(Alta Via 1) Snow patches in the Dolomites

Walking grades for our holidays

The grades

To give an idea how hard each of our holidays is, we use two scales:


Skill
(Terrain, and need for navigation and self-reliance)
Fitness
(Distance and ascent)
Green This easiest skill grade sees flat or gently-angled paths, often wide, with fairly smooth surfaces. 1 There is little or no ascent at this easiest fitness grade, and daily distances are modest.
Blue Venturing into the hills, at this grade we meet sustained climbs, rougher ground, and rocky steps. There is possible minor exposure to one side. 2 The fitness to walk half- or full-days in the hills is needed, with typical daily ascents of 600m.
Red Steep, rocky ground and some rough walking away from paths; the varied conditions of a mountain walk in the Scottish Highlands or a high trek in the Alps. There might be unavoidable sections with steep drops to one or both sides. 3 Good fitness in the mountains is called for, to tackle comfortably an ascent of around 1,000m in a full day's walk; it's an all-round day out in the mountains.
Black We keep this category for the hardest terrain on Alpine or UK walks; experienced walkers will be challenged by particularly steep and loose ascents and by wild rocky landscapes. Good balance on the feet is essential; steep drops might be present to one or both sides, with serious consequences of a slip. 4 Strong fitness is needed at this highest grade, to tackle continuous ascents of between 1,000m and 1,500m in height gain in the course of a full day of 7 or 8 hours or longer. Exceptional days can involve even more ascent and time than this.

These two scales combine into an overall grade. We hope that using two separate scales allows finer accuracy than our previous combined rating (before 2012). Our colour-coding of the skill grade might be familiar to clients who are also skiers or mountain bikers! So, this is our new system and we hope that it proves useful.


Examples


Walker's Haute Route Weekend
Mountain walks, the easier end.
We grade this trip as:

Blue for skill because of its:
Clear paths and routefinding
Less reliance on weather
Solid paths and tracks

2 for fitness because of its:
Half-day walks, or slightly longer
Limited climbing each day
Valley walks, or small hills

The path from Zinal to Hotel Weisshorn in the Swiss Valais
Typical terrain: A good path above Zinal in the Swiss Valais

Blue2 is thus the grade.

Walker's Haute Route Weekend
Tour du Mont Blanc
A challenging mountain trek.
We grade this trip as:

Red for skill because of its:
Routefinding that can be tricky
High passes with snow possible
Ladders, chains and rockiness

3 for fitness because of its:
Some long, hard days outside
Sustained climbs, long distances
Walks in and over the mountains

Mountain paths around Refuge les Grands on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Typical terrain: Mountain paths by Ref les Grands, Tour du Mont Blanc

Red3 is thus the grade.

Tour du Mont Blanc
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Technical ground, modest days.
We grade this trip as:

Black for skill because of its:
Tricky navigation in cloud
Unseasonal snow on high cols
Steep and loose slopes

2 for fitness because of its:
Medium-length days on trek
Generally quick ascents
Options for shortening

Looking back to a clouded-over Triglav from the climb to the Hribarice plateau
Typical terrain: Steep and rocky ground in the shadow of Triglav

Black2 is thus the grade.

Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut

Features common to all grades

+ Our holidays are about walking and trekking; none of our trips involve rock climbing or via ferrata
+ There are no glaciers involved on any trip
+ High heat in the summer can make for slower going, especially when walking uphill
+ On most trips you'll be walking for successive days; tiredness can build up and it's crucial to be prepared for sustained trekking
+ At all grades, you will be outside with limited or no shelter all day: self-sufficiency and navigational skill are needed in bad weather


Notes

Describing the challenges on our walks is one of our trickiest tasks. We try to be as descriptive as possible, realising that everyone has their own ideas about what's tough and what's easy. Within each of our grades, and within each of our trips, there is necessarily a wide range of difficulties. Please contact us any time; we'll give you as much detail as you want about what to expect on the trails.


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Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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