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Information on the levels of difficulty

Climbing & Mountaineering

Alpine tour at Piz Morteratsch

Engadin is a paradise for mountain climbers. The peak-strewn Alpine landscape is spectacular, the flora and fauna unique, and the possibilities for exploring almost limitless: the high-Alpine conditions could hardly be better and a sea of mountain summits beckons invitingly.

For those for whom the white–red–white marked hiking trails are not challenging enough, the Engadin offers some spectacular routes that take more experienced mountain climbers a little bit closer to seventh heaven. The Alpine trails marked with white–blue–white signs generally lead deeper into the “wilderness"– to remote places, lofty mountain peaks and breathtaking panoramic views.

The requirements indicated for these high-Alpine tours are recommended by the Bergsteigerschule Pontresina (Pontresina mountain climbing school) and based on the official classification of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).

SAC classification for mountain and Alpine hiking trails

T1 – Hiking
Trail well cleared. If marked according to the standards of Schweizer Wanderwege, SAW (Swiss Hiking Path Association), the signs are yellow. Terrain flat or slightly sloping, no danger of falling.

Requirements: No special requirements, suitable for wearing trainers. Orientation not a problem, map normally not necessary.

T2 – Mountain hiking
Path with continuous line and balanced ascent. If present, SAW signs and markings are white–red–white. Terrain steep in parts, possible risk of falling.

Requirements: Reasonable surefootedness. Trekking shoes recommended. Basic orientation skills.

T3 – Demanding mountain hiking
Path not always visible. Exposed sections may be secured with ropes or chains, possibly need to use hands for balance. If present, SAW signs and markings are white–red–white. Partly exposed pitches with risk of falling, scree slopes, pathless jagged rocks.

Requirements: Good surefootedness, good trekking shoes. Average orientation skills. Basic alpine experience.

T4 – Alpine hiking
Trails not always existent. Some sections require the use of hands. If present, SAW signs and markings are white–blue–white. Terrain already quite exposed, precarious grassy activities, jagged rocks, easy firn fields and snow-free glacier sections.

Requirements: Stable trekking shoes. Familiarity with exposed terrain. Basic ability to assess terrain and good orientation skills. Alpine experience. In the event of a sudden change in weather, retreat can be difficult.

T5 – Demanding Alpine hiking
Often without path. Some easy climbing sections. If present, SAW signs and markings are white–blue–white. Exposed, demanding terrain, steep jagged rocks, glaciers and firn with risk of falling.

Requirements: Sturdy mountaineering boots. Broad experience in assessing terrain and very good orientation skills. Profound alpine experience, including in high-Alpine areas. Elementary knowledge of handling an ice axe and rope.

T6 – Difficult Alpine hiking
Mostly without path. Climbing pitches up to difficulty grade II (WS-moderately difficult). Paths generally not marked. Often very exposed, precarious jagged rocks, glacier with high risk of slipping and falling.

Requirements: Excellent orientation skills. Advanced alpine experience and high level of familiarity with handling technical alpine equipment.

Mountain and Alpine Tours

SAC classification for mountain and alpine climbing tours; International Mountaineering Climbing Federation (UIAA) classification for rock climbing

L (leicht/easy); from I
Rock: easy walking terrain (scree, easy rocky ridge)
Firn/glacier: easy firn slopes, hardly any crevasses

WS (wenig schwierig/moderately difficult); from II
Rock: still mostly walking terrain, greater surefootedness necessary. Climbing sections easy and problem-free
Firn/glacier: generally not steep, a few short steeper pitches, few crevasses

ZS (ziemlich schwierig/fairly difficult); from III
Rock: belaying repeatedly necessary, longer and exposed climbing sections
Firn/glacier: quite steep slopes, belaying occasionally necessary, multiple crevasses, minor bergschrund

S (schwierig/difficult); from IV
Rock: good route sense and proficient rope handling required, long climbing sections, belaying mostly necessary
Firn/glacier: very steep slopes, belaying generally necessary, multiple crevasses, major bergschrund

SS (sehr schwierig/very difficult); from V
Rock: in difficult sections belaying always required, on-going demanding climbing
Firn/glacier: continuous steep terrain, belaying always required

AS (äusserst schwierig/extremely difficult), from VI
Rock: wall sections requiring a great deal of skill and stamina
Firn/glacier: very steep and vertical pitches requiring ice climbing skills

EX (extrem schwierig/extremely difficult and dangerous); VII and over
Rock: extremely steep, sometimes overhanging wall sections
Firn/glacier: most extreme form of ice climbing