Learn Skills What is scrambling?

What is scrambling?


Moving From Walking To Scrambling

Scrambling covers the middle ground between walking and climbing, providing many memorable days out on the hill. All scrambles require a degree of rock climbing as both hands and feet are being used. It’s essentially easy rock climbing, travelling through stunning mountain scenery. If you’re keen to make the transition from hill walker to scrambler, we set out the basics about scrambling grades and equipment to get you started:

Grade 1

A grade 1 scramble is essentially an exposed walking route. Most tend to be relatively straightforward with many difficulties avoidable. Some of the most popular days out in the British mountains are ‘easy’ grade 1 scrambles, like Striding Edge on Helvellyn, Snowdon’s Crib Goch, the north ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia or Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark. Grade 1 scrambles can typically be attempted without ropes and protection and most walkers shouldn’t require any extra equipment.

Grade 2

Grade 2 scrambles blur the line between scrambling and rock climbing, usually including sections where a nervous scrambler would want a rope to protect them. The person in front (the leader) must feel confident moving over exposed, yet relatively easy climbing terrain, and the use of protection (climbing gear) becomes more advisable. Grade 2 scrambles include the Aonach Eagach Ridge above Glen Coe. Scrambling can be actually be more serious than rock climbing, particularly in the higher grades, mainly because people typically attempt it with less protection or none at all. Learning to climb to at least ‘V Diff’ level or taking a scrambling course before attempting serious scrambling of Grade 2 or above, is recommended.

READ more in our article Climbing Grades Explained.

Grade 3

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. Classic Grade 3 scrambles include Pinnacle Ridge in the Lake District and Skye's spectacular Cuillin Ridge. 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. 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.

Route Finding

Route finding becomes more serious when scrambling, with the risk of straying off into steeper, more technical ground. One of the greatest hazards when scrambling is loose rock, so wearing a helmet is a good idea. More difficult scrambles often involve one or two very exposed and improbable looking sections - these are usually very well described in the guidebook to ensure people don’t go off route, but such terrain can be very serious and a full range of mountaineering skills can be called on.

What Gear Do I Need For Scrambling?

For more straightforward scrambles most walkers won’t necessarily need any extra gear, although stiff shoes with a solid edge provide better support on small footholds and steep, broken terrain. Lightweight boots or trail shoes might be more comfortable on hot sunny days, but their soles tend to have too much flex and are unsuitable for steeper scrambles. More robust boots also provide protection for your feet from loose rock or when jammed in cracks.

On grade 2 and 3 scrambles it’s worthwhile taking a rope at least 30m long, some eight-foot slings, HMS karabiners and maybe a very small rack, half a dozen large nuts and hexes at most. A harness is only essential if the leader is going to protect themselves on the most exposed pitches. You need to know how to use this kit before unpacking it at the base of a cliff, so enlist the help of an experienced friend, join a club to build experience with others, or consider hiring a guide or going on a course (links).

FIND more scrambling routes and inspiration with our BMC How To Scramble series.

If you’re wondering how to get started a club could be the answer: FIND a club.