Published: November 19th 2019

Mountain Expeditions Grading System – Explained!

All of our UK Courses & Expeditions come with a suggested Difficulty Level to help you choose the correct one. Read on to find out about the different levels as well as a full explanation of the Scottish Winter, Alpine and UK Rock Climbing grading systems.


UK Course Grading

Our UK courses are split in to 3 categories C1, C2 and C3:

C1 – Intro Course: open to any level and ability

C2 – Intermediate Course: previous experience of scrambling/rock climbing or winter mountaineering

C3 – Advanced Course: previous technical summer or winter climbing experience

You should always refer to the Trip Suitability section on each course page for more specific details on the course expectation and the technical and physical experience you’ll need.


Expedition Grading

Our Expeditions come with a two part grading system: A-E for Physical, and 1-5 for Technical.



A. Good basic fitness, as for UK hill walking and mountaineering. Average rucksack weight: 6-8 kg

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.

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.

D. As for C, but tougher. Climbs of this grade are exceptionally strenuous and some weight loss is inevitable. Train hard and arrive fit. You’re welcome to ask for advice if you’re training specifically.

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.



1. Low angle snow or straightforward scrambling on rocks. Ropes are not usually required. Previous climbing experience is not essential.

2. Ropes are used principally for glacier travel and low angle snow or ice slopes. Ice axe and crampon experience necessary.

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.

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.

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.

With all our Expeditions you should refer to the Trip Suitability section for more specific details on the expedition expectation and the technical and physical experience you’ll need.


UK Rock Climbing Grading

When deciding on which course or expedition may suit you, where it’s essential for you to have some rock climbing ability, a good understanding of scrambling and rock climbing grades is useful.


Scrambling grades:

Grade 1 – short steps of rock, where you need to use your hands to make upward progress. Ropes are 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 – 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)
V Diff (Very Difficult)
S (Severe)
VS (Very Severe)
HVS (Hard Very Severe)
Extreme (E1 – E12)


Scottish Winter Grading

We frequently use Scottish Winter grades to describe the necessary technical experience required for a particular expedition. Many of our members enjoy our Expedition Specific Training courses in Scotland through the winter and will be familiar with the following Scottish grading system.

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.

V – 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.


The French Alpine Grading

The Alpine system encompasses the technical difficulty, length and level of commitment required for the climb. If you are preparing for one of our Expeditions 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 potentially 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.



Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required