Levels of difficulty for via ferratas
The evaluation of the levels of difficulty along a fixed-rope route - and unsecured ones - is quite subjective and should be seen more as a recommendation. Also, factors like body height, technique, physical fitness, equipment, mental state etc. as well as facts like weather conditions, humidity, ice, altitude, length etc. make a designation difficult. Nonetheless, it’s useful to have a basic idea of what to expect from the routes. The following grading scale indicating levels of difficulty for via ferratas is already used in some new books and has been upgraded and defined even more precisely in cooperation with experts.
A = EASY (green)
Easy, secured paths. Flat (longer) or vertical (short) ladders and iron stemples mainly in not very steep terrain. Some parts may be exposed, but easy to walk-on (rocks, small rope bridges). The terrain is also easy to walk on without protection (exception: ladders over small rock steps) and it has good grips and steps. In general, no extra safety equipment is necessary for secure walkers. For kids and inexperienced walkers, safety equipment is recommended (short safety rope).
B = MODERATELY DIFFICULT (BLUE)
Steeper rocky terrain with some small grips, exposed passages. Vertical, longer ladders, iron stemples, pegs or chains. Some of the passages are quite challenging and demanding. Without protection, the difficulty can reach level 2 or 3. Even many experienced mountaineers use a basic via ferrata kit. For the less experienced and children, a via ferrata kit is absolutely advisable, as well as a safety rope for longer climbing passages.
C = DIFFICULT (yellow)
Steep to very steep rocky terrain. Mainly passages with small steps which are mostly exposed. Overhanging ladders, iron stemples and pegs which can be quite far from each other (in particular for children!). Often vertical, only with a steel rope securing passages. Partly very demanding. Without protection, some passages would reach a level of difficulty 3 or 4. Longer climbs of this level are considerable undertakings. Less experienced and children need to be rope-secured by an experienced partner. Self-protection is advised for experienced mountaineers.
D = VERY DIFFICULT (red)
Vertical, often also overhanging terrain. Iron stemples and pegs are often far from each other. Very exposed and steep rock, which is mainly secured only by a steel rope. Longer, vertical to overhanging passages which require a good arm strength and a good level of fitness.
Sometimes also combined with easy climbing (1 - 2) that has to be conquered without protection. Even very experienced mountaineers need a complete via ferrata kit (climbing boots with professional rubber sole). Not suitable for beginners and less experienced Alpinists. Usually this level is climbed in rope teams.
E = EXTREMELY DIFFICULT (black)
Extremely demanding in terms of strength, climbing ability (professional climbing boots) and a good head for heights! This difficulty level is very rare as a secured climbing route. Rope teams obligatory, mostly combined with climbing. Else, all indications as under "D" but even more demanding.