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Ice Climbing Grades


by Editor

December 29, 2001

Sorting out the rating scale for ice climbing doesn't require a math degree, but it might help. There are so many variables to take into consideration, the type of ice, the seriousness factor, the amount/lack of ice, the steepness, the protectablilty, so on, and so on... We will try to make it as simple as possible.

Type of Ice (Grade Lettering)

Alpine Ice (AI)
Waterfall Ice (WI)
Mixed Climbing or (M)

The Seriousness Factor

To properly grade a climb, consideration must be given to the seriousness of the attempt. For obvious reasons, a five pitch climb with a three day approach and typically horrible weather potential would be graded harder than a single pitch climb with a bumber belay in the parking lot of the pub:

I A short climb close to the highway with an easy descent. No commitment.
II A 1 or 2 pitch climb within easy reach of a vehicle or pub, little objective danger and easy descent.
III A multi-pitch route which may take several hour, or a route with a long approach on foot or ski demanding good winter travel skills, or a route subject to occasional winter hazards.
IV A multi-pitch route in more remote regions requiring mountaineering and winter travel skills. May be subject to objective hazard such as avalanches or rockfall. Descent may present difficulties and usually involved rappeling from bolts.
V A long climb on a high mountain face requiring a high level of competence and commitment. Subject to hazards of bad weather and avalanche. May have long approach or difficult descent.
VI A long, multi-pitch route on a high alpine face which only the best climbers will complete on one day. May include the logistical problems of winter alpine climbing; avalanche danger, falling seracs, high elevation and remoteness.

The Steepness

This applies to waterfall conditions mostly. So we will denote these grades with either an AI or WI. The amount of protectibility also come into consideration here. We will use WI for clarifications.

WI1= 50 degree snow or 35 degree ice
WI2= 60 degree snow or 40 degree ice
WI3= 80 degree snow or 75 degree ice
WI4= vertical snow or 85 degree ice
WI5= overhanging snow or 90 degree ice
WI6= some unprotectable 90+ degree ice
WI7= mostly unprotectable 95 degree ice


Just to complicate matters, when the ice runs out, you have to apply M grades. This usually applies to using ice tools and/or crampons on the rock to connect ice sections. Again these grades do not exactly correspond to rock climbing grades. They are merely an average or approximate perceived difficulty as compared to rock climbing.

M1= 1st to 3rd class rock
M2= 4th class rock
M3= 5.0-5.7
M4= 5.8
M5= 5.9
M6= 5.10
M7= 5.11
M8= 5.11/12
M9= 5.13-
M10= 5.13+
M11= 5.14 (???)

While looking at a guide book, you might come across a grade that looks something like: III WI5 M7 X. The grades might look like a complicated Calculus problem, but with this handy chart, it is really quite simple. But you better hurry up and climb it, because when the sun hits it and the grade changes.

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