Discover the trail challenge before you go: Trail Hikes by Daryl Warren | Columns


Want to know how hard or easy a hike will be before you tackle it? There are several different assessment methods out there, so after doing some research you may come out more confused than at the beginning. I will try to make this easy enough so that you can accurately assess which trail you are about to hike.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia uses a numerical formula that actually requires algebraic knowledge to determine the degree of difficulty. After grouping the numbers for elevation gain and distance in miles, the square root of the product yields a number which is then applied to the difficulty ratings of Easy, Moderate, Moderately Strenuous, Exhausting, and Very Exhausting. Too complicated for me.

The Sierra Club website states that the United States and Canada “use the Yosemite decimal system to rate the difficulty of hikes, trails, and climbs.” This system has five levels, ranging from accessible dirt roads to rock climbing. They are: Class 1, Class 2, up to Class 5, 1 being the easiest and 5 the most difficult (climbing only).

Class 1 is a low risk hike on a well marked trail. The most frequently used trails are in this class where you will have slight elevation changes but will not need any technical equipment beyond hiking boots and poles.

Class 2 is rated easy to moderate, but sometimes requires traversing non-technical scree, embankments, or a slippery snowpack.

Class 3 hikes can include rough terrain where you will encounter very steep inclines and may need to use your hands to climb or cross. It is a good idea to wear ropes.

The trails classified in class 4 are more mountaineering routes than hiking trails. Unstable terrain and excessive exposure require the use of technical equipment.

Class 5 is reserved for climbing, which can hardly be included in the hiking genre.

Keep in mind that the above scoring system is the Yosemite decimal system. It is important to know before your hike which rating system is being used. For example, the National Forest Trail Matrix ranks Class 1 as the hardest through to Class 5 – the easiest.

I have hiked trails that display signs such as ‘really steep climb’ but this type of description is not included in the published trail details.

Suffice to say that it is important to do your research before going on a hike on an unknown trail. The website is a good starting point for understanding rating scales. https // / whats-a-hiking-trail-difficulty-rating-scale. One of the best sources of information comes from the hikers who have done it.

Good trails and have fun there.

Daryl Warren has been a serious hiker for many years.

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