, history and natural surroundings of your destination.
Some of our more difficult mountain climbs may also be given a grade according to the French Alpine grade system. This will allow experienced mountaineers to make an approximate comparison to other mountain routes that they may previously have climbed to help them to decide if it is appropriate to their skill and experience and also whether it is the kind of trip that they are looing for in terms of challenge and enjoyment. The grading system can be summarized as follows.
F = Facile = Easy (However, note that this is 'Easy' for a graded alpine climb rather than necessarily in the more general sense of the word!)
Usually glacier walks perhaps with some scrambling.
eg Gran Paradiso (F+)
PD = Peu Difficile = A Little difficult
The level of good introductory climbs for novices. There may be a few pitches of mid-5th class climbing (or say, Grade III in UIAA). If it's a snow climb, there will be minor crevasse problems to deal with, or limited sections of very steep terrain.
eg Mont Blanc, standard Gouter route (PD+)
AD = Assez Difficile = Fairly Difficult
At this level alpine climbs get interesting, that is, there are extended periods of roped climbing or exposed 4th class soloing, often in a remote location. An easy descent can no longer be expected, and the climb may be physically demanding. Many alpine ice climbs belong in this grade, barring the appearance of really frightening bergschrunds or extended mixed terrain.
eg Matterhorn, Hornli Ridge (AD+)
D = Difficile = Difficult
Climbs at this grade are significant undertakings for experienced climbers. If the climb is of short or medium length, expect a commenserately hard grade for the rock or ice. Longer climbs will have many pitches of serious rock climbing, all of which is under a higher commitment level due to problems of weather an difficulty of retreat. Difficult alpine ice climbs usually fall into this category.
eg Eiger Mittelegi Ridge (D)
TD = Trés Difficile = Very Difficult
These are hard routes no matter who is judging. Expect rock difficulties of 5.10 or greater, and sustained for multiple pitches. If the technical difficulty is not so great, there will be other factors that make the climb intimidating: poor protection, "points of no return" where up is the only way, notorious weather problems, etc.
ED = Extramement Difficile = Extremely Difficult
These are "the most demanding climbs in the world." You need mental tolerance for sustained, high levels of objective hazard, as well as flawless technical ability certainly above the stated crux of the climb. These will be long, stressful undertakings with difficult retreat. Difficult mixed climbing with poor protection, 5.9 rock climbing in extreme cold, aid climbing with dangerous pitches.