How to scramble: Top 5 to convert you

Posted by Peter Burnside on 20/06/2017
Contemplating the beautiful lines of Striding Edge. Photo: Alex Messenger

Not sure if scrambling is for you? Want to give it a try but don't know where to start? Find out everything you need to know from our top five of the best UK scrambles, become an instant convert, and get all the skills from our videos.

1. Helvellyn via Striding and Swirral Edges

There’s plenty of debate about this one. Some people say the ridges that curve around Red Tarn on the eastern side of Helvellyn aren’t really scrambling territory at all. Others insist that Striding Edge is a solid grade 1. But everybody agrees that this lofty 9.5- mile route offers one of the best days out in the Lakes.

A high exposure rating, combined with minimal technical difficulty, makes Striding Edge and its sister Swirral Edge a good introduction to the world of scrambling. You’ll have the opportunity to try out a few moves and test your head for heights without messing around with ropes or scaring yourself silly on technical ground. If this if your first scramble then save it for a dry, calm day and consider tagging along behind somebody more experienced.

Most walkers approach the summit via Striding Edge, tackling the sharp arête and a scrambly descent known as ‘The Chimney’ before continuing up a bulging rock face to reach the trig point. From here there’s a nice, easy descent back down to Glenridding - but it’s far more fun to loop back via Swirral Edge, which apes the exposure of its more famous neighbour but has little in the way of technical challenges.

If you’ve completed this famous Lakeland route with few difficulties then you should be ready for some trickier grade 1 routes. Try Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark, Crib Goch, or Snowdonian giant Tryfan.

MORE INFO: How to scramble Striding Edge

WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Striding Edge on BMC TV

2. North Ridge of Tryfan

Tryfan is the ultimate scrambler’s mountain. It’s virtually impossible to get to the top via any route without putting hand on rock, and there’s the option to continue on via Bristly Ridge to Glyder Fach for an even more epic scrambly day out.

North Ridge is the most commonly taken ascent – and although it’s frequently crowded, there are so many variations on the route that Crib Goch-style pile-ups rarely occur. The scrambling hovers around grade 1 for much of the time, with the odd move that would probably be considered grade 2 in more exposed terrain. Begin at Gwern Gof Uchaf and follow the path along the western flank of Tryfan Bach until it loses itself in the grey-scaled sides of the North Ridge.

From here you can pretty much pick your route, with dozens of scrambly tributaries leading up the shoulder of the mountain towards a distinctive canon-shaped rock. The technicalities ramp up after the Canon and culminate in a final pull up to the trig point with vertiginous views in every direction. If you’re brave enough, legend has it you can gain the ‘freedom of Tryfan’ by jumping between Adam and Eve, two natural pillars that crown the summit.

Most walkers descend from here via Heather Terrace, but if you’re still feeling fresh then Bristly Ridge continues on up to Glyder Fach and offers an extension of the superb scrambling.

WATCH: The Adam and Eve jump on BMC TV

3. Aonach Eagach

Scotland has a stellar selection of truly incredible mid-grade ridge scrambles – Liathach, An Teallach, Suilven – and all are prime contenders for the best mountainous day out in mainland Britain. Aonach Eagach is the one featured here, though, because I’ve done it myself and I can tell you personally that it’s pretty damn near perfect.

The Aonach Eagach ridge runs almost parallel to the A82 through Glencoe, commanding fantasy book views of the Three Sisters on one side and the outriders of Ben Nevis on the other. It begins with a short puff up the steep flank of Am Bodach and traditionally ends at the Clachaig Inn. In between those two points is one of the longest and most exposed stretch of consistent scrambling south of Skye. Some would argue that the crux of the day comes right at the start, with a dank and tricky downclimb above a yawning drop.

The route goes on to take in the Munro of Meall Dearg and several grade 2 chimneys before culminating in a scramble around the famous Crazy Pinnacles. Some may need a rope to help them over the tricky bits while others will be happy to solo the whole thing. It depends on your confidence, head for heights, and what the weather is doing on the day. After Stob Coire Leith the difficulties diminish, but bear in mind that accidents frequently overtake walkers who descend directly to the pub via the Clachaig Gully. It’s worth resisting the pull of the pint and taking the long way round via the southwestern shoulder of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

MORE INFO: How to scramble Aonach Eagach

4. Clogwyn y Person Arête

Put ‘scrambling’ and ‘Snowdon’ in the same sentence and your mind automatically jumps to Crib Goch. That spiny grade one ridge is probably the showiest way to the top of Wales’ highest, but if you’ve built up a decent scrambling CV and fancy escaping the crowds that turn Crib Goch into a Gore-Tex-blanketed traffic jam in good weather then Clogwyn y Person is the arête for you.

The route starts with a pathless hour-and- a-half slog up from the A4086 at Blaen y Nant. When you reach Upper Cwm Glas there’s a choice: you can either scrabble up the Western Gully of a slabby buttress descriptively named the Parson’s Nose, or you can take the direct line up the crest of the Nose itself. The second route is officially a four-pitch Diff climb, but if you’re comfortable in the lower climbing grades and can handle a rope then it’s a far more exciting proposition. Be prepared for hair-raising exposure and watch out for loose holds too as you shin up the Nose and arrive at the top of Western Gully.

From here the arête rises in a series of steep rocky ledges up towards Garnedd Ugain. Finding the easiest line can be tricky - but with the pinnacles of Crib Goch towering overhead and the views stretching for miles down the valley, you won’t mind taking it slowly. The scramble tops out all too soon above Bwlch Coch, from which point you can either continue up to the summit of Snowdon or descend back to Pen y Pass via Crib Goch.

5. The Cuillin Ridge

You haven’t quite made it as a scrambler until you’ve completed the undisputed king of British ridge scrambles: the Cuillin Traverse on Skye. No matter how many mainland ridges and grade 3 scrambles you have in the bag, nothing can quite prepare you for the full Cuillin experience.

It’s a good idea to spend a few days trying out bite-sized sections of the ridge before committing yourself to a traverse. With 4,000 metres of ascent and descent to tackle and 22 peaks to bag en-route, this is as much a physical challenge as it is a test of skill and courage.

Some seriously hardy parties complete the ridge in one long and gruelling day, but a more realistic approach is to wait for a clear weather window and pack superlight bivvy gear with the intention of spending two days on the traverse. It’s traditional to begin at Gars-bheinn in the south and finish on Sgurr nan Gillean 12 kilometres later before descending to Sligachan. There are technical challenges throughout, with the trickiest sections including the TD Gap to the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the traverse of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh’s spiky tops and the descent onto Am Basteir.

Treat yourself to a pint at the Sligachan Hotel at the end – and raise a toast to the fact that you’ve just completed the greatest scrambling challenge in Britain.

WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Crib Goch on BMC TV

WATCH: Our scrambling skills series

Supported by DMM and the Association of Mountaineering Instructors, our new video series aims to give you the knowledge you need. Watch the whole playlist on BMC TV below.

Watch our scrambling skills video series:

READ MORE: Tips and safety guidance for scrambling

GO ON A COURSE: Learn scrambling from professionals

  • BMC Active Outdoors: The BMC's Active Outdoors courses include  affordable scrambling weekends for beginners at the famous Plas y Brenin mountain centre in Snowdonia. A great way to learn about the skills and equipment you need.

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