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/).
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.
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
|V - Vertical Difficulty||A - Aquatic Difficulty|
|Commitment & Duration||Criteria|
|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.|
|V||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.
|A||4 Difficult||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.
|Commitment||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.
|Rating||Canyons of above average quality, that are worth returning to several times.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|A||Normally 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.|
|B||Normally 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.|
|C||Normally 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.
Should be straight-forward for those who possess appropriate skills.
|PG||Parental Guidance Suggested
Even with appropriate skills, beginners may sweat.
One or more extraordinary risk factors exist that could complicate the descent. Solid technical skills and sound judgment critical. Not recommended for beginners.
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.
|I||Short. Normally requires only a couple of hours.|
|II||Normally requires a half day.|
|III||Normally requires most of a day.|
|IV||Expected to take one long, full day. Get an early start. Bring a head lamp. Plan for possible bivy.|
|V||Expected to take an average one and a half days.|
|VI||Expected 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.
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.
Slot canyon that will require scrambling and climbing. Normally dry. Will require most of a day for an average group.
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.