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Trekking Grades

Posted by treks-trips-trails on October 9, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Trekking Grades

Trek grades have always caused debate among guides and trekking companies alike, as what is simple for one person can be beyond comprehension to another. So instead of a single grade the GHT uses a multi-grading system. There are two major components, each split into three categories:

• Trail conditions includes the type of terrain you will cover, navigation difficulty, level of skills required.

• Trail difficulty includes the maximum altitude attained, how much ascent and descent, and the general level of fitness recommended.



Remember to consider both the grades and the total duration to gain an accurate idea of what the trek will be like. For example, a trek to Everest Base Camp with two different companies could take the same route, but one does it two days faster than the other. You would have to consider the various grades to decide if the faster itinerary suits you better, or whether you should give yourself more time to cope with the rigors of the trail.



Type of terrain Easy, up to 25% incline Moderate, up to 45% incline Hard, very steep sections

Navigation difficulty Easy to follow trails Some navigation skills Challenging navigation

Skill level Confident walker Scrambling Ropes needed




Highest point up to 4500m up to 5500m up to 6500m

Amount of ascent/descent in a day Moderate, up to 500m Energetic, between 500 and 1000m Strenuous, more than 1000m

Fitness level Basic fitness Good fitness Excellent fitness




Trail Conditions

Type of terrain whether you are in forested valleys or climbing high alpine passes the type of terrain you have to traverse is dependent on gradient and trail conditions. Major trekking routes sometimes have sections of moderate gradient but are normally on well-maintained trails of easy gradients. Remote, exploratory style treks, especially some sections of the GHT and the more difficult alpine passes normally incorporate steep climbs and very rough trails, called shikari bato by the locals.



Level 1: Easy – trails generally with an incline of 25% or less (although there might be short steep sections) on loose dirt or stone paved trails in good condition.

Level 2: Moderate – trails with an incline of up to 45% and some sections are on rough loose ground including scree and boulders.

Level 3: Hard – trails where you may have to use your hands to ascend very steep sections of rock, snow or ice and/or shifting boulders or scree.



Navigation difficulty trails in the main trekking areas are normally broad and easy to follow with switchbacks to make ascent and descent of steep sections easier. There are sometimes direction signs, and you can normally ask a local and get accurate information. In remote areas you will sometimes have to follow very narrow and ill-defined tracks, which can easily be confused with trails created by grazing livestock. Asking for directions is sometimes a bad idea in remote areas as only a few villagers will travel regularly and their concept of time and distance is vague at best.



Level 1: Easy to follow trails – broad, well-maintained trails, sometimes with signs and/or reliable sources of local information.

Level 2: Some navigation skills – route is sometimes hard to find, use of map and compass combined with judicious use of local information necessary. Employing a knowledgeable local guide is probably advisable.

Level 3: Challenging navigation – trails are hard to find, no reliable local information, you will need a high degree of navigation skills in all weathers and conditions. Employing a knowledgeable local guide is a very good idea.



Skill level for many treks the only ‘skill’ you need is to be a confident walker, that is, be able to balance easily, hop from rock to rock, and cope with slippery or treacherous ground. However, other skills are sometimes necessary, especially on harder treks where you might need to abseil, rock climb and cross glaciers.



Level 1: Confident Walker – you walk regularly and are familiar with assessing obstacles and hazards along a trail. You might require a helping hand now and then on slippery surfaces, but you feel confident being unassisted most of the time.

Level 2: Scrambling – you rarely need a helping hand and can negotiate tricky steep or rough sections without having to sit down or be assisted. You can cope with loose, rocky ground, tracks only a foot-width wide and ascending or descending on all fours.

Level 3: Ropes needed – you have experience with rock climbing, abseil and glacier crossing techniques. You should know how to tie knots, put on crampons and a harness, and self-arrest using an ice axe. Successful completion of a mountaineering course is advisable.




Trail difficulty

Highest point for many trekkers the highest point of a trek is both a goal and a potential hazard. Altitude can affect you in many ways, some extremely serious, and for many people this may mean restricting themselves to an altitude limit, depending on prior trekking experience and fitness level.



Level 1: Low Altitude – for treks up to 4500m.

Level 2: Mid Altitude – for treks up to 5500m.

Level 3: High Altitude – for treks up to 6500m.



Amount of ascent/descent in a day treks that go against the lie of the land, that is, across ridges and valleys tend to be harder than those that following geographic features. The amount of ascent and descent (up and down) in a day can cause knee, ankle and hip problems as well as exhaust the body far more than following more gentle gradients.



Level 1: Moderate – The trail tends to follow natural geographic features like valleys and ridges, and if there is a significant ascent or descent of up to 500m there are plenty of places to stop and rest.

Level 2: Energetic – The trail crosses ridges on a regular basis and/or has frequent sections of ascent or descent between 500 and 1000m, places to stop might be limited.

Level 3: Strenuous – The trail frequently has major sections (over 1000m) of ascent or descent where it can be hard to find any place to stop.



Fitness level recommended your fitness level does not help you avoid the effects of altitude, but it can have a direct bearing on how well your body copes with the continuous physical exercise of trekking. The fitter you are, the faster and more easily you will become ‘trail fit’ and the more likely that you will enjoy every day in the mountains. Ideally you should concentrate on cardiovascular fitness, build stamina and undertake a bit of strength training to add muscle mass.



Level 1: Basic fitness – you should be able to walk, with rest breaks, for 5 to 6 hours on uneven walking tracks. If you are training on even, tarmac or paved surfaces you should be able to sustain a brisk walking pace (4 to 5km/hr) for the same time.

Level 2: Good fitness – maintain a brisk walking pace (4 to 5km/hr) for three or four hours over rough ground, or jog on even tarmac or paved surfaces for an hour.

Level 3: Excellent fitness – walk rapidly and/or jog for hours on uneven ground.



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