Mountaineering Grade Systems
Mountaineering is climbing, hiking and generally getting around in the mountains. In many parts of the world, mountaineering is known as Alpine climbing. Because mountaineering is such a general term, the grading systems used to rate mountaineering can overlap somewhat with other categories.
In the United States, mountaineering is usually graded using the National Climbing Classification System (NCCS). This system uses a series of roman numerals from I to VI. Remember, though, that this is still mountaineering, so even a grade I climb will be more difficult than hiking on level ground. The NCCS grade assesses the overall climb and takes into account several factors, but the most important ones are the technical effort required and the amount of time needed to complete the route. A grade of I is the easiest climb, lasting only an hour or two. A grade of VI, on the other hand, will last several days and include a lot of tough climbing.
Because the NCCS ratings focus mostly on the length of time needed to complete a route, this system is often combined with other grade scales. For instance, it might be combined with a free climbing grade to indicate both the difficulty and the length of time required to complete it the route.
Another mountaineering grade system, the International French Adjectival System (IFAS), is a system used by several European countries and many other countries throughout the world. Like the adjectival part of the British free climbing grade system, IFAS uses letters to describe the overall difficulty of the route. The adjectives used are: F (facile, or easy), PD (peu difficile, or a little difficult), AD (assez difficile, or fairly difficult), D (difficile, or difficult), TD (très difficile, or very difficult), ED (extrêmement difficile, or extremely difficult) and ABO (abominable, which means "horrible" and implies that it's nearly impossible). The IFAS grades can be broken down even further by adding plus or minus signs to them. This gives a broader range to the IFAS scale and allows for intermediate grades when a route doesn't quite fit into any of the main categories.
When climbing in the mountains, the temperature drop that occurs in high altitudes may result in the formation of ice, adding another layer of complication to a climb. Because ice climbing presents its own challenges, there's a separate grading scale used for ice climbing. In the next section we'll go over the grades used when ice comes into play during your mountain climbs.