Rating Your Adventure

Class 1

Class 1

Rating the difficulty of any activity is subjective at best. In off-trail travel this is also true!  There is also a difference between climbing ratings and difficulty ratings.

Climbing Rating refers to the nature of the route and risk involved while climbing.

Difficulty Rating refers to the distance and elevation gains required.

There are many ways to rate the difficulty of a particular route.  Dr. J. Gordon Edwards developed a rating system specific to Glacier National Park.  The Glacier Mountaineering Society added ratings for distance as well as elevation gain required for each climb.

Please note: Glacier National Park Climbing Classifications are unique to Glacier National Park.  A Class 3 rated climb in Glacier National Park may not be the same as a Class 3 rated climb in others areas of the world.

The Glacier Mountaineering Society System (GMS):

Class II

Class II

The GMS rating system for Glacier National Park includes the overall difficulty of the climb and designates the most difficult section of the climb by adding a number in parentheses after the Class in Roman Numeral Rating.

The GMS System also rates the Round Trip Distance and Elevation Gain by using a set of S, M, or L.

Class I (1): Easy

Trail hiking or off-trail walking without requiring the use of hands.  No risk of falling.

Examples: The route to Cataract Mountain, Haystack Butte and portions of the route to Mount Oberlin.  Top photo shows off-trail portion of Mount Helen.

Class II (2): Moderate

Class III

Class III

Low angle scrambling

Examples: The route to Mount Helen, Piegan Mountain routes, and the cliff section on Mount Oberlin.  Photo (above) shows scrambling on Piegan Mountain.

Class III (3): Difficult

High angle scrambling, moderate cliffs, considerable exertion. A rope might be  necessary for beginners.

Examples: Reynolds Mountain, The Dragons Tail, Edwards Mountain.  Photo (above) shows class III section on Bishops Cap.

Class IV (4): Very Difficult

Higher angle cliffs, increased exposure. Rope required for belaying.

Examples: The Great Cleft on Pollock Mountain, portion of Sinopah Mountain route and portion of Painted Tepee Peak.  Photo (below) shows climbers in the Great Cleft.

Class V (5): Severe

(Climb Glacier National Park has no climbs with this rating)

Class III and IV

Class III and IV

High angle cliffs with severe exposure. Protection placed by leader. Technical climbing experience is necessary.

Class VI (6): Extremely Severe

(Climb Glacier National Park has no climbs with this rating)

Direct aid technical climbing. Overall rating in this classification reserved for only the biggest technical climbs such as the North Face of Mount Siyeh or the East Face of Mount Gould.

Glacier Mountaineering Society Trip Rating System

                        Round Trip Distances            Elevation Gain

Short               1 to 6 miles Short                        Less than 3,000 feet

Medium         6 to 12 miles Medium                3,000 to 4,500 feet

Long                12 to 20 miles or longer**        Over 4,500 feet**

Consider the following examples:

A Class 2 route with the most difficult section being Class 3 with a round-trip distance of 8 miles (12.8 km) and an elevation gain of 2,800 feet (853 m) would be indicated as Class II (3) MS.

A Class 4 route with the most difficult section being Class 4 that has a round-trip distance of 14 miles (22.5 km) and 5,000 feet (1,524 m) of elevation gain is a Class IV (4) LL.

* GMS Rating System used with permission from Glacier Mountaineering Society.

Difficulty Rating System

Difficulty Rating refers to physical exertion required during the climb.  Difficulty ratings are based on the writers and their climbing team member’s experiences and opinions.  Your experience may be different because of your experience and level of physical fitness.

Many elements, including past experience, training, fitness level, and mental attitude contribute to successfully summiting a peak.  Having the right balance of energy (food) and hydration (water) will be a key consideration for any climb.  Too much or not enough of either can ruin a great day.

There are days when all of these factors align and life is good!

On the other hand, there are days when many factors weigh against a climber and it just is not going to be a great day.  Call it what you will, but it just is not your day.  Do you feel like you have to drag your body up the trail?  Does something not feel quite right?  In that case recognize it or listen to your climbing partners and turn around.

Painless ( well almost)

These adventures are perfect for beginning climbers.  This is a good climb for those with a little time and patience.  One-way route distance is usually less than 3 miles (4.8 km) and/or total elevation gains are less than 1,500 feet (457 m).  This is a great level of difficulty to see if off-trail travel is for you.  Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule such as Apgar Lookout.

Tolerable (Sort of)

Many of the trips featured in this guidebook series have this rating.  One-way route distance is usually less than 5 miles (8.0 km) and/or total elevation gains are less than 2,500 feet (762 m).  This level will physically test the body that is not properly conditioned.  The key here is to be in shape before you arrive for your trip!

Challenging (Pretty Much)

This is the route that a Weekend Warrior can conquer but will have sore muscles when done.  One-way route distance is usually less than 8 miles (12.9 km) and/or total elevation gains are less than 4,000 feet (1,219 m).  There are many trips in Glacier National Park requiring this level of exertion to reach the summit.  Do not be a Weekend Warrior.  Start an exercise plan and stick with it.  Your body will thank you for it!

Arduous (Absolutely)

These routes are for all the He-man/She-gals out there who never quite have enough challenge.  One-way route distance is usually greater than 8 miles (12.9 km) and/or total elevation gains are usually much more than 4,000 feet (1,219 m).  Be in top physical shape for this type of climb.  One way to make a climb less arduous is to make it an overnight trip.

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