Canyon Grading System

This is a rough translation of the new French canyon grading system, partly from Google's "translate this page" service (which should be read in the original - parts of it are hilarious:), and partly from other net sources. Special thanks to Daniel Clearwater of New Zealand for a better interpretation than I managed of some bits.

The canyons are listed in the following manner:

  • The letter "V" followed by Arabic numeral from 1 to 7 for the difficulty in vertical nature.
  • The letter "A" followed by Arabic numeral from 1 to 7 for the difficulty in the water.
  • Roman numeral for the commitment and scale: from I to VI .

Like a lot of grading systems, the numbers are open ended upwards, allowing for progress both in equipment and skill levels leading to harder canyons being possible in the future. The grade is determined by the highest criterion in each column - so a generally easy canyon with short abseils from easily reached anchors with one landing in a river at the bottom, for instance would get a v4. If a canyon offers a possible route to bypass an obstacle, even if that would be time-consuming, it could lead to a lower grade. Jumps are, in general, considered optional, but there may be pitches where not jumping involves a more technical abseil (maybe a shortage of belays) than you might expect for the grade. The time/commitment grade is based on a party size of five people who are competent at the technical grade of the canyon - the times and exposure to risk of flooding is correspondingly greater if your group is bigger, or pushing their envelope. There are a couple of bits where the French is difficult enough that the original has been left in pending a more certain translation... Note that the climbing grades are French technical grades (probably what you find at your local climbing wall, not what you'd find in UK climbing guides) I'll rectify this shortly.

As an example, the Canyon de Tramouillon, which we did in summer 2010 was PD in the guidebook. On this system it would probably get V3 A2 II - although the commitment grade might  be III - not clear it could be escaped in 30 minutes. Read that trip report.

Table of Technical Difficulties

  V: Vertical character A: Aquatic character
1
Very easy
Très Facile
  • No rappels, rope normally unnecessary for progress.
  • No climbing or down-climbing.
  • No water or walking only in calm water.
  • Swimming optional.
2
Easy
Facile
  • 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
A little Difficult
Peu Difficile
  • 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.
  • « Marche » technique qui nécessite une attention particulière (pose des appuis précis) et une recherche d'itinéraire sur terrain pouvant être glissant ou instable ou accidenté ou encombré ou dans l'eau.
    "Walk" technique that requires special attention (poses specific support), and a route search on land that may be unstable or slippery or rough or cluttered or in the water.
  • Climbing moves to grade 3c. 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
Quite Difficult
Assez Difficile
  • 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.
  • Multi-pitch Abseils with relatively spacious re-belay stations
  • Rough rock edges requiring rope wear management.
  • Abseils with obscured sections and/or landings in pools. Landing pools have current.
  • Climbing moves to grade 4c 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
Difficult
Difficile
  • Medium to high vertical flow. Crossing the flow requires correct route selection and balance.
  • Multi-pitch Abseils with hanging re-belays.
  • Requirement to cross pools with current during the descent.
  • Canyon surface is slippery and/or has significant obstacles
  • Retrieving the rope is difficult or has to be done whilst swimming.
  • Exposed climbing moves up to grade 5c or A1.
  • Prolonged immersion in cold water resulting in a substantial heat loss.
  • Current strong enough that it could affect a swimmer's path through the water.
  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculations, 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
Très Difficile
  • Strong to very strong vertical flow
  • Sustained waterfalls
  • Crossing the flow is very difficult, requiring effective management of selected route and / or balance.
  • Installation de relais difficile : mise en place délicate d'amarrage naturel (bloc coincé, …). Installation of relays difficult establishment delicate natural anchor (block…).
  • Requirement to build advanced and/or delicate natural anchors
  • Abseil anchors are very difficult to reach.
  • Setting hand lines is very difficult and very delicate.
  • Exposed climbing moves to grade 6a or A2.
  • Progress between pitches over very slippery or unstable surfaces, such as exposed scree slopes.
  • 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, recirculations, holes may trap a Canyoner for a moderate period of time.
  • Simple Jumps between 10 and 14m
  • Jumps of 8 to 10m with difficult trajectory and/or landing.
  • Siphon of up to 3m depth and/or length.
  • Siphon technique jusqu'à 1m maxi avec courant éventuel ou cheminement.
    Siphon technical or difficult (tight or with current) over 1m maximum distance.
7
Extremely Difficult
Very Exposed
Extrêmement Difficile
  • 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, manoeuvre, balance, support and pace.
  • Exposed climbing moves > grade 6a 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, holes may trap a Canyoner for a prolonged period of time.
  • Simple jumps greater than 14m
  • Jumps greater than 10m with difficult trajectory and/or landing.
  • Siphons over 3m in length and / or depth.
  • Siphon technique et engagé de plus de 1m avec courant ou cheminement ou sans visibilité.
    Siphons technical and difficult for more than 1m - with current or funnel or no visibility.

Table for Commitment / Duration

Caution, these reference times should be weighted by the actual profile of the group (grades refer to a competent group of five).

COMMITMENT
DURATION
CRITERIA
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

 

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