Top tips: How to go from walking to scrambling

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 20/09/2016
Dancing along the classic Grade 1 ridge-scramble Crib Goch. Photo: Alex Messenger
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Scrambling – the wobbly grey area that nestles between hiking and climbing. Whether you're hands-on-rock, or prefer to trudge up hands-in-pockets, it's a fun and faff-free way to tick off a summit. Here's how to make the step up, with top tips from instructors and experts.

Hard to define, scrambling is often quite a subjective activity depending on what you feel comfortable with – many will be so relaxed they'll be daydreaming while others might be gripped out of their minds. 

To give you perspective, routes are usually graded 1-3, and Grade 3 routes are often also Moderate climbing routes. Whatever your starting level, just remember it's about having fun and enjoying the views, but remember that this terrain can be exposed, serious and require mountaineering skills and equipment. 

READ: Scrambling skills: the grades explained

Route-finding

It might sound obvious, but the best way to get started is to buy a guidebook, and make sure you have it with you on the route; somewhere accessible so you can get it out and check where you're going when you need to. It's a good idea to start with a three-star classic in a popular spot: Tryfan's North Ridge for example. Be prepared for polish in places, but as well as being a guaranteed excellent route, it will be well-travelled and therefore easier to follow than an esoteric hidden gem. It’s fun to get off the beaten track when you get more experienced, but remember that long-forgotten routes may be out of condition.

Top Tip: “Take the guidebook not just a photocopy of the page you need, so that if you finish faster than expected you can run to the next one or find a more interesting descent!” Dominic Sellers, geography teacher and scrambling keeno in the Peak District.

WATCH: How to route-find when scrambling on BMC TV:

How do I get down?

Be particularly cautious as a beginner – allow plenty of time and go when conditions are dry with good visibility and low winds. Don't underestimate scrambling – a fall or mistake could have severe consequences. Consider at every step upwards whether you can get back down. If not, go back down while you can! Double-check the guidebook though, and have a cautious scout around: there could be an easier way that you haven't spotted. Don’t forget that getting to the top is only half the route, too: check out the descent options before you set off.

Top Tips: “Scrambling is not ‘just’ easy rock climbing. Always be able to get yourself down safely. You need to be confident at down-climbing and knowledgeable of roped techniques like abseiling,” Rebecca Coles, Mountain Instructor, North Wales.

"Weather is key to a successful day out and choosing a scramble based on the weather is of upmost importance: gullys can turn into waterfalls during a storm and your favourite knife-edge-ridge can be scary in high winds. Keep your objectives challenging but be open to changing them if the weather isn’t on your side," Matt Cooper, Mountain Instructor, Aldridge.

WATCH: How to move when scrambling on BMC TV:

Apprenticeship

As with anything like this, it’s best to learn from someone more experienced, be it a reliable friend or instructor, and get lots of easy terrain under your belt before progressing to tougher routes. Especially as a beginner, it's a good idea to keep others in the group within sight – and discuss this as a plan before setting off – so that you can communicate with each other and decide on an alternative plan or get a rope out if you are feeling unsafe.

"Don't fall off! Make sure you have good hand holds and good foot work. Plan your moves carefully. Face in to the rock in descent so you can see the footholds and keep your balance,"  Rachael Crewesmith, Mountain Instructor.

What to take

Essentially take the same kit as you would take hillwalking – waterproofs, layers, food, map, compass, first aid kit and so on – plus a good pair of approach shoes or boots depending on your preference and the trickiness of the scramble. When progressing to Grade 2 and 3 scrambles, it's also advisable to take a helmet, rope, small rack and a harness. Consider putting the harness on at the foot of the route even if you start out soloing, in case you need it later.

Top Tip: “Get a good pair of boots. When your Dad tells you that the tyres on your car is what sticks you to the road, he's right, and you should think the same about boots when scrambling. Your boots are the things that keep your feet on the rock, stop you slipping over on steep grass and don't trip you up on heathery ledges. This is never more important than when scrambling,” Rebecca Coles.

WATCH: How to choose kit for scrambling on BMC TV:

The next step

Once you get confident on easier terrain, you can refine the kit you take and progress to link-ups, which makes for a fun way to get from the valley to a summit. To learn more about mountain ropework, scrambling techniques and fast-track to harder routes, you could go on a course. Mountain Instructor Rob Johnson has some ropework tips in the videos below to get you thinking.

Top Tip: "Combining scrambles from the valley floor to the summit is better than walking all that way! With imagination and some contouring it's possible to ridge-walk your way all the way to the top,"  Tom Livingstone, Mountain Instructor, North Wales.

Happy scrambling!

Watch the complete series of scrambling skills videos:

WATCH: BMC TV Scrambling channel

A very big thanks to DMM and AMI for their help producing the scrambling films in this article. There are many more videos on our scrambling channel.

 


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