In France via ferrata are graded using the well-established names used for alpine mountaineering. It is this grade that you will encounter on the information panels and in the local tourist offices.
So the grades (“cotations”) in use in France, in rising order of difficulty, are:
- F (Facile) – easy PD (Peu Difficile) – literally a little bit difficult
- AD (Assez Difficle) – literally difficult enough
- D (Difficile) – difficult
- TD (Tres Difficile) – very difficult
- ED (Extrement Difficile) – extremely difficult
These grades may be modified with a “+” or a “-” to indicate that they are at the top or bottom end of the grade respectively.
As with all grading systems there is a large degree of subjectivity. What one person may find D another may find TD and vice versa. However for long established routes the grades will be an overall consensus that will tend to be reasonably accurate. It gives some food for debate with friends!
You should note that there is no correlation between a via ferrata graded at TD (Très Difficile) and an alpine mountaineering route of the same grade!
Via Ferrata Location
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some via ferrata are located in valleys whilst some are located high in the mountains where weather conditions can change rapidly and old snow fields (neve) may be encountered in early summer.
Via Ferrata for Children
Some via ferrata are especially adapted for children by the making sure that the bars, cables and other equipment are closer together for children and small adults. This may be indicated in descriptions.
Physical Difficulty and Exposure
The grade takes into account the physical difficulty, duration and “exposure” of the route. Some via ferrata may have “athletic” sections where you may need good arm and upper body strength. The length of such sections and how many there make up the physical difficulty element.
Via ferrata that are high above the ground give a feeling of “exposure”. People’s ability to cope with heights varies but is usually related to how frequently you are high above the ground or on narrow ridges with large drops on either side.
Via Ferrata Guidebooks
The Cicerone guide, produced in the UK, uses a “proprietary” grading system that makes it hard to relate to how via ferrata are graded in France.