Via ferrata grading

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 James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 25 Apr 2014
I'm looking for some feedback on via ferrata grading. Currently there is no universal grading system for via ferrata. The one employed on UKC is the Smith / Fletcher system used in ‘Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites’.

Just to be clear I think the book(s) are superb and always recommended them to anyone looking to do just via ferrata in the Dolomites.

Their grading system uses a number (1-5) to denote technical difficulty and a letter (A-C) to denote 'seriousness'.

Whilst this grading system is pitched perfectly for their target audience do you think this grading system would work in the context of a climbing guidebook?

Does a 'seriousness' letter become largely irrelevant in a guidebook aimed at climbers? Simply because the vast majority of multi pitch climbs in the Alps / Dolomites are considerably more 'serious' than your average VF. In this way the reader should be able to estimate how committing said route is, in the same way they would a multi-pitch trad or sport climb.

With regards to the difficulty scale is 1-5 enough? I know of many people who’ve enjoyed Michielli Strobel (VF3B) and Brigata Tridentina (VF3B), but who couldn't get off the ground on Col dei Bos (also VF3B). Equally at that top end Magnifici Quattro and Ski Club 18 are considerably harder than Tomaselli (VF5C).

Has anyone had any experience with other grading systems? Did you like them? As a British climber would you expect a certain grading system to be used in a guidebook?

Would a difficulty scale of 1-5 with a single decimal place up to 3 be sufficient? For example 3.0 for Michielli Strobel and 3.3 for Col dei Bos. 5.0 for Tomaselli and 5.3 for Magnifici Quattro? Or is that overkill and getting overly subjective? Would you miss the seriousness grade?

It would be great to have people opinions.
 butteredfrog 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

I would think the seriousness rating is still necessary to give an idea of the overall "feel" of the route. (Or seriousness if you prefer)
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 25 Apr 2014
In reply to butteredfrog:

But what if you have a 28 pitch severe on the next page, that doesn't have a 'seriousness' rating?
 d_b 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

If you are a climber you should have a fair idea of how serious a 28 pitch severe is already.
 Mike-W-99 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

Assume this is for the new guide.
I guess the cicerone grading would make sense to a uk audience.certainly fits I with our trad grading.
In Austria they just use a scale from A to E to express the difficulty. The one E that I've done had a big topo at the bottom so you could judge the seriousness yourself.
I've also seen alpine grading being used as well.

What do the locals used? The one place I've seen just used hard, medium easy etc..
 d_b 25 Apr 2014
In reply to Mike_Watson_99:

I think the cortina guide just has a simple scale rather than a dual one. I will check it when I get home.
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 25 Apr 2014
In reply to davidbeynon:

If you're referring to Francesco's he uses a dual grade as well. However it's a via ferrata guidebook not a climbing guidebook.

If you're not referring to this one apologies!
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 25 Apr 2014
In reply to Mike_Watson_99:
It might have some bearing

Yes Austria often use A-E and some Italian guidebooks also use this system. However there is no 'local standard'. Francesco has used a similar system to Cicerone, Bernardi has used a description from 'easy' to 'very difficult'. Sometimes alpine grades are used, but relating an alpine grade to a VF is very subjective at best.
Post edited at 15:25
 Mike-W-99 25 Apr 2014

In reply to James

Rockfax already have little graphics alongside the climbs (the fluttering hearts etc) would they help illustrate seriousness?
Some new graphics could be useful - a queue, frayed wire and a stopwatch.
Post edited at 15:46
 d_b 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:
You are right - I was thinking of that book. I could have sworn it used simple grading though - my memory is going

For what it's worth I think the seriousness grade is useful. I have taken relatively inexperienced people on via ferratas on a number of occasions, and found the "seriousness" part of the grade more useful than the difficulty for route selection. Most of them could tecnically do a 4, but you wouldn't necessarily want to do a route more serous than a B with them first time out.
Post edited at 15:54
 AlanLittle 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

I'm only familiar with the Austrian system, and I know that on the A to E scale I can expect, as an experienced and reasonably fit climber, to find Ds and Es physically quite hard work.

What do you mean by "serious" in a VF context? I can think of short, strenuous "E" VFs that end on flat ground next to a hut and an easy walk down, and long, also fairly strenuous "D" VFs that end on summits with non-trivial descents. One of these is more "serious" than the other, but surely the difference must be obvious to anybody except a complete imbecile?
 Offwidth 25 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

Grades of any type can be wrong. Certainly some Italian Dolomite 5s were not 5 as far as I can tell from people working out there and my own more limited experience.
 d_b 25 Apr 2014
In reply to davidbeynon:

I intended to add that the grading system is not be the deciding factor in whether or not I would buy a guidebook. I suspect the real answer is that as long as the rest of the information is good then which system you use doesn't matter.
 stevieb 26 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

I think the 5c system works well, and along with the route length gives you the main information succinctly. If necessary you could always have half grades for borderline routes e.g. 3/4 or b/c. I think a decimal system is overkill. The only information it doesn't give you easily is whether a c is for a big mountain day into a dangerous environment or unprotected exposed sections on the route. This kind of information may affect your route choice or what kit you take.
 Gone 26 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

Our party found the Cicerone grades a worse predictor of whether someone was going to get up something than the grades in the Austrian guidebook

As well as the A-E difficulty grade it does have a seriousness as a decimal number from 1.0 to 3.0. Really great book, I recommend it - the main bits are translated into English and it has topos as well.
 sarahlizzy 26 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

I agree re the top end of the difficulty grading. Tomaselli, Sci Club 18 and Magnifici 4 are all 5C. They do not deserve the same grade, at all. Tomaselli is trivial compared to the other 2. Sci Club 18 is a significant step up, and M4 is *vastly* more technically challenging than anything else I've done in the high Dolomites. Getting out of the grande dom felt like doing a proper sport lead, rather than via ferrata, even with cable hauling. It needed proper climbing technique, whereas I've seen non-climbing hikers muddle through Sci Club 18 with some effort.
 sarahlizzy 27 Apr 2014
In reply to stevieb:

The problem with the 5c system topping out at 5 is that it puts Tomaselli and Magnifici 4 in the same technical difficulty (or it would, it they updated the book).

M4 is to Tomaselli as Tomaselli is to Brigata Tridentina.

If M4 is to be graded sensibly in that system, it's probably a 6b.
 Chris the Tall 27 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

I've got via ferrata guides from three different authors, and each has there own grading system ! I don't think it would be good for you to add another system. The worst is the French - for those of us who don't do alpine climbing it isn't obvious whether AD or PD is harder or easier than D.

I think the Fletcher/smith system used in the latest cicerone guides is the best, particularly in the Dollies, but I also decided to use it when adding French VFs to the UKC logbooks. Can't remember, but I may have given one of them 6A - very strenuous, but easy to escape.

However it should be regarded as open-ended in both respects. In the first F/S guides they gave all all the 5s - tommaselli, eterna brigata, punta Anna and piazetta - a C rating for seriousness, which misses the point. OK none are roadside, but PA and Pz are much less committing than Tommaselli, which requires a grade 3 descent. EB was the most serious of them all when I did it it, especially if you missed the last cable car, and is apparently even more so now. So why not 5B, 5B, 5C and 5D?

Not done the Sci Club or Magnifico - are they new ? - but if they are considerably harder than Tommaselli then give them 6C, 6D or 5D as you see fit.

What you shouldn't do is impose an artificial ceiling and compress everything else below it. it didn't work with Scottish VS and it's why English tech grades are now meaningless above 6a. Grades need granularity.
 Gone 27 Apr 2014
In reply to Chris the Tall:

> Not done the Sci Club or Magnifico - are they new ? - but if they are considerably harder than Tommaselli then give them 6C, 6D or 5D as you see fit.

Yes, they are new. The current fashion seems to be for hard but short sport-style ferratas, so definitely not D, probably B.

The other problem in the original post is that Col dei Bos (short, escapable, has given a fair few pause for thought at the start) is the same grade as Brigata Tridentina (long but also has escapes, have taken my 10 year old novice stepdaughter on). I don't know if 2B would be fair for Tridentina given the difficulty increases by the finish, but 3 seems a wide grade - maybe keep Tridentina as a 3 and bump Col dei Bos to 4 - Sandro Pertini is a 4 and the moves are similar.
 Chris the Tall 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Gone:

Where are the new ones ?

Also not done Col de Bos, but if we start off with Grand CIr at 1 - protected path but kit not really required - and Tchirspitze at 2 - good for beginners - then Tridentina should be 3 as it is another step up.
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Chris the Tall:

Thanks to everyone for all the feedback!
Chris I see your point. Yes Col dei Bos is a (relatively) new route, Ski Club 18 and Magnifici Quattro are very new.

I'm currently leaning towards to Cicerone style grades but maybe with the addition of a single decimal point up to three. From my experience it would read something like:

Masare & Roda de Vael 2.0 (B)
Catinaccio d'Antermoia 2.0 (B)
Franco Gadoti 2.0 (C)
Sentiero Massimiliano 2.0 (B)
Sass Rigais 2.1 (B)
Ivano Dibona 2.1 (B)
Marino Bianchi 2.1 (B)
Averau 2.1 (A)
Piz da Cir V 2.2 (A)
Tridentina 3.0 (B)
Michielli Strobel - Punta Fiames 3.0 (B)
Col Rodella 3.1 (A)
Francesco Berti 3.1 (C)
Marmolada West Ridge 3.2 (D)
Piz da Lech 3.2 (B)
Ettore Bovero 3.2 (B)
Col dei Bos 3.3 (B)
Giovanni Lipella 4.0 (C)
Sandro Pertini 4.1 (B)
Eterna Brigata Cadore - Punta Serauta 4.2 (D)
Via delle Trincee - La Mesola 4.2 (B)
Col Ombert / Kaiserjeger 4.2 (C)
Delle Mèsules - Possnecker 4.2 (C)
Laurenzi - Molignon 4.3 (C)
Tomaselli - Cima Fanes Sud 5.0 (C)
Punta Anna and Gianni Aglio 5.1 (C)
Cesare Piazzetta - Piz Boe 5.2 (C)
Ski Club 18 5.2 (B)
Magnifici Quattro 5.3 (B)

I've added a 'D' seriousness grade for VF's that include / might include a glacier grossing. The current grading for the Marmolada West Ridge is 4C. However, technically the route is very easy. The grade gets inflated because of where it is located above the glacier. This make the whole 'seriousness' grade a bit pointless if you escalate technical grades to cover more serious routes.

Clearly the 'serious' grade will need defining carefully.
Eterna Brigata Cadore - Punta Serauta, Piz da Lech and Delle Mèsules (Possnecker) have all recently been re-equipped and their grades have changed slightly.
 sarahlizzy 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Gone:
> Yes, they are new. The current fashion seems to be for hard but short sport-style ferratas, so definitely not D, probably B.

There are no escapes on Sci Club 18, but it's low and only 300 metres high. It's also extremely exposed. I think I'd lean towards C for seriousness, simply because of how committing it is. You can't realistically backtrack it.

Magnifici Quatro is escapable as long as you can rig an abseil. The issue there is that the point you'd want to escape from is after that high wire traverse in the Grand Dom, before that steep overhanging climb out. At that point, if you feel like you want to give up, you're probably utterly terrified and holding on for grim death. Anyone above you can't even *see* you because of that overhang.

So if you have the presence of mind to rig an abseil, and have brought a long enough rope (60 metres? Who takes a 60 on a VF? Our VF rope is 30), and know what to do then you can self rescue from the Grand Dom.

But if you have that level of skill, climbing out of the Grand Dom isn't going to present you with that much difficulty. It's like a juggy V0- bouldering problem.

So the seriousness on that one is vexing. It's low, short, escapable from, but designed to scare the living crap out of you if you don't have the requisite climbing skills to climb it. Awkward.
Post edited at 12:06
In reply to sarahlizzy:
I've only done one VF, at Braunwald in Switzerland, which the Husler* guide rates as Ziemlich Schwierig. It was great fun.

At this time of year, my wife and I are typically wondering what to do in the summer, and one of us, usually me, lobs doing VFs in the Dolomites into the pot. We never do, mind, but one year, we just might. We did a few multipitch bolted and trad routes in the Bregaglia and West Penwith a few years ago, but nothing recently.

Could someone tell me, how serious a VF can get? I get that they could be exposed, and I get that that means they can be terrifying, but really, I am more worried (thinking of my wife) that "serious" might mean actual hard climbing or actual objective danger, even when you are clipped in. Is that true, really, ever? I mean, how hard does the climbing get? Big jugs, little jugs, crimps, no crimps, what? How bad does the gear get? Loose? Rusty?

We've got the gear and can handle long days out in the hills.

* which I always think of as Husler's arse, given the photos.
Post edited at 12:44
 sarahlizzy 28 Apr 2014
In reply to mbh:
The climbing is never *that* hard. For reference, my trad lead grade is up to HS, my sport lead grade, up to 6a (on rock). I've never found a via ferrata that I found technically *difficult*. If you know how to move on rock, they're pretty much all easy. Remember, you have the cable to haul on - it's an omnipresent, bomb-proof handhold jug.

Now for the nasty bit. Falls on VF are not like falls when sport, or even trad climbing. DO NOT FALL ON A VF, ever. The gear is designed to make a fall survivable, and it doesn't always work. It's not designed to make it *comfortable*. Falls can be up to factor 5, and older VFs were not designed with shock absorbing protection in mind, so you might well break both legs before the gear even starts deploying.

Secondly, old VFs like Piazzetta have metal bars that stick out, and could quite literally gut you if you fell on them.

I have come across loose pegs and frayed cables. These things are built with significant redundancy, and I've never heard of one breaking in use, but it's worth checking the state of the protection if you're going to be hauling on it.

There's a massive range of stuff to do. Some are just walking paths with protection for the steep and exposed bits. Some are set piece challenges for people with climbing ability who want some fun in the mountains. You won't be bored with 2 weeks in the High Dolomites, regardless of your skill and ability level.

VF is a tremendously enjoyable sport, and possibly my favourite leisure activity ever.

ETA: This is me on the hardest bit of Sci Club 18, which is one of the more technical VFs in the high Dolomites:
Post edited at 12:47
In reply to sarahlizzy:

Hey, thanks for that. I'll pick my moment to raise what you said in para 3. I know about the FF thing.
 Gone 28 Apr 2014
In reply to sarahlizzy:

Indeed, you don't want to ever take a proper fall on a VF. However, the way most people climb them in the Dolomites is by hauling on the cable with both hands, or hauling with one hand and the other on the rock. In most situations If you slip, you will slide down the cable slowly, with a gloved hand clinging to the cable, and then stop at the bolt without deploying your kit (I think it is different on French style VFs, which have a thin, loose cable out to the side which discourages hauling)

The presence of the cable means you always have at least one excellent handhold, and you can stand on the bolts, so objective difficulty just isn't there. I barely qualify as a Vdiff leader, but I got up Magnifici Quattro under my own steam without a top rope - it was just bloody hard work.

A top rope deployed by a leader over tricky spots will eliminate objective danger, but usually I've seen them come out of the bag when someone is freaked out by the exposure. Dealing with someone who is too frightened to progress can be daunting as huge queues start building up behind on popular routes. Then people start unclipping to go around the cragfast person, which freaks them out even more!
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 28 Apr 2014
In reply to mbh:

What Sarahlizzy and mbh said. Go and do some, you won't be disappointed.

The crux of I Magnifici Quattro:
 Chris the Tall 28 Apr 2014
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Chris the Tall:

What do you reckon to that grading Chris? Overly complicated? Easier to just add a 6th grade?
In reply to Chris the Tall/James/Sarah,

Thanks! It all looks very enticing, apart from the crowds.

 Chris the Tall 28 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

Must admit I'm not keen on the 4.2 stuff - grades should only be an indication after all and being overly precise will just to lead to endless arguments. However, having seen the pics, I would be inclined to give the two new ones a Grade 6.

OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 28 Apr 2014
In reply to mbh:

Ah there's loads of VF's where it's very unusual to spot another party all day.

Eterna Brigata Cadore - Punta Serauta
Francesco Berti
Franco Gadoti
Col Ombert / Kaiserjeger
Laurenzi - Molignon

All spring to mind
OP James Rushforth Global Crag Moderator 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Chris the Tall:

Grand. Thanks for the input.
 sarahlizzy 28 Apr 2014
In reply to James Rushforth:

And you don't see a lot of people on M4, because it's too hard for the numpties.

Having said that, the queues on Sci Club 18 are getting silly, given how hard it is.

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