/ How do Scottish winter and Alpine grades compare?

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CharlieMack - on 08 Oct 2012
I remember reading an article somewhere on UKC saying something broadly like, if you can climb HVS then you can do grade IV and if you climb grade V fairly regularly then you can climb x in the Alps.

I was just wondering how Scottish and Alpine compared?

Clearly they are quite different, but i'm thinking along the lines of how hard, say a grade V would compare to the hard technical sections of an alpine route.

I've only done a handful of Scottish winter routes, but i'm possibly looking at a trip out early next year, after (fingers crossed) getting some more Scottish winter done this season.

So i'm basically wondering what grades i should be looking at for out there, and which i should be leaving well alone.
In reply to CharlieMack: If you climb things in the alps in "Scottish conditions" and "scottish style" (so when they have plenty of fresh snow on them, and you climb with your crampons on and tools in hand) then you might have useful comparisons but alpine grades seem to cover so much (different styles of climbing, I'd say making straight comparisons is really really hard.

I did the Petit Aiguille Vert just after a big storm so it was nicely frosted up and snowy, and from what I remember it felt about Scottish grade III, but when drier I imagine its more like scrambling the Aonoch Eagach.
CharlieMack - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to TobyA:

Cheers Toby. Yea i did think that they would be quite different and hard to compare, i'll just go and have a play i guess and see what it's like. Quite excited to do some proper alpine routes!
Solaris - on 08 Oct 2012
Simon4 - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack: I would say an Alpine D+ ice face in good nick is at most a Scottish grade I/II, while the crux pitch of the direct finish on the North face of the Triolet (TD), was probably Scottish IV for a short interval. When I was regularly climbing Scottish V, I was only rock-climbing VS/HVS.

Obviously this is just comparison of the technical difficulty of individual moves, doesn't say anything about the situation, e.g. much more serious descents in the Alps. Bergschrunds can be a a law unto themselves at any grade of Alpine route, from nigh-on impossible to barely noticable, and that on the same route at different times.
Big Lee - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

There's the modern way of grading Alpine & ice routes that more closely translates to Scottish grades. The Damilano guides to the Mont Blanc range use it along with numerous Euro ice climbing guides. You might find these grades easier to convert to from Scottish. Note the Roman numeral with this grading system is purely focused on commitment and objective danger, rather than being an overall grade relating to difficulty. The number represents technical difficulty as with Scottish grading however they are not directly comparable.

If you can climb Scottish V then that would translate to about 4+/5 Alpine/ice. Supercouloir gets IV 5 to give you an example.
CharlieMack - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Big Lee:

Cheers, that's promising. Yea i've only done a handful of UK winter routes, so will hopefully consolidate some V/VI's then i'd be keen to jump on some harder routes out there. Not super keen on the overly plody routes such as Cosmiques on Mont Blanc etc.

Not sure if that's a foolish approach, or whether i should just start off easy to get to grips with it all.
Hopefully get on some TD's with more climbing focus that gives the route it's grade rather than objective dangers/ length/ commitment. If anyone knows any route that sound like that??
goatee - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4: That is really out there. It is absolute nonsense to compare in that way. It suggests that anyone who can do number 3 gully on the Ben can head off and look at routes D+. Man that comparison is dangerous. D+ would easily translate to Grade IV
Solaris - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to goatee:
> (In reply to Simon4)

Simon says "in good nick" and that may not be so outrageous, though I'd expect an Alpine D to be steeper than a Scottish I/II.

But "in good nick" is crucial and the fact that a route is not in good condition is sometimes only discoverable when one is committed. And that's where working up through the grades can be helpful, but if you are young, ambitious and lucky, well, why not?
Bruce Hooker - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

Sorry but a D+ alpine ice climb is not Scottish grade I/II, I think that must have been a typo. A short rock climb which is D or D+ shouldn't present too much difficulty for a British HVS climber but for ice or mixed I think a little more caution is required.

To give an example, the Nant Blanc face of the Aiguille Verte is graded at D but is one of the more serious classic routes of the range and is fairly rarely climbed! Definitely not to be attempted by someone who is ok on Scottish I or II :-)

In Rebuffat's 100 Best Climbs book it is at N°92, after Route Major (another D) and the N Face of the Triollet! Comparing routes by grade alone is rather misleading, the length, altitude, "seriousness", escapability and so on count as much as the technical difficulty... a word with an experienced climber, the guides office or consultation of the fairly copious literature is preferable too.
Ron Walker - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Probably a P in front of the D+ is missing....!
Solaris - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Yes, I think you are right, but if you get 50% alpine snow-ice in good nick, it could feel like Scottish II. On the other hand, bullet hard ice at a reasonable angle can be a horror show.

In an article by Martin Moran and Bruce Goodlad, the following comparisons are made:

Castle Ridge: III, 4; AD
Tower Ridge: III/IV, 4; AD+
NE Buttress: IV,4: D-
Observatory Ridge: IV, 5: D+

Admittedly, these are mixed routes, and their Scottish grades are not uncontroversial, but I don't think the OP will go too far wrong keeping them in mind.
Big Lee - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Conversion to Alpine grades are very difficult because Alpine grading factors in commitment level a lot more and does have a tech grade. For example, the Couturier Couloir on Aiguille Verte is only about 55 degrees, which would equate to a Scottish grade II gully in technical difficulty. But because it is 1000m it get Alpine grade D.
smithaldo - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Big Lee: yes, but if a scottish grade II technical difficulty gully was 1000m long, it wouldnt be scottish II anyway.
Big Lee - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to smithaldo:

You're right it wouldn't be. It would be an Alpine D gully. You've just agreed with me without realising ;-)
Martin Haworth on 08 Oct 2012
Milesy - on 08 Oct 2012
Dorsal Arete is probably like the Super Intégrale de Peuterey.
Solaris - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Milesy:

Especially when you factor in the descent...
Sean Kelly - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Milesy:
> Dorsal Arete is probably like the Super Intégrale de Peuterey.

You are joking? Dorsal Arete is infinitely harder and more serious!!! Anyone attempting such a route is really pushing the boat out. You have been warned!
JdotP - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

I think it's best not to make direct comparisons even if, in some ways, the comparison is appropriate. Not making direct comparisons helps to emphasize the fact that Alpine climbing is quite different - there are risks involved, and skills required, that are just not there when you climb in the UK. For instance, nothing in the UK involves a relatively fast transition to extreme avalanche risk when the sun hits the snow, or a 10 pitch abseil to get off from the top of your route, or having to start at 2am, or the effects of high altitude, or having to jostle French alpine guides for position on the route...

Saying something like Tower Ridge = AD+ may be justified in some ways but people can take it the wrong way, they might feel that having made a successful ascent of Tower Ridge means they are suitably qualified to tackle an AD+ as their first alpine route.
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smithaldo - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Big Lee: ha, yes indeed, I meant to put at the end something about it being incomparable but forgot!

cannichoutdoors - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:
>
>
If you are climbing VI, but don't want too much commitment, it sounds like you are looking at routes on Mt Blanc du Tacul? Once you're happy with 350m of climbing plus another 300m of height gain to top out, you can go 'round the corner' on the East face and look at harder and longer routes.

However, I would say it is always best to start easy and see how you get on. If you can go with someone with more alpine experience to pick the conditions, that might be a good way to start. A word of warning. I find that no matter how technically easy the route, once I've front pointed the height of the orion face, and I'm now only a third of the way up, it all feels very serious!

stratandrew on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to cannichoutdoors:

Agreed that comparisons are pretty meaningless as an AD on Rock and an AD on mixed and an AD on snow/ice can all be so totally different and demand different skills. I just had my first season in the Alps and am thinking now of trying to compare any aspects of the Nollen Route on the Monch (AD) when you factor in the length of the route, the altitude, the immense exposure, the sun, the heat, softening ice and a really scary descent on collapsing snow crests cos you've taken so damn long to climb it you didn't get to the summit till 2.30pm....you get the picture!
CurlyStevo - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
OK but having just read my alpine book today they say D would have crux sections of 50% - 60% this is roughly equivalent to the crux steepness of a Scottish grade II snow ice route. I'm not saying being able to do a scottish grade II qualifies you though, or that this risk is comparible.

Interestingly rock climbing I have found D can be around the VS level which is a fair bit more technical but I guess in the Alps would be a reasonable comparisson of risk.

I'm guessing that routes like cosmiques are graded for there more normal condition (perhaps going back 10 years), so although it gets AD it wouldnt really be AD in typical late summer bare nick as when I did it.
Simon4 - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to goatee:
> (In reply to Simon4) That is really out there. It is absolute nonsense to compare in that way. It suggests that anyone who can do number 3 gully on the Ben can head off and look at routes D+. Man that comparison is dangerous.

"Obviously this is just comparison of the technical difficulty of individual moves"

Simon4 - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

> Sorry but a D+ alpine ice climb is not Scottish grade I/II, I think that must have been a typo.

Something like the North face of the Obergabelhorn, steady 50 degree angle, quite short (c 400-450m) is very much like a Scottish grade I/II, provided you can get across the bergschrund and can get off at the top. Modern ice-gear has made standard angled snow/ice really much easier than when it was first climbed.

> To give an example, the Nant Blanc face of the Aiguille Verte is graded at D but is one of the more serious classic routes of the range and is fairly rarely climbed!

Of course, the big mountain routes retain their sting. Mixed routes are a quite different kettle of fish to simple ice-slopes.

> Comparing routes by grade alone is rather misleading, the length, altitude, "seriousness", escapability and so on count as much as the technical difficulty... a word with an experienced climber, the guides office or consultation of the fairly copious literature is preferable too.

Of course, I would never suggest otherwise. But this seemed to be an inquiry about simple technical demands of individual moves.
Simon4 - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to Solaris:

> NE Buttress: IV,4: D-

I would be horrified if I came across anything as hard as NE buttress on an alpine D- !! Try D+/TD.
butteredfrog - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4:

NE buttress is pretty straightforward, apart from the "boulder problem" at the top.
CurlyStevo - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to butteredfrog:
and the corner after it can be pretty hard depending on the conditions.
Al Randall on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack: Alpine grades can be really odd and even comparing alpine routes throws up a few anomalies. Take something like the Rebuffat Route on the Midi. It gets TD and is probably about E1,5b. It's South facing and rock all the way at a reasonably sustained level but for only about 600 feet. In rock shoes it can feel less serious than a day on Cloggy. In comparison the Frendo Spur is North facing with both ice and rock but with only a few pitches of VS unless you take in the Rognon which offers pitches as hard as anything on the Rebuffat. It's over 3000 feet long but only gets D, even in the days when it was normal to climb the Rognon. The main difference that I can see apart from the obvious is that many pitches on the Frendo can be climbed moving together and the Rognon can be avoided. If the Rebuffat is indeed TD then the Frendo with the Rognon finish should be at least TD+.

Al
CharlieMack - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

Thanks for all the replies. I am aware of the vast differences involved in undertaking an alpine route compared to a scottish one, such as altitude, bergshrunds, length etc, as stated by many.

I was mainly after the technical comparisons of rock, ice and mixed. So that i wouldn't end up getting myself on something that i couldn't physically climb if that makes sense?

Clearly routes are very different, but i've got a bit of an idea from some of the examples people have given. So will probably try and find a D to start with.

Thanks Martin Hawarth for your link, that is very useful, and was pretty much exactly what i was after.
Bruce Hooker - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

Don't forget that even just in terms of technical grading on rock you will be climbing in boots with a rucksack and often in the wet.. This makes a big difference too.

As for the level D this can go from the N E ridge on the Aiguille de l'M - a short easy rock climb that can be soloed easily enough as the couple of tricky moves can be avoided on the left to major the major alpine routes I mentioned above (Nant Blanc face of the Verte or Route Major on the Brenva face of Mont Blanc) which are serious undertakings suitable for experienced alpine climbers - climbs that could be a suitable culmination for an alpine career. So if you are new to the Alps it may be wiser to start on the first sort of D, not the second :-)

Better still start on classic ADs and move on when you can do them in guide book time, or better to be safe. The time factor is another big difference with Scottish climbing as in an area of very changeable weather being up and down before the storm breaks is the difference between life and death. Sorry if this sounds over dramatising, but it isn't.
CharlieMack - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Cheers for the info, will take it on board. My friend who lives out in Austria is psyched and experienced so i'm planning to head out and climb with him early next year.

Will try and get on some of the aforementioned D routes and try to avoid the latter until i've got a good few routes under my belt.
CurlyStevo - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
RE auguille de l'M, can you avoid the offwidth pitch? This gets F5b (and D+ overall) now a days and rightly so, I think it compares to fairly standard VS 4c in the UK. It's getting quite pollished now a days and there is no way I'd be soloing it (but then my happy solo limit is about severe)
Bruce Hooker - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

I climbed it roped in 1969, my first successful alpine climb, then a few years later when more experienced I scrambled up on my own from the valley. I had just been on a long climbing trip and was fairly fit and don't recall any difficulties. I probably avoided the tricky bit on the left as I said above. It must be more polished now. I'd say it was a good training climb, using ropes of course, no glacier to worry about and a safe descent round the back.
CurlyStevo - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
The descent was far from safe when we did it this year, huge blocks were being rejected from the upper cliffs above the glacier and the well retreated glcial moraine was very unstable especially if you wanted to stay out of the firing line of falling blocks.
CurlyStevo - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
we did the standard descent where you down climb (or ab) the easy scramble way up and desend down to the west (ish).
Glen - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4:
> (In reply to Solaris)
>
> [...]
>
> I would be horrified if I came across anything as hard as NE buttress on an alpine D- !! Try D+/TD.

Technical ice grades maybe, but I'd rate NE buttress as much easier than most D+/TD routes. That said, these comparisons are all meaningless for the majority of routes, as the climbing is so different.
For example, a friend of mine happily manages scottish V, but struggles on Severe rock....

Simon4 - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

> So if you are new to the Alps it may be wiser to start on the first sort of D, not the second :-)

For example, it is worth knowing 2 points about one particular D, or rather D+ route, L'arette du diable on Mont Blanc du Tacul :

1) it does not translate to "the Devil's ridge" for nothing
2) the person who gave it D+ was an absolute c***!
Bruce Hooker - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4:

There are some rarely climbed alpine routes which have a grade that is quite out of touch with their reality, and others, particularly shortish rock routes, which get a TD grade for the technical difficulty but which are hardly serious at all... hence the difficulty in answering the OP's question.
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rif on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4: Dsup seemed about right for Arete du Diable to me? Certainly no more serious/difficult than Major, Innominata, or Nant Blanc face of Verte all of which were around that grade back when I did them.

Rob
Simon4 - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to rif: Well I suspect that they would all get TD now!

Of course it were different in the old days, when men were really men and sheep were really nervous.

I haven't done any of those 3, but I imagine they are all very much full on, serious mountain routes. Or perhaps you are just better than me, which is entirely possible. I think Bruce's point is very valid, Alpine grades can sometimes conceal as much as they reveal. So people in the know get to understand a route from its reputation, not so much from its grade, but the uninitiated won't get this, so it can be dangerous as they bite off much more than they can chew. Which sort of negates the purpose of grades, even allowing for the inevitable variability due to conditions, Alpine seriousness, easy/awkward descents etc.
rif on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4:
PS but I agree with you that straightforward snow/ice N faces that were originally graded D or TD are much easier than the more mixed routes, and often don't have any technical climbing harder than Scottish II (except sometimes the schrund)
rif on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4 (and Bruce Hooker last night, and others before):
I completely agree that a grade like D can mean so many different things. Messages for the OP include: read the description as well as the grade; consider the length of the route, and what that implies for having to move together/unroped for some of it to avoid benightment; check how simple or serious it is to get down from the top.

Al Randall on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to rif: Absolutely. I have climbed the Walker Spur and the Frendo, via the rognon, and did not find the Walker to be any harder technically but it is higher, harder to get to and harder to descend.

Al
Simon4 - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Al Randall: It is hard to overemphasise how important the descent (or retreat if you cannot finish a route), is in assessing the overall seriousness of any Alpine route. It is what makes the Aiguille Verte so serious a mountain.
rif on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Simon4:
Indeed. Bivvying halfway down the Whymper Couloir wasn't fun.
cuillinman - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

If you start out in Chamonix invest in the Rebuffat 100 best climbs book and start at a sensible level choosing rock or mixed routes depending on what you feel like.

The Alps are just so much bigger than Scotland and need to be treated with the utmost respect. Also I have found that becoming extremely fit aerobically before you go is worth much more than technical climbing fitness as most of the bigger routes really test the stamina of british visitors. If you are really fit you will also acclimatize better.

As a first Alpine route at 12,000ft the Cosmiques is a great introduction to everything alpine and is not just a snow plod. Ok its not really technical or hard or anything and you can do it in a morning but it lets you iron out all the little issues that arise when you are a beginner in the Alpine environment before you move onto something harder. You can also climb quite hard rock routes in the Aiguilles without covering much glacier terrain or you can opt for much bigger mixed routes deeper into the range which will really test your all round mountaineering skills.

In my experience if you start conservatively and work up you are more guaranteed to have success.
Simon4 - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to cuillinman:

> If you start out in Chamonix invest in the Rebuffat 100 best climbs book and start at a sensible level choosing rock or mixed routes depending on what you feel like.

Just for God's sake view it as "coffee-table inspirational", don't ever, ever think that it is a guide book!

Use Glace, Neige et Mixte, Martin Moran 4000m peaks or the Piola topo guides for that.
Solaris - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to rif:
> (In reply to Simon4)
> PS but I agree with you that straightforward snow/ice N faces that were originally graded D or TD are much easier than the more mixed routes, and often don't have any technical climbing harder than Scottish II (except sometimes the schrund).

Isn't one reason for the discrepancy the fact that the classic D snow/ice routes were graded in the step cutting era, which means that at that time they were closer to rock and mixed routes in difficulty than they are now with modern tools?

I can barely imagine step-cutting my way up a 500m 60 degree ice route, but for anyone who's done a Scottish III with two tools, given decent conditions, there's considerably less challenge. On the other hand, VS rock is pretty much the same as it was in the 30s, say, except that gear is much better.
cannichoutdoors - on 10 Oct 2012
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
> (In reply to CharlieMack)
>
> Don't forget that even just in terms of technical grading on rock you will be climbing in boots with a rucksack and often in the wet.. This makes a big difference too.
>
Not forgetting early morning temperatures. Even the easy rock at the end of the Rochefort arete felt a bit tricky a month ago. In the shade, covered in hoar frost. A choice between climbing with cold hands or climbing in bigger gloves - neither make it any easier!

walts4 - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to rif:
> Indeed. Bivvying halfway down the Whymper Couloir wasn't fun.

Sounds a right barrel of laughs.

the beekeeper - on 22 Oct 2012
In reply to CharlieMack:

i could be talking cobblers but i think that if you are unsure, you haven't done much of either or both so you should approach either or both with caution.I don't think they do compare although I remember thinking that the perroux gully on the tacul triangle felt very much like a scottish VI 6 i had done the same year.. that was just my perception. i don't think a generic comparison can be made at all, although you can compare specific sections of a route to, say, UK rock or UK winter. any comparisons are best done retrospectively and not much should be inferred.
all in my very very humble and unimportant opinion.

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