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Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby keith in louisiana » Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:57 pm

I am a flatlander living in Louisiana. Late 50s and recently retired, my wife and I are going to be camping in Colorado (travel trailer) from mid June to mid July ( 30 glorious days). I have been lurking on this forum and studying the routes for a couple of months. I do have some mountain experience, having lived and hiked in the Sierra Nevada's for a couple of years over 20 years ago. Much of my visit will revolve around hiking and non-technical climbing. Just recently read Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills in preparation. Have read Roach's Colorado Fourteeners book.

As I understand, Class 2 is off trail hiking where hands are rarely used. Class 2+ is scampering where hands are used more but not most of the time. Class 3 involves use of the hands most of the time but holds are plentiful and easy to find. I have class 2 and lite 2+ experience, but no class 3. Do not have any interest in class 4 or above at this point.

My question is - Is there any rough relationship between class and slope/steepness? I have read there is for snow. Based on my limited experience, I would assume most slopes of less than 20 to 30 degrees could be walked (class 2). Any slopes over about 75%- 80% I would assume are technical class 5. Where do classes 2+, 3 and 4 fall as far as slope/steepness, if there is a rough relationship? Wife has said anything much over 45% is out for her. We have been training and are in pretty good shape.

First stop will be in State Forest State Park. I plan on climbing Clark Peak and Mount Richthofen. From what I understand Richthofen is an easy class 3 gully the last 100 feet or so. Is this reasonable for someone that's never done class 3? Any easy class 3 routes around Buena Vista or Ouray that does not involve 12 plus mile RT and significant exposure (doesn't have to be 13er or 14er)? I apologize for the long posting and hope these and not dumb questions? Thanks.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby randalmartin » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:13 pm

keith in louisiana wrote:My question is - Is there any rough relationship between class and slope/steepness?


I would say there is quite a bit of correlation. The point being, as steepness increases hiking decreases simply because you can't stay balanced as easy without hands (i.e.,Class 3). Class 2 and 2+ occasionally require hands not because of steepness but because your probably walking across boulders that may require a steady hand as you take big steps across boulders or onto a slanted boulder.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby Jim Davies » Fri Apr 20, 2012 2:11 pm

keith in louisiana wrote:Any easy class 3 routes around Buena Vista

The Buffalo Peaks are climbable from just outside BV; the ridge between east and west is an easy class 3 in places if you stay on the ridgeline (or class 2 talus-hopping if you drop off a bit). Requires some bushwacking.

My favorite starter class-3 is the east ridge of 13er Father Dyer Peak, accessed from the Spruce Creek TH south of Breckenridge. It's about ten miles if you combine it with Crystal and Peak 10, or shorter if you just do the one peak up and down.
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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby BKS » Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:28 pm

Yes, there is a correlation between slope and class rating.
There will certainly be exceptions to these generalizations.... but

Class 2 will go up to 40 degrees or so.
Class 3 will mostly be in the 40 - 60 degree range. The key distinction is that hands are required and it no longer strictly a walking motion.
Class 4 can be as low as 45 degrees, but can be completely vertical. It is simple climbing - not a lot of effort required to find or use handholds.
Class 5 can probably be as low as 50 or 55 degrees ranging to overhanding.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby rijaca » Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:12 pm

keith in louisiana wrote:First stop will be in State Forest State Park. I plan on climbing Clark Peak and Mount Richthofen.


Be comfortable with your route finding skills.
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Spent a little time on the hill"

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby keith in louisiana » Sat Apr 21, 2012 8:22 am

rijaca wrote:
keith in louisiana wrote:First stop will be in State Forest State Park. I plan on climbing Clark Peak and Mount Richthofen.


Be comfortable with your route finding skills.


I appreciate the advice. I am comfortable with the route finding. I already have the topo maps, compass and GPS with preloaded topo maps. Thanks.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby keith in louisiana » Sat Apr 21, 2012 8:41 am

Jim - thanks for the advice about the Buffalo Peaks and Father Dyer.

BKS - This is informative and what I was hoping for. I can now understand that maybe easy class 3 in route descriptions is closer to the 40 degrees with plenty of holds. Difficult class 3 could be closer to 50-60 degrees with potentially less holds. I am surprised that class 4 can be almost vertical. Thanks.

Anybody have other suggestions for easy class 3 around Buena Vista or Ouray?

Anybody know how steep the short class 3 to the summit is on Mount Richthofen?

Thanks to all of you that responded.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby CarpeDM » Sat Apr 21, 2012 9:11 am

Yeah, there's probably a correlation, but the slope can be lower angle than you might think and still be class 4/5: "The Flatirons are a startling array of sandstone slabs tilted at 45 degress..." (from Gerry Roach's Introduction to Flatirons Classics: Easy Rock Climbs Above Boulder, Second Edition). The east facing Flatirons routes are generally rated low 5th class, but can be 4th class. And I think class 3 can be just as steep - depending on the availability of holds/ledges. I'm trying to recall how steep the transition from the East to West Gullies on Crestone Needle is. That seemed pretty steep, but was still easy scrambling.

Mt Richthofen might be okay as a first class 3. But I've got a sneaking suspicion that you may not enjoy it. I am only guessing at that from the overall tone I'm getting from your post. I'm guessing that you (and your wife) won't enjoy fairly steep, loose scree. Not many do. Although still just class 2, it's generally much more annoying and dangerous than good solid class 3. There is a fair amount of that stuff en route to the fun class 3 part on Mt Richthofen.

Don't get me wrong, overall I enjoyed the climb a lot - nice views, and an awesome lake down there, too. I just don't want to sour you on class 3 by giving you an overall bad first experience. So if you do go, be prepared: it's not all sunshine and rose petals. Wear a helmet for loose rock.

Although I haven't been on the East Ridge of Father Dyer, from what I have heard about it (and experienced on the traverse between Father Dyer and Crystal), I'd be inclined to choose that over Mt Richthofen.
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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby BKS » Sat Apr 21, 2012 10:09 am

keith in louisiana wrote:I can now understand that maybe easy class 3 in route descriptions is closer to the 40 degrees with plenty of holds. Difficult class 3 could be closer to 50-60 degrees with potentially less holds. I am surprised that class 4 can be almost vertical. Thanks.


I would echo CarpeDM's comments on drawing too much of a direct correlation here. I wouldn't say that the primary distinction between easy and difficult class 3 is slope angle. It more about effort and difficulty of moves involved in going up. Wetterhorns' final pitch is considered easy class 3 and its pitch ranges from 45 to 60 degrees, and even steeper if you want. Its probably the steepest class 3 that I've been on. However, its like a staircase with clearly defined ledges that function like steps. There aren't long reaches or small holds. Its fairly uniform - like an old staircase with narrow steps going to an attic in an old house. There are plenty of lower angle routes on other mountains that are rated higher because of the effort in making the moves to go up. For example, the knife edge on Capitol is flat but rated class 4. There is never a shortage of holds on class 3 or even class 4. Class 5 is where that comes into play.

It is hard to explain route difficulty to someone else until they've actually experienced it for themselves. The nice thing about experimenting with class 3 is that usually one can back out of it if it gets too stiff for one's comfort level.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby rmd » Sat Apr 21, 2012 10:46 am

The ratings can be vague. Here are three class 2 standard routes whose ratings I consider inconsistent:

Missouri: The crux near the summit is rated class 2, but it is close to vertical and a mistake there could have you tumbling a long way down the mountain. I consider it to be most dangerous place I've been on any 14er. Even at the bottom of the crux, you still have to contend with the loose dirt on the trail; a slip there would have the same effect.

Bierstadt: There are some boulders at the summit and you may need your hands for balance occasionly, but it's basically flat.

Huron: I don't understand why this is rated class 2. It's a steep hike near the summit but you don't need your hands.

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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby ChrisRoberts » Sat Apr 21, 2012 11:37 am

For anything over class 3, steepness is a factor because it your rock is at an angle. However for class 1-2, the number really only describes if theres a trail or not. Of course there are exceptions, but thats the generalization.
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Re: Class rating and slope/steepness correlation

Postby TomPierce » Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:46 am

I agree with the posts above that class and steepness are only loosely linked. You can find some really steep terrain that's actually pretty easy because it's very ledgy, plentiful handholds, etc, And a much lower angle slab can be solid 5th class because the "ledges" are as thick as the side of a quarter. :shock: But yeah. there is a loose correlation...I've never seen an 80 degree 3rd class section.

But Keith, one thing you haven't mentioned that I think could be a show stopper, for you or your wife, is exposure. It's not linked to the difficulty of the moves, but how exposed you are to cliffs/voids...I suppose the length of a potential fall. You can be on terrain that'd be easy if it were 5' off the deck, but terrified if there are sheer drops of 100 or more feet on either side of you (sections of the Little Bear-Blanca traverse come to mind). So in your hunt for easy stuff, try to determine the exposure as well. Some routes are just very exposed which could freeze those unaccustomed in their tracks.

Good luck and have a safe, good time!
-Tom

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