I was recently reading a article:

Scottish Winter: Ten Must-do Routes at II and III.

When it occurred to me that I had no idea how winter grades work? I understand British trad grades, etc. But what are the grades described in that article and how do they work?


In the US ice grades fall into three categories; Water Ice, which is seasonal and often shifting in difficulty; Alpine Ice, which is permenent ice found on glaciers or high altitudes; and Mixed Ice, which is a mix of ice and rock.

Water Ice and Alpine Ice are on the same scale -- though alpine ice tends to be a little easier at the grade. (ratings taken via Alpinist.com)

WI1: Low angle ice, tools not always necessary

WI2: Consistent 60 degree ice with possible bulges; good protection

WI3: Sustained 70 degree ice with possible vertical bulges, decent rests and good protection

WI4: Continuous 80 degree ice with long vertical sections, broken up by concessional rests

WI5: Long and strenuous, with a ropelength of vertical ice offering few good rests; or a shorter pitch of thin or bad ice with difficult protection

WI6: A full ropelength of vertical or past vertical ice with no rest, or a shorter pitch even more tenuous than WI5. Highly technical.

WI7: As above, but on thin poorly bonded ice or long, overhanging poorly adhered Columns. Protection is impossible or very difficult to place and of dubious quality.

Scottish winter grades are fairly similar to the US Water Ice grades, but bumped up roughly one solid roman numeral and add in the rock difficulties to the grade. So:

I: Snow gullies and easy ridges

II: Steep snow where two ice tools may be required but technical difficulties are short. Possible difficult cornice exit.

III: Mixed ascent of moderate rock routes; ice gullies; sustained buttresses

IV: Steep ice with short vertical steps or long pitches up to 70 degrees, or mixed routes requiring advanced techniques

V: Sustained ice to 80º or mixed climbs with linked hard moves. Climbs are difficult, sustained, and/or serious

VI: Vertical ice and highly technical mixed routes. Grade VI and above routes have exceptional overall difficulties

VII: Multi-pitch routes with long sections of vertical or thin ice, or mixed routes with lots of highly technical climbing

VIII: The hardest routes in Scotland

So this article talks about some II and III Scottish Winter Grade routes which means steep snow, moderate rock, lower angle ice gullies, and rock buttresses. Where you would need to use two ice tools but the protection is good and rests are abundant.

Alpinist has a good article talking about a variety of grades here.

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