Beginners Guide to Scrambling
Image source: Glenmore Lodge
Have you ever needed to use your hands to help you get up a steep hill? If your answer is yes, then you have already been scrambling. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) defines scrambling as using both your hands and feet to ascend a hill or rock face. So how does that differ from rock climbing? In essence a scrambling route blends walking, mountaineering and rock climbing into one, rather than specialising in a single discipline.
This blog is going to cover the basics, dip into some of the finer details and answer some of the questions you may have - hopefully, setting you on the path to giving scrambling a go.
HOW FIT DO I NEED TO BE?
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If you are an experienced hill walker and have a good level of fitness you should be fine with most basic routes. Also, scrambles often have an alternative route bypassing the trickier sections, so you can make it as easy or difficult as you like.
Advanced scrambling routes will be steeper, contain more exposure to drops and be more physically demanding. For these scrambles you should be very comfortable using climbing techniques and safety equipment.
If you are not sure about your fitness there are always exercises you can do to improve it before attempting a route.
WHAT ARE SCRAMBLING GRADES?
Each scramble is given a grade which determines the difficulty and the type of techniques you will need to use. It’s important that you don’t attempt too difficult a grade to start with - as it can be tricky to descend back down a route if you abandon it half way through.
A walk which sometimes requires the use of your hands to help you climb steep sections. These routes are generally clear and easy to follow, although you should be prepared for some exposure at certain points. Most of the time you don’t need safety equipment for this grade - if you are a competent walker you will be fine.
Harder than grade one, these routes are where knowledge and practice of rock climbing is essential. A grade two scramble will include more exposure, harder-to-follow sections and steeper faces where you should use a rope and harness for protection.
Comparable to the easiest rock climbing route, you must be confident using climbing equipment and lead climbing. There will be several sections where a rope is needed and any potential fall will have serious consequences.
N.B. Not every route falls neatly in its own grade - if a route includes a harder section that qualifies as a higher grade the route can become a hybrid, labelled with two numbers i.e grade 1/2.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
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In its basic form, scrambling is a very accessible activity. You probably own most of the equipment you need already, however there is specific equipment required to safely scramble higher graded routes.
Basic – Grade one routes
- Scrambling guide book – Scrambling routes are not signposted and there are normally several different routes you can take to get to the summit. The guide lets you know the grade route and helps you avoid harder paths.
- Breathable/Waterproof Jacket – On a hill the weather can be unpredictable so a jacket will protect you in a rain shower.
- Trousers – A comfortable pair of lightweight walking/mountaineering trousers that have articulated joints let you move freely up a rock face.
- Hiking boots – You can use your existing walking boots.
- Approach shoes - Lighter than walking boots with a heel and toe similar to a climbing shoe, they don’t offer as much support as but they are worth buying if you want to progress to harder routes - their low profile makes climbing foot placement easier.
As well the above you should take all the normal equipment you would take on a walk.
- First aid kit
Advanced- Grade 2 and 3 routes
- Harness – A harness sits over your legs and waist connecting you securely to a rope. Make sure to use a fully certified rock climbing harness.
- Helmet – It is highly recommended that you wear a helmet especially on steeper routes where there is more chance of rocks falling.
- Rope – A 50m single rope provides plenty of length for routes up to grade three without adding too much weight.
- Rack of attachments – These attach to the rock face, acting as anchors in the case of a fall. Equipment needed includes cams/hexes, slings, extenders and Karabiners.
WHERE CAN I FIND BEGINNER SCRAMBLES?
The UK has some great scrambling routes that will ease your transition from walking into scrambling.
Red brook, Kinder Scout
Ascending from red brook is a very easy scramble with it just about qualifying as a grade one route.
Goat Crag, Coniston Old Man
A short distance form Coniston village itself this route has simple grade one sections, any of which you can bypass.
Sharp Edge, Blencathra
Another ridge scramble that requires extra attention in wet conditions, it gives you great views of the outer Lake District.
Crib Goch, Snowdon
There are several ridges where you can head up the side or travel along the top for a little bit more adventure.
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY TECHNIQUE?
Image source: Glenmore Lodge
There are plenty of locations around the UK to learn and improve your scrambling and climbing skills. They will steadily build your confidence till you feel comfortable trying routes unguided.
There is a specific introduction to scrambling course which covers movement and technique, rope work, route choice/assessing when to use a rope and much more.
Manchester Climbing Centre (MCC)
All within a safe and friendly environment you can take a beginners climbing course at the indoor centre before transfering those skills to outdoor scrambling routes.
The Climbing Academy (TCA)
Indoor and outdoor courses that introduce you to climbing techniques, rope skills and abseiling.
With a few extra bits of kit, some tuition/practice and a little bit of planning, basic scrambling can become a fun addition to any walk.
About the Author:
Pete Fletcher - Outdoor Expert
Pete grew up hiking most of the trails in the Lake District before being introduced to skiing. A decade later and you're most likely to find him snowboarding, skateboarding or making a mean coffee.