Climbing in mixed groups is a terrific and easy way to start. Understanding grades can be challenging, therefore the following recommendations can help.
So, how do you evaluate mixed climbing? The following system is used to rate mixed climbs:
- M1: Equivalent to climbing 5.5
- M2: Equivalent to climbing 5.6
- M3: Equivalent to climbing 5.7
- M4: Equivalent to climbing 5.8
- M5: Equivalent to climbing 5.9
- M6: Equivalent to climbing 5.10
- M7: Equivalent to climbing 5.11
- M8: Equivalent to climbing 5.11+
- M9: Equivalent to climbing 5.12
- M10: Equivalent to climbing 5.12+
- M11: Equivalent to climbing 5.14
- M12-M16: Debatable
To comprehend the grading system, it’s necessary to first comprehend mixed climbing. Climbing on both dry rock and ice is known as mixed climbing, and it involves using crampons and ice tools to gain traction on both surfaces.
With the introduction of dry tooling came a flurry of new moves, some of which are critical to grasp for the grading system:
- Steins: A dry tooling technique in which you turn your axe upside down and wedge the blade upwards into the rock. The blade is then lodged in place by pulling down on the handle. Overhanging parts are where steins are most typically used.
- Torques: This maneuver is nearly identical to what it sounds like. You press your pick’s blade into a narrow crack and pull sideways, ‘torquing’ the instrument to keep it in place. This is very good for vertical cracks.
- Underclings: And undercling is a more advanced kind of stein. Only when you’re hanging below the tool or pressing down on it do Steins work. This makes progressing upwards more challenging. You lodge the point of your blade under a grip and draw on it until you get traction in an undercling.
- Figure fours and figure nines: The most visually appealing moves in mixed climbing. A footing is created by hooking a leg over your arm and using it as a foothold.
Mixed Climbing Grades:
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.5-5.7
It makes the most sense to group them together in the early grades because there isn’t much that distinguishes an M1 from an M3 except the complexity of the moves.
These routes are more laid-back, with low angles and non-demanding movements that don’t necessitate the use of ice climbing equipment. The M1 and M3 routes are excellent for learning how to climb a mixed route.
What it is: Rock that is near-vertical or vertical and demands a few technical movements.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.8
M4 would be a great place to start when it comes to dry tooling challenges. Because there’s a good chance you’ll have to climb on WI-3 terrain, with some more difficult techniques, you should be reasonably comfortable on steep ice. Transitioning to and from the ice will become more difficult as well.
Although the dry tooling will be quite simple, there will be a few steps that will take a little more expertise and trust in your tools. You could still grip a lot of the ledges and handholds with your hands if you wanted to.
What it is: Long rock sections and WI-4 ice make up this sustained vertical mixed climbing.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.9
Although the difference between M4 and M5 isn’t huge, it’s still noticeable. An M5 is essentially a longer, more difficult version of an M4 with steeper ice, a higher path, and smaller ledges.
On an M5, you’re unlikely to be asked to perform any complex dry-tooling procedures. You could probably do some rock climbing with your hands if you wanted to, but crampons will become more useful for finding footholds.
What it is: Technical dry tooling motions over vertical or overhanging terrain.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.10
We’re finally getting into it.
M6 is definitely where the fun starts for you if you’re a mixed climber at heart. These routes are longer, steeper, and include a range of unusual and eccentric techniques that will put your ice tools to the test. The ice will be thin, overhanging, or even separated from the wall, and you’ll have to traverse it with a level of competence that has been developed over time.
M6 is probably the first level where you’ll have to rely on your ice tools to get up the rock face. Only the keen blades of your ice axes will be able to find any traction in the increasingly narrow and precarious grips. Furthermore, the terrain’s diversity will need you to begin employing some of the more unique approaches.
What it is: A series of powerful maneuvers that take place over lengthy, overhanging terrain. Climbing that is between 5 and 15 meters long can be classified as “hard.”
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.11
On the mixed climbing scale, M7 is considered the first true test piece grade. The angle on these routes begins to steepen, the holds become smaller, and the movements become more complicated.
Almost all M7 routes are overhung, and the increased gravitational force adds to the difficulty and character of these climbs. Expect to climb for 80-120 feet of steady, pumped-up climbing, with crux portions that are comparable to a V6 boulder problem.
On an M7, the maneuvers will necessitate a higher level of technical understanding. It won’t be as simple as weighing your ice ax by hooking it on a ledge of granite. On the overhung terrain, steins and underclings will be required, as will figure fours and nines.
What it is: It’s dry tooling with longer routes or more difficult maneuvers than M7. Routes may be approaching horizontal climbing at this point.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.11+
M8, the grade that propelled mixed climbing from a niche hobby to a full-fledged sport, is still a goal for many mixed climbers.
In terms of where they rank in the difficulty rankings, these routes are extremely similar to 5.11+. No mixed climber will be particularly impressed if you climb M8, just as no one will show up at the crag shouting about the 5.11d they’re planning.
What it is: It’s either a long vertical climb with really difficult grips or a moderate route with a 10-20 foot horizontal crux.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.12
Because the holds can only become so small, M9 is probably the highest grade you could get on the vertical rock. These routes will be either incredibly technical and delicate vertical climbs requiring you to fight your way up 30 meters of thin pitches, or short, pumpy boulder issues.
What it is: It consists of at least 30 meters of overhanging routes or 10 meters of sheer vertical climbing with little to no rest.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.12+
Now that you’ve gotten past the vertical rocks, you’ll need to start looking for some very difficult terrain to create an M10 route.
These necessitate caves or basins with extended stretches of overhanging or high terrain. The moves will be burly and technical, the rests will be minimal, and the pump will be palpable.
In the mixed climbing arena, M10 is when you’ll start to raise some eyebrows, much like in rock climbing. No one will rush to make you famous, but people will have to appreciate you for overcoming such a challenge.
What it is: Either 15 meters of vertical climbing or a whole rope length of overhung and boulder-style movements are required.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.13
When you start climbing M11, you’ve entered the virtuoso territory, to quote rock climbing legend and all-around badass John Long. These climbs are long and overhanging, with exceedingly tough moves on shaky grips.
Either you must struggle your way across a 50-foot vertical part or perform a complete rope length of tough moves (40 meters or more).
What it is: An M11 route with more difficult holds and movements or 20 meters or more of horizontal ascending.
Equivalent rock climbing grade: 5.14
When you talk about an M12, you’re talking about a rock with terrible grips, dynamic moves, and extremely steep terrain.
What it is: The very top of the mixed climbing difficulty scale. These routes are long and overhung, with a sequence of intricate and tough maneuvers.
Things start to get a little hazy as you go over M12.
This is where the above-mentioned disagreement comes into play. Because of the rapid growth of the sport, uncertainty about what gear/techniques you may use, and the folly of human judgment, determining what these routes are becoming extremely challenging.