New to scrambling? The first step to becoming a rock-hopping pro is to know thy enemy. In part one of our scrambling skills guide, we demystify the grading system.
Scrambling covers the middle ground between walking and climbing, and provides many memorable days out on the hill, as well as being fantastic training for the Via Ferratas of mainland Europe. It’s essentially easy rock climbing, travelling through some stunning mountain scenery, but such terrain can be very serious and a full range of mountaineering skills can be called on.
Keen to make the transition from walker to scrambler? To avoid accidentally straying into rock climbing territory, it’s crucial to understand the grading system.
“The natural progression for walkers is going into grade 1 scrambling terrain,” says Bryn Williams, National Development Officer for Mountain Training (Wales) and an active member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team. “But once ropes are used then it’s mountaineering with slimmed-down rock climbing techniques – requiring a huge amount of judgment which only comes from experience. The higher scrambling grades are climbing terrain.”
Scrambles in the UK are generally graded from 1 to 3, although the exact scale will depend on the guidebook. So what can you expect from each grade?
All scrambling grades require a degree of rock climbing as both hands and feet are employed, but a classic grade 1 scramble is essentially an exposed walking route. Most tend to be relatively straightforward with many difficulties avoidable, and some of the most popular days out in the British mountains are ‘easy’ Grade 1 scrambles. Despite some knee-trembling sections, the likes of Striding Edge on Helvellyn, Snowdon’s Crib Goch or Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark can typically be attempted without ropes and protection.
Above this, for Grade 2 and 3 scrambles, the line between scrambling and rock climbing becomes a lot more blurred, and the use of protection becomes more advisable. There is a popular misconception that scrambling is a milder and less dangerous version of rock climbing - ‘climbing-lite’. But scrambling can be actually be the more serious activity, particularly in the higher grades, mainly because people typically attempt it with less protection than rock climbing or none at all.
Grade 2 scrambles such as the Aonach Eagach Ridge above Glen Coe will usually include sections where a nervous scrambler would want a rope to protect them, and the person in front (the leader) must feel confident moving over exposed yet relatively easy climbing terrain. We would recommend learning to climb to at least V Diff level or taking a scrambling course before attempting serious scrambling of Grade 2 or above.
Grade 3 scrambles often appear in climbing guides as ‘Moderately’ graded climbing routes (the easiest climbing grade), and should only be tackled by the confident. Use of the rope is to be expected for several sections, which may be up to about Difficult in rock climbing standards.
If you've done a little climbing or a few easier scrambles, however, then venturing onto something a bit more difficult can be very rewarding. Classic Grade 3 scramblers include Pinnacle Ridge in the Lake District and Skye's spectacular Cuillin Ridge.
It's worth having a few tricks up your sleeve to help your day flow well - and we’ll be covering everything you need to know about technique and safety in the rest of this series.
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