Saturday, September  23, 2017
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Ferrata Difficulty Ratings
I suppose it is obvious that the difficulty of Ferrate vary. What is not so obvious is how to describe how difficult a particular ferrata is. The reason for this is that the standard climbing difficulty ratings do not quite apply to a via ferrata. Climbing on a via ferrata is not quite like a free-climbing rock climb; nor is it quite like an aid climb, nor is it like an ice climb. There is enough difference in the situation with which one is presented on a via ferrata to warrant a new difficulty rating. This page describes this.

There are two different via ferrata difficulty rating systems with which I am familiar, and I will use these two ratings systems on these pages. The first is from the excellent and complete ferrata guidebooks by Graham Fletcher and John Smith (These are the current guidebooks that I use when exploring via ferrata). The second rating system is from an older guidebook from Hofler/Werner. Whenever you see ratings listed for a ferrata on my web page, I'll always indicate the Fletcher/Smith rating first, and the Hofler/Werner rating second (e.g. 3B / D).

So, without further hesitation, here are the two ratings systems:

The Fletcher / Smith Rating System

Example:
3 B

Technical Difficulty / Alpine commitment or 'seriousness'
The Fletcher/Smith rating system consists of two parts. The first is a number, from 1 (easiest) to 5 (most difficult), which indicates the straight technical difficulty.

The second is a letter, and it indicates the overall alpine commitment (or 'seriousness', as it is described in the guidebook). There are three letters: A (least commitment), B, and C (the greatest commitment).

So, based on the above, a 1A is basically a walk-up, probably not long, and in a safe location close to civilization. On the other hand, a 5C has some hard rock-climbing (**), and is long, possibly with some unprotected exposed sections, remote, and otherwise as hard as you could expect on a via ferrata. Something like a 4A would be a challenging rock climb, but otherwise is short and in a benign environment.
(**) - even this classification of "hard" rock-climbing needs to be further clarified, with respect to how hard the actual rock is to climb (i.e. without touching the wire or using artificial holds). I've been on both "4" and "5" routes where I could often manage to climb "free", without touching the wire. I've also been on "4" and "5" routes where I could scarcely think about making upward progress without pulling on the wire. So - a lot of variation. To put it in terms of another system I am familiar with - the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) - the technical difficulty of "5" routes start at about 5.3 for the easiest examples and probably higher than 5.10 for the most difficult ones. "4" routes seem to have more variability - some are technically actually quite easy (YDS 4th class), and some others are up to the mid 5.x range. And a final point - the actual difficulty you'll encounter will vary with the type of footwear you use. On some routes, full stiff mountaineering boots will be much harder to climb in versus if you had worn, say, rock climbing shoes (which is something typically not used when climbing vie ferrate).

The Hofler / Werner Rating System

Example:
D

(combined technical and situational difficulties)
The Hofler / Werner rating system is a single letter, ranging from A (easiest) to G (hardest). Unlike the Fletcher / Smith system, this rating system combines all aspects, both technical and situational, of a ferrata climb into a single grade letter.

A - For footsure mountain walkers; easy and without problems

B - For footsure mountain walkers free of vertigo; easy

C -Sure-footedness and freedom from vertigo necessary

D - Absolute sure-footedness and freedom from vertigo necessary

E - Additional mountain experience and climbing ability necessary

F - Good climbing technique on very steep rock required

G - Perfect climbing technique on vertical rock required
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