Scrambling is magical. From airy ridges and technical steps, to simply moving through terrain requiring balance and confidence, scrambling is exhilarating, challenging and takes you to incredible locations.
Scrambling tackles the middle ground between walking and climbing. If you hill walk or do a bit of climbing at your local indoor wall, then you are well on your way to discovering some awesome days out.
But whilst it can be fun, hugely accessible and exhilarating, it also exposes us to potentially serious terrain that requires careful judgement and decision making skills.
The key message here is are you choosing the right scramble for you and your group, taking into consideration everyone’s scrambling skills and previous experience. Can you interpret the guidebook? How are your navigation skills? Can you decipher the route in front of you? Do you have the technical rope knowledge and experience, if needed?
Choose your Grade
Before you choose a scramble you must have an understanding of the grading system. A simple numerical system is most common (1-3) to indicate the difficulty of a scramble, where most hill walkers will be fairly happy to tackle a Grade 1 scramble. However, those with little climbing experience may find Grade 3 scrambles to difficult or frightening for them. Invest in a guidebook for your chosen area and read up on what the different grades entail.
Along with the grade of your chosen route, other considerations you need to keep in mind are the time of year (length of day), hill and weather conditions (scrambling in the wet is great fun and a good way to make the best of a poor weather day but remember to drop the grade in accordance to the conditions), plus the fitness and ambitions of you and your peers.
At the car park read the guidebook and look at the map to make sure you are completely happy with where you are going and that the conditions on the ground reflect the weather forecast. Locating the start of the route can be a challenge in more remote parts of the country, but in some parts there may be a well worn path and large cairn indicating the start of the route. Just don’t get distracted and follow a sheep / deer track into the mist of some remote boggy corrie!
Following the route.
This is what it is all about! If you are on a grade 1 then you will find that the route will be open to variation. The more challenging the grade the more obvious the line will be. This is because the scrambling route will always take the easiest line, whether that is grade 1 or 3 or above and will be less open to variation, like the Cneifion Arete on Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia.
When on the route always look for signs of passage like worn areas of rock, lighter areas of rock that hold less lichen or moss. As many scrambles are climbed in winter as winter climbs or mountaineering routes there maybe the tell-tale signs of crampon scratches on key sections of the route.
Comfort zone and recognising the signs.
Scrambling is the fun bit and is meant to be enjoyable, but here are the tips we stick to;
- Don’t climb up what you can’t climb down!
- If the way up is not obvious then you are not on route.
- Don’t get too focussed on the rock in front of your face, step back and look around.
- If you are with someone with more experience make them go first to assess the difficulty.
- If you’re purposely setting out to push your boundaries then go with someone of better or equal ability.
- If you plan to use a rope then make sure you have the knowledge and know how of how to use it on scrambling terrain.
- Have suitable clothing and footwear. A stiff scrambling boot is definitely recommended for more serious scrambles.
- Always be cautious of loose rock.
- On steeper terrain do not stand below other people, stay to the side until others have passed the obstacle. Wearing a climbing helmet is recommended.
- If ‘backing off’ a scramble then quite often traversing out will get you onto easier ground. However this is not always the case so having the equipment and know how to abseil retreat is recommended.
- Always make sure that in your group you have a group shelter, mobile phone, whistle, spare jacket and some spare food just in case of getting caught out by the weather or darkness.
Like any day on the hill, planning and preparation will significantly increase your chances of a successful day out. Happy scrambling!
We run a range of Scrambling courses, including: