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Grading - Canyon Magazine

Grading

Canyon grades that are used around the world.

Grading of canyons of their accessibility, height and aquatic levels are different depending on which country you are in or which system was adopted. There are different types of grading types available around the world.

Currently there are 2 main rating systems used in the world depending on the school people follow. The first system is the FFME (Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l’Escalade and Fédération Française de Spéléologie) who created a rating system for canyons that has become the default standard in Europe and other parts of the world.

The second system the the ACA (Amercian Canyoneering Academy) which is the default system in America and other areas where ACA training has taken. Other areas like Australia use their own unique rating system (See Tom Brennan’s excellent website on canyoning in Australia for more information – http://ozultimate.com/canyoning/).

FFME Grading
France
Italy
Switzerland
Austria
Germany
Spain
Portugal
New Zealand
Slovenia
Greece
Nepal
Japan

ACA Grading
America
England
Hong Kong
Nepal
Iran

Other Grading
Australia
South Africa

Grading canyons is always a compromise. Usually the most difficult section of the canyon that uses a required technical skill is the highest point of the grade and reflects through the entire canyon. Gradings are purely subjective and must be used in conjunction with access notes and canyoning topographic maps to understand the difficulty of the trip. Canyons can change every season and sometimes more than once during the seasons so the initial grade may change depending on the situation.

There is currently a program with the International Amateur Association of Canyoning to consolidate the canyoning gradings into and International Standard that all member countries can use freely.

FFME Standard

The French Grading System was standardised in 2003 with the FFME / FFS.

Definition of Classification

The listing is for an ordinary rate, corresponding to the usual practice period so relatively low level, without necessarily being at low water.
It is calibrated to a group of 5 people in a situation of discovery of the canyon (to view) and whose level of practice is in line with the technical level of the canyon.
It is for a normal and rational practice in the interests of safety and efficiency of travel (personal research of increasing difficulty will add nothing to the original quotation).

The canyons are listed as follows:

One of the following criteria per column, determines belonging to a category of difficulty.
While that can be avoided (not mandatory) jumps usually making party tracking will be included in the listing of difficulty.
Identifying the feasibility of the jump, as well as choosing not to jump, must be taken into account in the rating.

FFME Canyonisme Normes de Classement Technique

Difficulty

 V - Vertical DifficultyA - Aquatic Difficulty
1
Very Easy
  • No abseils, rope normally unnecessary for progress.
  • No climbing or down climbing.
  • No water or calm water.
  • Swimming optional.
2
Easy
  • Abseil anchors are very easily reached.
  • Abseils are very easy <= 10m.
  • Easy climbing and down climbing with little exposure.
  • Swims less than 10m in calm water.
  • Simple jumps less than 3m.
  • Short, low angled slides.
3
Little Difficult
  • Low Vertical flow. Abseils land in pools with calm water.
  • Abseil anchors are easily reached. Abseils are easy. <= 30m. Abseils are separated by enough room to regroup.
  • Setting hand lines is easy.
  • Climbing moves to grade 12. A little exposure, which may require the use of a rope.
  • Swims less than 30m in calm water.
  • Slight current in places.
  • Simple jumps between 3 and 5m.
  • Long or moderately angled slides.
4
Difficult
  • Low to moderate vertical flow that can begin to cause imbalance or entrapment.
  • Abseils anchors are difficult to reach and/or abseils > 30m
  • Setting handlines is difficult and delicate.
  • Mulit-pitch abseils with relatively spacious re-belay stations.
  • Rough rock edges requiring rope wear management.
  • Abseils with obscured sections and/or landings pools. Landing pools have current.
  • Climbing moves to grade 15 or A0. Exposed and/or requires belaying and protection.
  • Prolonged immersion in cold water.
  • Moderate current in places.
  • Simple jumps between 5 and 8m.
  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of less than 5m.
  • Siphons of less than 1m in length and / or depth.
  • Large or steep slides.
5
Quite Difficult
  • Medium to high vertical flow. Crossing the flow requires correct route selection and balance.
  • Multi-pitch Abseils may have hanging re-belays.
  • Requirement to cross pools with current during the descent.

  • Canyon surface is very slippery and/or has significant obstacles.
  • Retrieving the rope is difficult or has to be done whilst swimming.
  • Exposed climbing moves up to grade 18 or A1.
  • Prolonged immersion in cold water resulting in a substantial heat loss.
  • Current strong enough that it could affect a swimmers path through the water.
  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculation, holes may trap a Canyoner for a short period of time.
  • Simple jumps between 8 and 10m.
  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of 5 to 8m.
  • Large Siphons up to 2m in length and / or depth.
6
Very Difficult

Exposed
  • Strong to very strong vertical flow.
  • Sustained waterfalls.
  • Crossing the flow is very difficult, requiring effective management of selected route and / or balance.
  • Requirement to build advanced and/or delicate natural anchors.
  • Abseils anchors are very difficult to reach.
  • Setting hand lines is very difficult and very delicate.
  • Exposed climbing moves to grade 19 or A2.
  • Canyon surface exceptionally slippery and/or loose.
  • Abseil landing pools are turbulent and/or with significant current.
  • Moderate current that makes a selected swimming path or stopping point difficult to achieve.
  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculation, holes may trap a Canyoner for a moderate period of time.
  • Simple Jumps between 10 and 14m.
  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of 5 to 8m.
  • Siphon of up to 3m depth and / or length.
  • Technical siphon, up to1m deep, with possible current.
7
Extremely Difficult


Very Exposed
  • Very strong to extremely strong vertical flow.
  • Very sustained waterfalls that lead into one another without a gap.
  • Crossing the flow is extremely difficult; requiring anticipation and specific rope management, maneuver, balance, support and pace.
  • Exposed climbing moves > grade 19 or A2.
  • Limited visibility of route and frequent obstacles.
  • Requirement to move through powerful current at the end of a abseil or abseil landing in a very turbulent pool with powerful current.
  • Control of breathing: sections where you must hold your breath.
  • Strong current that makes a selected swimming path or stopping point extremely difficult to achieve.
  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculations or holes may trap a Canyoner for a prolonged period of time.
  • Simple jumps greater than 14m.
  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing greater than 10m.
  • Siphons over 3m in length and / or depth.
  • Technical and committing siphon, more than 1m tall, with current or no visibility.

Commitment & Duration

Commitment & DurationCriteria
I
  • Able to get out of a flood quickly.
  • Escape is easy throughout the canyon.
  • Total time (approach, descent, return) less than 2 hours.
II
  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 15 mins
  • Escape takes up to 30 minutes.
  • Total time (approach, descent, return) is between 2 and 4 hours.
III
  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 30 minutes.
  • Escape takes up to 1 hour.
  • Total time (approach, descent return) is between 4 and 8 hours.
IV
  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 1 hour.
  • Escape takes up to 2 hours.
  • Total time (approach, descent return) between 8 hours and 1 day.
V
  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 2 hours.
  • Escape takes up to 4 hours.
  • Total time (approach, descent return) is between 1 and 2 days.
VI
  • Getting out of a flood takes more than 2 hours
  • Escape requires more than 4 hours.
  • Total time (approach, descent return) is more than 2 days.

Quality

RatingDescription
Good Canyons that are worth the effort required to descend.
Canyons of above average quality, that are worth returning to several times.
The highest quality canyons, with an excellent mix of good access, beauty, fun and challenge.
World Class canyons.

Examples

V3A4II   
V3 Little DifficultLow Vertical flow. Abseils land in pools with calm water.
Abseil anchors are easily reached. Abseils are easy. <= 30m. Abseils are separated by enough room to regroup.
Setting hand lines is easy.
Climbing moves to grade 12. A little exposure, which may require the use of a rope.
A4 DifficultProlonged immersion in cold water.
Moderate current in places.
Simple jumps between 5 and 8m
Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of less than 5m.
Siphons of less than 1m in length and / or depth.
Large or steep slides.
CommitmentIIAble to get out of a flood in less than 15 mins
Escape takes up to 30 minutes.
Total time (approach, descent, return) is between 2 and 4 hours.
RatingCanyons of above average quality, that are worth returning to several times.

ACA Standard

The American Canyoneering Association created a rating system for canyons that has become the standard in North America.

The basic format of the ACA Canyon Rating System includes two digits. The first digit is numeric and represents the values described below related to terrain and rope work. The second digit is an alpha character representing the values described below related to water volume and current. Additional values may be added to represent relative risk and time/commitment. Ratings are cumulative. For example: descending a Class 3 canyon will require the skills listed under Class 3, as well as those listed under Classes 1 and 2.

ACA Canyon Rating System

Terrain / Technical Rope Work

Terrain 
1Canyon Hiking
Non-technical; no rope required. May involve some easy scrambling requiring the occasional use of hands for balance and support. Travel is possible up or down canyon. See route description for more information.
2Basic Canyoneering
Scrambling, easy vertical or near vertical climbing and/or down-climbing requiring frequent use of hands. Rope recommended for hand lines, belays, lowering packs and possible emergency use. Travel is possible up or down canyon. See route description for more information.
3Intermediate Canyoneering
Exposed technical climbing. Down-climbing could be difficult and dangerous; most people will rappel. Rope required for belays and single-pitch rappels. Obvious natural or fixed anchors. Retreat up canyon will require ascending fixed ropes. Basic pothole escape techniques (i.e. partner assist, counter- weights) may also be required. See route description for more information.
4Advanced-Expert Canyoneering
Route may involve any combination of the following:
1) difficult and exposed free climbing and/or down-climbing
2) climbing using direct aid
3) multi-pitch rappels
4) complex rope work (i.e. guided rappels, deviations, rebelays)
5) obscure or indistinct natural anchors
6) advanced problem-solving and anchor-building skills.

See route description for more information.

Water Volume / Current

Water 
ANormally dry or very little water. Dry falls. Water, if present, can be avoided and/or is very shallow. Shoes may get wet, but no wetsuit or drysuit required.
BNormally has water with no current or very light current. Still pools. Falls normally dry or running at a trickle. Expect to do some deep wading and/or swimming. Wetsuit or drysuit may be required depending on water and air temperatures.
CNormally has water with current. Waterfalls. Expect to do some deep wading and/or swimming in current. Wetsuit or drysuit may be required depending on water and air temperatures. Class C canyons may be rated more precisely using the following system:

C1 - Normally has water with light to moderate current. Easy water hazards.

C2 - Normally has water with strong current. Water hazards like hydraulics and siphons require advanced skills and special care.

C3 - Normally has water with very strong current. Dangerous water hazards. Experts only.

C4 - Extreme problems and hazards will be difficult to overcome, even for experienced experts with strong swimming skills.

Risk / Seriousness (Optional)

Risk 
PGeneral Audiences
Should be straight-forward for those who possess appropriate skills.
PGParental Guidance Suggested
Even with appropriate skills, beginners may sweat.
RRisky
One or more extraordinary risk factors exist that could complicate the descent. Solid technical skills and sound judgment critical. Not recommended for beginners.
XExtreme
Multiple risk factors exist that will complicate the descent. Errors in technique or judgment will likely result in serious injury or death. Descent should only be attempted by expert canyoneers.
XXDouble Extreme
Definitely life-threatening.

Time / Commitment (Optional)

Time 
Half Day
IShort. Normally requires only a couple of hours.
IINormally requires a half day.
Full Day
IIINormally requires most of a day.
IVExpected to take one long, full day. Get an early start. Bring a head lamp. Plan for possible bivy.
Multi Day
VExpected to take an average one and a half days.
VIExpected to take two or more days.

S = SLOT DESIGNATION

Tight slot canyons are in a class of their own. Slots can be so narrow that it is necessary to stem above the floor of the canyon to move horizontally. An “S” may be appended to the terrain rating to indicate some sections of the canyon are extremely narrow. A canyon rated S2 will serve as a warning to those with greater-than-average girth that they may have to stem more than their skinny partners. A canyon rated S6 will draw emphasize the need to execute difficult climbing/stemming moves that are likely to be high above the canyon floor.

Examples

3-B PG IV
Class 3 terrain. Water with no or very light current. Slighly more than average risk. Will require a long day for an average group.

S2-A III
Slot canyon that will require scrambling and climbing. Normally dry. Will require most of a day for an average group.

4-A V
Class 4 terrain. Normally dry. An overnight trip for an average group. Advanced canyoneers only due to terrain rating.

3-C3 II R
Class 3 terrain. Water with very strong current and dangerous hazards. One or more extraordinary risk factors exist. Solid technical skills and sound judgment critical. Expert canyoneers only due to water rating.

S4-A XX III
Slot canyon with very difficult and exposed climbing/stemming problems. Normally dry. Life threatening even for expert canyoneers. Will require most of a day for an average group. Expert canyoneers only due to terrain and risk/ seriousness ratings.