Classification scales express the difficulty and complexity of a given route. Using assigned levels a person can create a vision prior to the ascent of whether he can manage to accomplish the ascent in question, or can choose a different route for the ascent that will be easier. Or if she is a more skilled and experienced climber, then a more complicated route that will satisfy her ambition.
The classification system helps us choose correctly. In a similar way as with mountaineering classification systems there are multiple different scales for klettersteigs as well. Here there traditionally predominates a certain inconsistency created by historical and differing regional development. Nevertheless from the existing scales there are three that are more dominant: Hüsler, Schall and Werner. Fortunately these scales are similar in their foundations, and for this reason it will suffice here to give merely the most commonly used scale, the Werner scale.
The Werner scale
Paul Werner is the author of an extensive publication “Klettersteig Atlas – the Alps”. The classification scale mentioned here has two series, the first addressing difficulty, the second the complexity of the protected route.
The Difficulty series of classification levels seeks to capture such climbing difficulties as the length of the route and its demands on climbing skills.
KS1 Secured marked hiking route and very light protected route. Here and there rugged rocky terrain, in natural rock passes or artificially built routes. Protection in the form of steel cable, chains, or a railing serve predominantly only for increasing the feeling of certainty in exposed terrain; for pass ability of the route, however, they are not overly necessary. Without artificial protection this would be mountaineering terrain of UIAA difficulty Level I.
KS2 Light protected route. Slightly rugged rocky terrain. Artificial protection serves for advance progress in the form of steel cable, stemples, pins and ladders. Without artificial protection this would constitute climbing at UIAA difficulty levels I-II.
KS3 Somewhat more difficult protected route. Rugged rocky terrain, the majority of the route secured using steel cable, stemples, pins, or iron ladders. Secured sections now require a certain amount of strength in the arms. Without protection this would constitute slightly or moderately difficult climbing terrain (UIAA level III).
KS4 Very rugged rocky terrain, here and there vertical sections. Protection mostly using only steel cables, on more complex areas also artificial footholds, here and there significantly exposed. These routes require adequate arm strength. Without protection this would constitute moderately difficult (UIAA III) or very difficult mountaineering terrain (UIAA level IV)
KS5 Here and there extremely exposed routes running through vertical cliff terrain with a minimum of natural footholds. Artificial protection consists mostly of steel cable and only small amount of artificial footholds. The most complex areas require climbing techniques or a great amount of strength in the arms. Without artificial protection this would partially consist of very difficult mountaineering terrain (UIAA levels V-VI).
KS6 Essentially very similar to KS5 routes, however there are even fewer artificial footholds, if any. What’s more, these are very long and exceptionally difficult routes. In certain places a person must resort to exclusively using the strength of her arms and when moving upward along smooth cliff sections with minimum footholds or completely without footholds must wedge her feet against the rock.
The classification series of the scale assessing the complexity of the protected route has the goal of capturing the overall character of the protected route, above all its location in the mountain terrain and the demands for stamina, experience, and material protection arising from it.
0 In a valley or near a valley through which a protected route runs without a long approach. Good visibility weather conditions given the position and small length of the route. Mostly it is not necessary to bring provisions or protective equipment against the elements (if, however, it will continue on to a technically difficult to extremely difficult route, this will of course be necessary).
A Light mountain hikes along comfortable hiking trails up to 2000 m above sea level or slightly more.
B Mountain tours along mountain routes that can be narrow and rugged. These routes can be found in all sub-glacial altitude zones, mostly at heights above sea level of between 1800 and 2700 m.
C Challenging mountain hikes along high altitude and in some places exposed routes and trails, or sometimes in terrain without them. Often it is necessary to have a good sense of direction. Mostly at heights above sea level of 2300 and 3000 m, mountaineering experience is necessary.
D Very challenging mountain hikes in high altitude rocky terrain with occasional broken mineral or firn fields. Height above sea level of mostly between 2400 and 3000 m. Part of it tends to be a long, difficult protected route. Mountaineering experience, stamina, and a good sense of direction are an unconditional necessity.
E High altitude hikes at high altitude heights of around 3000 m and higher, where it is necessary to have an ice axe and crampons with you (combination hikes). Partially includes glacier crossings and an ascent or traverse of firn or glacier dry valleys. This all assumes a complete assessment of the current conditions and eventual protection techniques adequate to the situation. In certain segments it is absolutely necessary to proceed as part of a rope team. We recommend this only for experienced mountaineers.
In a similar way as with ski slopes, for example, protected routes are also for a quick summary of difficulty sometimes marked with colours gradating from least difficult to most difficult as blue – red – black.
Blue – protected segments have minimal difficulty (KS1-KS2 difficulty), complexity of usually A or B. Despite this at least an average resilience against light-headedness is necessary, as well as a certain amount of experience walking in mountain terrain.
Red – protected segments have average difficulty (KS3 difficulty, occasionally KS4) and complexity of level B or C. Only for experienced mountaineers with experience with protected routes.
Black – Challenging to very challenging protected routes (KS4-KS6 difficulty), occasionally unprotected climbing segments. On one hand very complex protected routes whose complexity is low (0) can fall into this category; on the other hand moderately difficult protected routes can also be marked black if their complexity level belongs in category D and E. Only for the very experienced.
Classification scales for protected routes are continually evolving, and it can be expected that there will be other changes and greater detail. For this reason it is always good to pay attention in the guide book to the interpretation of the classification system used in the given publication. The authors of guidebooks mostly describe the individual levels in detail using words, so that it can be clear what a given level represents.
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Mountaineering Methodology – Part 4 – The Mountains
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Mountaineering Methodology – Part 4 – The Mountains
Available for download from Google Play.