THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SCRAMBLING
Want to inject a dose of climbing into your walk without needing all the gear or expertise? Then try scrambling. The perfect mix between hillwalking and climbing, it’s great for adrenaline seekers wanting to up the ante and push boundaries. Here we take you through everything you need to know to get started.
What is scrambling?
A mix between hillwalking and climbing, scrambling is perfect if you're looking for a bit more of a challenge than your average hike up a hill. We’ve all been on a hillside and seen that scraggy route only a brave few are taking, using their hands to help them navigate over rocks – well that’s scrambling. Although not as technically challenging as climbing, it gets you thinking, adds more of a physical challenge, and in more exposed sections, ups the adrenaline too.
Making the transition from walker to scrambler without straying into climbing territory is pretty straightforward once you understand the grading system. Scrambles in the UK are graded from 1 to 3 and assume that weather conditions are good, i.e. dry when the route is undertaken. For experienced hillwalkers, Grade 1 is the place to start.
Grade 1 scrambles are generally exposed walking routes that take an interesting line up a gully, ridge or buttress where your hands are needed to help you navigate the steeper sections. Although they are generally pretty straightforward to follow and don't require additional protection like ropes, be prepared for exposed sections that get your heart pumping.
Best for: Competent hillwalkers with a head for heights
Best grade 1 routes:
Step up to grade 2, and the lines between scrambling and rock climbing start to get a little blurred. Grade 2 scrambles usually include sections where, unless you’re a rock climber, you’re going to want a rope for some extra support and protection. The leader will need to be confident moving over exposed yet relatively short and easy climbing terrain to overcome obstacles, so having some knowledge of climbing is beneficial.
Like anything, you can only learn by doing, so when you start out with these more challenging routes, be sure to take your time and go with someone with more experienced if possible. Once you build your skills and experience, the routes and rewards become even more spectacular.
Top Tip: Don’t fall into the common misconception that scrambling is milder and less dangerous than rock climbing. As scrambling is typically attempted with less protection than rock climbing, it can actually be more dangerous.
Best for: people with experience climbing to V Diff level or those who have completed a scrambling course
Best grade 2 routes:
Wildboar Clough, Peak District
Grade 3 scrambles are often also rated as ‘Moderately’ graded climbing routes (the easiest climbing grade) and should only be tackled by experienced scramblers who are confident using climbing equipment and lead climbing.
These routes usually require a rope on several highly exposed sections or feature steep grassy sections where there are no handholds, and a fall would have serious consequences. They also tend to have fewer ‘escape’ routes, so once you’ve chosen to go this way, you’ve got to commit.
But with the right climbing skills and experience gained from grade 1 and 2 scrambles, they are the nirvana for adrenaline junkies. Plus, once you’ve cracked grade 3, it opens up some incredible routes across the globe for you to add to your bucket list.
Best for: people with experience rock climbing and grade 1 and 2 scrambles
Best grade 3 routes:
Pinnacle Ridge/St Sunday Crag, Lake District
Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, Isle of Skye
Cuillin Ridge, Isle of Skye - * the Holy Grail of British Scrambling with 12km of scrambling, 4000 plus metres of ascent/descent, several classic climbs and some abseils, usually completed over two days.
Gear up for scrambling
Check out everything you need to get started:
Grade 1 routes
For grade 1 routes, your normal walking gear is all you really need. Check the weather forecast before you head out, and dress appropriately.
Footwear – Standard walking boots offer good all-round protection, whereas the sticky soles and good edges of approach shoes gives them better grip and easier foot placement. Choosing which is best comes down to personal preference and can also depend on the conditions and route. Having the choice of both is great if scrambling is something you’re serious about, but if you’re not sure if it’s for you, a mid-boot which is flexible enough to be comfortable but also offers ankle support is a good in-between option.
Clothing – Dress for the weather and pack layers. A breathable base layer and mid-layer will regulate your temperature, whilst a breathable and waterproof jacket will provide protection in downpours. For your lower half, comfortable, lightweight walking trousers allow you the freedom needed to move over rocks, but for extra protection, look for clothing with reinforcement around the knees.
Pack – A lightweight daypack will be more than enough for you to carry just the essentials and will make scrambling much easier to negotiate.
Scrambling Guidebooks – Scrambling routes aren't signposted, and you won’t usually see obvious tracks, so it’s down to you to find the right path. There are normally different routes to consider, which adds to the challenge and the fun of scrambling. However, there are some guidebooks out there on popular scrambling areas offering an insight and expert advice on potential routes and the grade.
North Wales Scrambles, Garry Smith
Lake District climbs and scrambles, Stephen Goodwin
Skye Scrambles, Noel Williams
Scrambles in the Dark Peak, Tom Corker & Terry Sleaford (Peak District)
Don’t forget to pack all the usual essentials you’d take on a walk, including a map, compass, first aid kit and all the food and water you’ll need for the day.
Grade 2 and 3 routes
For these higher scrambling grades, you’ll also want to take along:
Helmet, harness, 30-60m rope (depending on where you are scrambling), belay plate, nuts and hex set (as a minimum), two to three smaller cams, a selection of slings (for pinnacles and flakes), five carabiners, three BOA HMS carabiners, nut key, headtorch and a prusik.
Give it a go
Getting started on a grade 1 route couldn’t be simpler - pick a day with a favourable forecast and research the best routes in advance, then get out there.
Or book yourself on a scrambling course and get some expert advice from the pros.
Peak District, Beyond The Edge
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