from the archives - Adam Steel, who descended Sandthrax a few years back came up with some rating systems on his own, which included stemming, pothole ratings. He also wrote a bit on the "Unique Types of Difficulties in X Canyons." With his permission, I will share his views here. I HOPE it copies well from the document that it was written on. Describing the numbers and letters that represent aspects of a canyon's character. â€“by Adam Steel Overall Difficulty Rating - An attempt to quantify all the various difficulties of a canyon, apart from the commitment and consequence ratings, into one simple rating. E â€“ Easy. Walking, no canyon rappel skills required. (Example â€“ Egypt 3) M â€“ Moderate. Walking, maybe some squeezing, with canyon rappel skills required. (Example â€“ Alcatraz) D â€“ Difficult. Physical fitness required due to one or more sections. Mae-westing, pothole escape techniques or cold water exposure are all potential elements. (Examples â€“ Shenanigans, the Squeeze, Kolob) VD â€“ Very Difficult. Difficulty increases in side-chimneying or pothole escape. (Examples â€“ Chambers, Wood, Trachyotomy) ED1 â€“ Extremely Difficult: Increased exposure to challenges. These canyons are more relentless, requiring more focus and fitness. They are characterized by high consequences and difficult movements. (Example â€“ Big Tony, Raven) ED2 â€“ The next level, and it goes onâ€¦ Consequences Rating System The Consequence Rating System does not take difficulty into account. It is an indication of what could happen if one were to fall. The Consequences Rating System follows the movie rating system: G â€“ Casual. The minimum amount of risk is assumed. PG â€“ A bit of a step up. Moves may be off the ground by a few feet. A fall could be expected to cause a minor injury like a sprained ankle. PG13 â€“ Moves are a bit higher off the ground, at or over head height. R â€“ Serious injury is a probable consequence of a fall from an R-Rated section. X â€“ A fall from an X-Rated section is expected to be fatal. S-System An attempt to grade the difficulties of stemming and mae-west canyons sections. S0 - It's a slot canyon, but there are no technical slot techniques required. (Example â€“ Egypt 3, Alcatraz) S1 â€“ Mandatory, straightforward technical slot maneuvers, without being too strenuous. (Example â€“ The final section of Shenanigans) S2 â€“ More strenuous or demanding technical mae-westing or chimneying. Possible slick surfaces and long elevators. Sometimes feels like 5.5-5.6 without a rope. (Example â€“ Chambers) S3 â€“ Difficult up-chimneying, difficult or sustained slot maneuvers required. 360 degree routefinding likely. (Example â€“ Big Tony, Raven) S4 â€“ Multiple strenuous upchimneys, sustained, difficult side-chimneying, likely presence of lichen on the walls. Similar to 5.8-5.9 in sections. (Example â€“ Sandthrax) S5 â€“ You can only imagine. P-System An attempt to grade the difficulties of canyon potholes. The grade represents the single most difficult pothole in the canyon. P0 â€“ Awkward, yet non-technical potholes, easily crossed without aid. P1 â€“ Potholes requiring a shoulder stand or pack toss to exit. (Example â€“ The Squeeze) P2 â€“ More advanced pothole exits required double shoulder stands, hooking, pack toss from a shoulder stand, etc, difficult pack toss. (Example â€“ Imlay) P3 â€“ What is this like? Example â€“ Poe? Complete Examples Chambers, VD S2 I Shenanigans, D S1 III The Squeeze D P1 IV Imlay D P2 V Woody, VD P2 II Sandthrax, ED2 S5X 5.8+ II Possible>> Long Branch ED3 S6X IV Other Possible Configurations: High Water Med. Water Low Water Imlay D P1 V VD P2 V D P2 V The Squeeze D P1 IV D P2 V AKA's Standard Kelsey Big Tony Sleepy Hollow DDI Middle Fork Glaucoma Warm Springs Creek Pandora's Box Meek's Mesa Slot PINTAC East Fork Tracheotomy Trachyte Slot Canyon Tight Ass East Fork of Baker NASTY ASS West Fork of Baker Unique Types of Difficulties in X Canyons Consequences â€“ For many sections of X-Canyons, including X-rated sections that many would call 5.8 or harder, you have no rope. Roped possibilities may exist, but they are not often employed. Failure to escape from a pothole, slipping and falling while high stemming, getting caught by a flash flood or succumbing to cold-water exposure are all possible fates in X-Canyons. Ability, competence and a willingness to take these risks are required. Canyon Anchors Canyon anchors are a distinct from rock climbing anchors, most notably in that the average trad climber would never willingly rappel from the average natural canyon anchor. Particularly in X-Canyons, which tend to be done by experienced canyoneers in areas with no-bolt ethics. Skill and comfort in building deadmen anchors, setting and releasing an Ibis hook and rappelling off of slings on bad rock are all examples of the types of anchors you will encounter in X-Canyons. Remember, it is not enough to know how to use what someone else built, because floods and flood debris often knock out established anchors, leaving the next party down with more work than they may have anticipated. Pothole Escape For the armchair or inexperienced canyoneer, imagine a regular, steel mixing bowl. Now imagine you, three inches tall, in the bottom of that bowl. No holds, no features. How would you escape? Now imagine you, at three inches, floating in water at the bottom of that bowl, two or more armlengths away from the rim. Now imagine that water is cold enough to reduce motor function (you can't swim) in an hour or less. You can likely easily imagine the worst case result in any of these scenarios, and they all exist at different times of the year in various X-Canyons. Experience with pothole escape techniques that do not damage the rock is key in passing through these sections with enough speed to keep yourself from getting benighted or worse. Stemming and Mae-Westing Stemming is the act of moving through a somewhat wide space by using your hands and feet on the opposite sides of the canyon. Full body stemming is having both hands on one side, both feet on the other, stretching out your body to span the gap. Mae-Westing is, essentially, side-chimneying, pressing your feet on one side of the canyon and your back against the other. The term Mae-West comes from one canyoneer, looking up from the bottom of a deep slot to the upper walls, each curving back, who felt like he was in Mae-West's ample bosom. Stemming and Mae-Westing are relatively simple techniques at first that become more technical and strenuous as canyon grades increase. In X-Canyons, blowing a stem or a mae-west movement in an X-rated section will send you to a probable fatal fall. Chimneys One of the few canyoneering techniques you can practice at a crag. Like mae-westing or stemming, but going up. More strenuous on average than mae-westing. Multiple up chimneys in a canyon will seriously raise the difficulty. Squeeze chimneys are up chimneys that are so tight that the climber can not use a feet-to-back technique. Other techniques, such as the frog or the sidewinder must be employed. Some people are squeeze chimney naturals, and others can't climb squeeze chimneys even after a little practice. You won't know which you are until you're in one. Off-Widths The other canyoneering technique you can practice at the crag. Offwidth climbing as experienced at the crag is generally more brutal than that experienced in current X-Canyons, but only in length. Chicken wings, arm bars, low bracing, knee jams and T-stacked feet are all techniques that will allow you to canyoneer more competently and, in a few cases, will be required to complete the canyon. Lichen and Moss An unsung difficulty in canyons, mae-westing and stemming can be made much more difficult by this easily underestimated complication. Experienced canyoneers have experienced double foot blowouts due to poor lichen management, so move cautiously on even easy terrain when lichened. Reputation Many X-Canyons have lingering or even recently earned reputations so fierce they seem to suffocate any who dare dream. A double edged sword that encourages caution and discourages attempts, reputation is mentioned here for awareness only as it seems to increase the difficulty of a canyon. Rock Climbers Take Warning! Canyoneering in X-Canyons involves climbing on rock, but it is not Rock Climbing. An X-Canyon has little to do with a sweet hand crack in Yosemite Valley and almost nothing to do with that blue route on the steep wall in your climbing gym. You may see YDS grades attached to canyons, but these often refer to squeeze chimneys, off-widths or chimney moves; these three types of climbing are the bastard children of common rock climbing and require techniques unknown or uncomfortable to the average rock climber. Even canyon anchor building requires a mental shift for the proficient, multi-pitch tradmaster. Canyoneering is a different sport with unique challenges and risks. Respect that difference and follow a progression. You will likely soon find yourself advancing quickly and grateful for the time you took to learn.