History Of The WMC Hike Rating Systems

From the measuring wheel to the GPS

By Mark Jones

In the early days of the WMC, there was no concept of rating hikes other than this hike might be more difficult than that hike. There was no guide for inexperienced hikers or common language to talk about local hikes.

Dale Green established the first hike rating system for the WMC in the 1960's. Dale calculated the distance for his hike ratings table by personally walking many of the trails with a measuring wheel (the photo on the right shows its guage). Dale wrote about it while President of the Club in the June 1963 Rambler:

Starting with this RAMBLER, a number will be listed after each hike. This number is a relative measure of the amount of energy required to complete each hike. It is not meant to represent hours. The system is based on the number of round-trip miles and the elevation gain with various "fudge factors" thrown in. So far, the ratings have only been made for one day hikes that involve no climbing. There are nearly 50 hikes on the list. Sample hikes are:
Lake Mary from Lodge 1.5 Mt. Olympus (any route)   8.0
Katherine Pass from Lodge3.0 Red Pine Lake-Pfeifferhorn 10.0
Mt. Majestic from Lodge 4.5 Lone Peak via Bells Canyon 15.0
Little Black Mountain 6.5 Red Pine-Pfeifferhorn-Bells Canyon17.0

Looking at a hike listing from June 1963, we see a hike with a rating:

June 7 - Moonlight Hike. Same hike as announced last month. This will be a little unusual but lots of fun. Bring a flashlight and jacket because Grandeur Peak might be a little cool. Meet at Finnlandia at 6:30 p.m. No children please. Leader, Dale Green. (4.5 rating).

The rating was not listed on all hikes and it was up to the leader if they wanted to post a hike rating. It didn’t seem to catch on about showing the hike rating on each hike but rather the list of all hike ratings would be periodically posted in the Rambler. Such a posting can be found in the July 1965 Rambler:

WASATCH MOUNTAIN CLUB RATING SYSTEM. The following list contains most of the local hikes that we take. Our rating system is designed to give some idea of the effort involved on each hike. A person can then decide whether to advance to a more strenuous hike, based on his own experience. A hike rated 10.0 is not necessarily twice as hard as one rated 5.0, but all 10.0 rated hikes will be of about the same difficulty. Hikes rated less than 5.0 can be classed as easy. Those rated from 5.0 to 8.5 are intermediate; 9.0 through 11.5 are long. and anything over 12.0 is difficult.

By 1986, Dale Green saw the need to revise the Hike Rating List as documented in the May 1986 Rambler:

1963 marked the appearance in the RAMBLER of a hike rating system. I devised the system because of numerous complaints from new members who were unable to determine if a particular hike was within their capabilities. The original idea was to give each hike a rating number proportional to difficulty or time, i.e., a hike with a rating of 8.0 would be twice as difficult and take twice the time as a hike rated as 4.0. Each one-way mile (2 miles round trip) was given 1.0 points and each 1000' elevation gain was given 1.0 points. A few fudge factors were thrown in for high altitude and exposure. The system has worked fairly well for the past 23 years but there have been problems.

By 1995 Kip Yost saw a need to upgrade the WMC hike rating system, as we see in the Hike Listing & Ratings Table he compiled:

In order to serve the club better, this year's edition of Hike listings is a little different than in year's past. You will notice a couple of new features that will give you a better idea of what a particular trail will be like, how steep it is and what difficulties you are likely to encounter. Also the rating system has been slightly modified to give very steep hikes more difficulty points, and very mild hikes less. Hikes with an average rate of incline will not be affected by this change. Please note, however, that some hikes are of such an analogous nature that they will not conform to any rating system. Your best source of information will always be your trip leader. You will notice three new columns of information on this new list, the first being "Other Factors"; this column will tell you what other difficulties a hike may have, such as scrambling or exposure. One rating point of difficulty is awarded to the hike for each of these factors, which are outlined below. The next new column is "Est. Hours", this column gives an estimate of the round-trip time required for the hike (travel time only), which is based on an average speed of 32 minutes per mile on an average incline and adjusted for rate of incline variation and other factors. The third new column is "Avg. Gain Per Mile", which tells you how steep a trail is in feet per mile based on elevation change divided by one-way miles. Time and difficulty ratings are based on a fit hiker hiking in clear weather on dry terrain, some statistical data is approximate, your individual results will vary.

Also in 1995, from Rambler editor Jim Zinanti:

The WMC now has three semi-official hike ratings. The traditional system has been developed over 30 or so years by Dale Green. It is based on distance and gross climbing and adjustments for an enormous base of experience. New hiking director, Kip Yost, has introduced a system based on more variables and little or no fudging based on experience. A third system is included in "Hiking The Wasatch", by John Veranth, which gives estimated hiking times for many of the WMC hikes. The Rambler is publishing the new rating system in this issue and will publish the traditional system in the next.

The next evolution was to separate hikes into four general categories. There is a good overview of these categories in the April 2017 Rambler:

If you are a new organizer, you might even ask, "What is the definition of an NTD, MOD, MSD or EXT hike?" The answers to these and related questions are a few clicks away on the WMC website. Start by clicking on ACTIVITIES and select "Hike, Backpack & Camp”. Choose "WMC Hike Ratings" and start exploring. Here are the basics: NTD Not Too Difficult (Lightly Strenuous) MOD MODerate (Moderate to Strenuous) MSD MoSt Difficult (Very Strenuous, Difficult) EXT EXTreme (An MSD with special requirements).

In an August 2017 Rambler tribute to Dale Green, Julie Kilgore wrote:

In the 1950s, Dale calculated the distance for his hike ratings table by personally walking many of the trails with a measuring wheel. Dan Smith, who developed the 2012 hike ratings system, has hiked many of these same trails with three GPS units strapped across his chest. And the results have been amazingly consistent!

Dan has updated the data from the Dale Green and Kip Yost hike ratings tables and compiled the data into various PDF files for easy viewing. The current hike rating system, along with the Dale Green and Kip Yost systems, can all be found on the WMC website under ACTIVITIES / Hike, Backpack & Camp, and then click on WMC Hike Ratings.

A lot of time, thought and work went into the development of the WMC hike rating tables, and it all started with Dale Green. A tribute to Dale Green, along with a photo of his measuring wheel, can be found in the August 2017 RAMBLER.