Archive for April, 2013

Trip Grading

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I have grouped the expeditions and treks into three bands – IntroductoryIntermediate and Advanced. Within these groups, I use a two-tiered grading system, which describes the technical difficulty (1-5) and fitness (A-E) required for each expedition. For example, Kilimanjaro – Western Breach is graded 1A but Aconcagua, which is a considerably more arduous undertaking, is graded1C. The technically easy but strenuous Muztag Ata is graded 2D, while the short but difficult Carstensz Pyramid is 4A. Trekking trips are identified as ‘T’ on this website with the experience required paragraph in each trek itinerary indicating which trekking band it is in T1 – T3 (see below).

A well-chosen trip maximizes both your enjoyment of the experience, as well as your chances of summit success. Selection of a trip that is beyond your ability could result in the leader not taking you on the climb for example, both for your own safety and for the safety of the other team members.

Technical Difficulty:


1 Low angle snow or straightforward scrambling on rocks. Ropes are not usually required. Previous climbing experience is not essential. A Good basic fitness, as for Munro-bagging. Average rucksack weight: 6-8 kg.
2 Ropes are used principally for glacier travel and low angle snow or ice slopes. Ice axe and crampon experience necessary. B Good cardio-vascular fitness which for most people requires some training, by running, hiking and perhaps some gym work. Average rucksack weight: 8-12 kg.
3 Short, steep sections of snow or ice up to about 50 degrees. Previous snow and ice climbing experience of Scottish III/Alpine PD is essential. C High level of fitness coupled with physical toughness and the ability to carry a heavy rucksack for long periods. Average rucksack weight: 12-18 kg.
4 Long, steep snow and ice slopes with short steps of very steep ice or low grade rock climbing. Good all-round climbing ability required to Scottish III/Alpine AD. D As for ‘C‘, but tougher. Climbs of this grade are exceptionally strenuous and some weight loss is inevitable. Train hard, but take along some spare calories!
5 Very steep ice (Scottish III/IV or harder) or rock (Hard Severe or harder). Suitable for competent mountaineers who have climbed consistently at these standards. E Hard physical effort at extreme altitude which requires thorough preparation based on your experience of previous trips. Comments for ‘D‘ also apply. May cause long-term fatigue after the trip.

Please note that the rucksack weights given above may be exceeded on some expeditions.


Graded list


Advanced Level

Expedition name Region Grade Altitude Days
Lhotse Nepal 5E 8,516m / 27,939ft 58
Makalu Nepal 5E 8,463m / 27,765ft 60
Dhaulagiri Nepal 5E 8,167m / 26,795ft 55
Ama Dablam Nepal 5D 6,856m / 22,494ft 29
Everest North Ridge Tibet 4E 8,850m / 29,036ft 65
Everest South Col Nepal 4E 8,850m / 29,036ft 64
Cho Oyu Tibet 4E 8,201m / 26,906ft 44
Gasherbrum II Karakoram 4E 8,035m / 26,361ft 51
Shishapangma Tibet 4E 8,027m / 26,335ft 44
Nun India 4C 7,135m / 23,409ft 28
Kun India 4C 7,087m / 23,250ft 28
Alpamayo South America 4B 5,947m / 19,511ft 23
Mount Kenya Summit Africa 4B 5,199m / 17,057ft 13
Baruntse Nepal 3D 7,129m / 23,389ft 35
Denali (McKinley) North America 3D 6,194m / 20,320ft 26
Muztag Ata Chinese Pamir 2D 7,546m / 24,757ft 30
Greenland Icecap Crossing The Cold Regions 2D 2,499m / 8,200ft 35
The North Pole – The Last Degree The Cold Regions 2D n/a 15
The South Pole – The Last Degree The Cold Regions 2D n/a 19


Intermediate Level

Expedition name Region Grade Altitude Days
Carstensz Pyramid Australasia 4A 4,884m / 16,023ft 22
Cerro San Lorenzo South America 3C 3,907m / 12,818ft 16
Huascaran South America 3B 6,769m / 22,208ft 26
Mera & Island Peak Nepal 3B 6,476m / 21,246ft 30
Bolivian Climber South America 3B 6,462m / 21,200ft 22
Khumbu Climber Nepal 3B 6,279m / 20,601ft 28
Kyajo Ri Nepal 3B 6,186m / 20,296ft 27
Greenland Mountaineer The Cold Regions 3B n/a 22
Putha Hiunchuli Nepal 2D 7,246m / 23,772ft 32
Vinson The Cold Regions 2C 4,897m / 16,067ft 19
South Georgia Traverse The Cold Regions 2C n/a 25
Lhakpa Ri Tibet 2B 7,043m / 23,107ft 29
Everest Base Camp & Island Peak Nepal 2B 6,189m / 20,305ft 24
Antisana South America 2B 5,703m / 18,709ft 13
Tharpu Chuli Nepal 2B 5,663m / 18,579ft 21
Mount Kazbek Europe 2B 5,033m / 16,512ft 10
Altai Climber Mongolia 2B 4,374m / 14,350ft 16
Barun Valley Climber Nepal 2B n/a 30


Introductory Level

Expedition name Region Grade Altitude Days
Nubra First Ascents India 2B 6,151m / 20,180ft 26
Mera Peak Nepal 2A 6,476m / 21,246ft 24
Ecuador Volcanoes South America 2A 5,897m / 19,346ft 16
Mexican Volcanoes Central America 2A 5,700m / 18,700ft 15
Elbrus Europe 2A 5,642m / 18,510ft 16
Colombian Mountaineer South America 2A 5,400m / 17,716ft 17
Aconcagua South America 1C 6,959m / 22,830ft 22
Stok Kangri India 1A 6,121m / 20,082ft 17
Kilimanjaro – Western Breach Africa 1A 5,895m / 19,340ft 12
Polar Expedition Training The Cold Regions n/a 6



Ski Grading

My Ski Grading system is designed to help you choose the right course or expedition. It describes the technical difficulty and level of skiing you need to be comfortable with, coupled with fitness indicators (A – E) and what you can expect to carry each day.

The following table describes the technical difficulty of each Ski Course or Expedition. Coupled with fitness grades A-E, this should help you choose the right level of trip to match your ability.

Your Current Technical Level

Recreational 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Advanced 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Expert 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Fitness Required:

A Good basic level of fitness to ski for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon.
B More intensive skiing all day on steeper slopes. On ski tours, fitness required to do day tours from huts, or a short hut-to-hut tour at the end of the week, skiing with just a light pack.
C Hut-to-hut ski tours. Fitness to ascend for 4 hours with a 10Kg pack.
D Ski mountaineering requiring you to carry skis, axe and crampons. You need to be able to ascend for 5 hours with a 12Kg pack.
E Ski expeditions where you are skiing in all snow types with a heavy pack. Fitness for consecutive days of strenuous skiing, or sled pulling.


  1. You are a new skier, physically fit and determined to try the sport.
  2. You can ‘snowplough’ and can bring yourself to a stop on the gentlest of slopes. You can make slight changes in direction, but you have not mastered this yet.
  3. You can turn left and right several times using a ‘snowplough’and stop on Green runs. You have started to venture out ontoBlue runs.
  4. You feel more confident on Blue runs, and can get down them using snowplough turns without much trouble. You find that your snowploughs are smaller, and that when you finish a turn your skies tend to come together so that they run side-by-side.


  1. You are now probing the easier Red runs. You still start each turn with a small snowplough, but your skis finish parallel and you make traverses across the width of the slope ready for the next turn. Occasionally, you tend to lean back, which means your body is not in the right position to start your next turn, which you sometimes miss. You want to perfect moving from one turn to the next, and feel that some extra instruction might get you over this hurdle.
  2. You are skiing confidently on GreenBlue and Red runs, except for the very steepest and except when icy or with big bumps, which still give you a shakedown. More often than not, you link turns on Red runs, but you still have mishaps where you gather too much speed, which throws you off balance. You learnt a lot from recent instruction, so it is a matter of practising your parallel technique. To add to the excitement, you venture onto Black runs and check out the un-pisted terrain at the side of the slope for more of a challenge.
  3. You are now able to link confident parallel turns on all Red runs and are comfortable on most Blacks, but you prefer them newly groomed. Your skiing is still focussed on the piste, but you are getting a greater sensitivity for your what your skis are doing. You know how to edge your skis, flatten your skis and to point them where you want to go. You understand how to carve when initiating the turn, through the turn and when finishing one turn as it leads into the next.
  4. You are happy cutting down all the pisted runs on the mountain, and you often wander off to the side of the pistes to sample deeper, messier snow. Yes, you get thrown off balance or miss your turns even now, but you handle it. You like the challenge of moguls! When someone says “its icy”, you have the confidence to keep your edges. Now, you want to go off-piste properly and to lay your own virgin tracks in the powder, within the ski area but well off the Piste.


  1. You have spent some time off-piste with an instructor, and made good progress on moderate slope angles. You can ride out most snow types but you still get thrown off balance when you hit unexpected lumps, bumps and troughs; you’re not fond of skiing crud (but then who is?) You know about avalanches and what causes them, but you’re not confident about predicting the dangers they pose and prefer to go off-piste with an instructor or guide. You can use your avalanche transceiver, but you have not practised multiple recoveries. You want to ski steeper slopes and gullies, but you know that you need to be very careful about the off-piste environment, as the best skiing lures you further from the piste.
  2. You are now a confident off-piste skier, and can cope with all angles except for the most severe. You ski with a backpack, and are not upset by this change to your centre of balance. You want to explore further afield, and know that this will take you well away from the mechanical uplift of the resorts, and you are prepared to sweat to get to the best lines. You know that the truly demanding descents may even run over glaciers, and you want to understand how to ski them. You understand avalanches, how they are formed and the risks they pose, but you need new skills and knowledge to take you deeper into the mountains. You’re looking for someone to teach you about crevasses: how to avoid them, and what to do if you can’t; including using a rope, and recovery should one of your party fall in. Some of the gully lines you’ve looked at are too steep at the top, and you want to know how to get into them and descend to a safe angle from which you can ski. The total freedom of the mountains that skiing can give to you is becoming an irresistible call.
  3. When you arrive in a ski resort, you look at the mountains and wonder what lies beyond them – the anticipation of finding out is mouth-watering. You want to ski with friends you trust; with them you’ll plan the details of the route, each descent you’ll make, the food you’ll take, what you’ll do for shelter and, together, what mountain skills, experience and knowledge you will need. You study maps, weather charts and avalanche assessments before starting out. Everyone skis with a rucksack with essential gear and you expect to spend a night or two away from your starting point, perhaps in neighbouring resorts, or mountain villages that few people visit in the winter. You may no longer be skiing from European or North American resorts but in Japan, New Zealand, Chile, North Africa or even the Middle East; simply, you go where the adventure and the promise of untracked snow takes you!
  4. You are a top-level skier who can ski anywhere, on any Continent, in all terrain and conditions with great style and technique. You are an All Mountain Skier capable of taking responsibility for others and of showing them the delights of piste, off-piste and ski touring. You may hold a professional instructors qualification, or be an off-piste International Mountain Guide.

Match your level to the course, tour or Adventure Ski trip

Skiing within the Resort Boundaries, more reliant on mechanical uplift Off Piste Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Off Piste Improvers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Freeride 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Increasingly, or totally, outside Resort Boundaries with infrequent, if any, use of uplift. Off Piste Perfection 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Intro-Ski Mountaineering 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Ski Tours 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Adventure Skiing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Trek Grading

T1 – No previous trekking experience is necessary, but you need to be an active hillwalker. You should consider training prior to your trek, as typically you will be walking between 4 – 6 hours over several consecutive days and usually at high altitude. Be prepared for rough and rocky trails and the occasional snow patch.
T2 – Previous trekking experience is necessary. There will be lots of consecutive days of tough trekking, and/or longer days for crossing high passes, for example. There will be glacier crossings on snow/ice, which do not require the use of ice axe and crampons. Overall, trails may be vague in places, with some sections of very rough and rocky ground.
T3 – Previous trekking and ice axe and crampon experience required. Tough multi-day trekking at high altitude, often over glaciated terrain. Crossings of glaciated passes which require the use of ice axe and crampons. You may consider joining one of our Introductory Long Weekend Scottish Winter Courses, or our Alpine Introduction.


Graded list of Treks


Introductory Level

Trek name Region Grade Altitude Days
Rupshu and Lungser Kangri India T3 6,662m / 21,856ft 20
Dhaulagiri Circuit Nepal T3 5,300m / 17,387ft 21
Antarctic Voyager The Cold Regions T3 n/a 16
Silk Route to K2 Chinese Pamir T3 n/a 31
Everest 3 Peaks 3 Passes Nepal T2 5,550m / 18,209ft 25
Mount Ararat Europe T2 5,137m / 16,853ft 15
Kangchenjunga Circuit Nepal T2 5,047m / 16,560ft 30
Huayhuash Circuit Trek South America T2 5,029m / 16,500ft 19
Colombia High Passes South America T2 4,850m / 15,912ft 15
Kilimanjaro – Lemosho Glades Africa T1 5,895m / 19,340ft 10
Everest Base Camp Trek Nepal T1 5,544m / 18,188ft 20
Everest Team Trek Nepal T1 5,544m / 18,188ft 24
Makalu Base Camp Trek Nepal T1 5,517m / 18,100ft 23
Annapurna Circuit Nepal T1 5,395m / 17,700ft 17
Manaslu Circuit Nepal T1 5,213m / 17,102ft 23
Ecuador Explorer South America T1 4,801m / 15,750ft 15
Santa Cruz Trek South America T1 4,749m / 15,580ft 14
Everest Views and Ama Dablam Base Camp Nepal T1 4,572m / 15,000ft 15
Annapurna Sanctuary Trek Nepal T1 4,130m / 13,550ft 17
Patagonia – Fitzroy and Paine South America T1 n/a 16




To get the most out of your expedition or trek, you will need to be fit and healthy. You do not need to be an athlete, but a good level of overall fitness is important. As an indication, you should be able to walk 8km/5 miles with a height gain of 600m/2,000ft with a 10kg rucksack in 21/2 hours or less. This assumes a reasonable trail is followed at low altitude, such as in the UK or below 3,000m. An example would be an ascent of Snowdon by the Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass (730m/2,400ft of ascent over 5km/3 miles) with a 10kg rucksack in 2 hours 15 minutes. For any expedition or trek, you should be able to better this, and be able to repeat it over several consecutive days.


Alpine Grades

The French Alpine grading system encompasses the technical difficulty, length and level of committment required for the climb. If you are preparing for an expedition overseas of grade 2A and above, you should become familiar with this grading system, as it will help you assess your experience in relation to the requirements for each trip:

‘F’ (Facile/easy) – easy angled snow and ice / glaciated terrain. Ice axe and crampons are normally required, but the ground should not be steeper than approximately 35°.
‘PD’ (Peu difficile/not very difficult) – longer routes, often with more complex glaciated terrain, with scrambling on mixed ground (snow, ice and rock). Snow slopes are not normally steeper than 45°. Short sections of grade 1 and 2 scrambling, though poentially in exposed situations.
‘AD’ (Assez difficile/fairly difficult) – more committing routes with steeper snow and ice up to 55°, though normally just one axe and crampons will be required. Rock sections can be sustained with lots of grade 2 scrambling and short sections of British VDiff or Severe which may be pitched.
‘D’ (Difficile/difficult) – snow and ice up to 75°, requiring the use of an ice axe and hammer. Rock climbing up to British grade Very Severe. Lots of pitching with confidence required moving together on grade 3 scrambling ground in exposed situations.
‘TD’ (Tres difficile/very difficult) – routes of a much more serious undertaking, with sustained sections of ice climbing and difficult rock climbing, possibly including aid climbing.


Scottish Winter Grades

British mountaineers are also familiar with the Scottish Winter grading system. We frequently use Scottish Winter grades to describe the necessary technical experience required for a particular expedition.

I – Snow gullies and easy ridges. Not normally steeper than 45° and often used as descent routes. One axe required to ascend these routes.
II – Steeper snow with short sections of ice or ‘mixed’ ground (rock/ice). Ridge climbs would normally be grade I and II scrambles in summer. One axe is normally adequate, but two may be necessary on some routes or where cornices are likely.
III – More sustained and steeper routes, generally following gullies or buttress (ridge) lines. Two axes required to overcome short, steep technical sections of ice or rock.
IV – Snow and ice routes will have longer sections of steep climbing (60-70°) or short, very steep sections. ‘Mixed’ or buttress climbs on snowed-up rock will require more advanced techniques, such as torquing the axes into cracks.
– Sustained steep ice of 80°, or climbing on snowed up rock routes, which would warrant rock climbing grades of Severe – Very Severe in summer.
VI – Long vertical ice, often serious and snowed up rock routes of Very Severe and above.


Rock Grades

An understanding of scrambling and rock climbing grades is useful when deciding the level of Alpine Mountaineering course (where rock climbing is often required) or on expeditions where rock climbing ability is essential (for example, Carstensz Pyramid or Ama Dablam).

Scrambling grades
Grade 1 – short steps of rock, where you need to use your hands to make upward progress. Ropes not normally used.
Grade 2 – more frequent sections of rock, with longer sections requiring the use of hands to climb upwards. A rope might be used to safeguard difficult sections.
Grades 3 and 3s – exposed, often with rock climbing ‘moves’ such as those encountered on routes of British grade Diff – VDiff (see below). Lots of moving together using a shortened rope and short pitches of more difficult sections.

Rock Climbing grades
The British rock climbing grading system ranges from ‘Moderate’ to ‘Extreme’ (with Extreme as an open-ended scale from E1 to, currently, E12). Below is a brief outline of the overall adjective grades to describe the difficulty. Numerical grades accompany routes of Severe and above to describe the hardest single ‘move’ (these are not included below).

Moderate – a similar standard to grade 3 and 3s scrambles.
Diff (Difficult)
VDiff (Very Difficult)
S (Severe)
VS (Very Severe)
HVS (Hard Very Severe)
Extreme (E1 – E12)

If you are used to a different rock climbing grading system, check out the grade conversion page on the ROCKFAX website.


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