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Scrambling covers the gap between hiking up steep ground and rock-climbing. It begins when you need to use your hands for balance/support and ends where rock-climbing begins, and is graded accordingly to difficulty (grade 1 being the easiest through to grade 3/4 the hardest).

At MAD walkers, we further divide Grade 1 into 'minimum exposure' and 'exposed' to allow scrambling beginners to have a better idea of what to expect on a first outing.

Exposed Grade 1 scrambles can have steep drops at or near the scramble route, where a slip could have serious consequences. As an example, the photo below shows the Crib Goch ridge with Snowdon summit in the background. The ridge has a steep drop to the left and a near vertical drop to the right of the scramblers, hence is rather exposed!

Minimum exposure scrambles are more suitable for beginners and those who think the increased exposure may be an issue. The photo on the right shows part of the ascent from the Pyg Track to Crib Goch ridge on Snowdon. The area around the scrambler is on steep ground but with no significant exposure in the surrounding area, hence is graded 1 (minimum exposure). The ascent to Crib Goch and ridge are graded as a whole, and classed as 'Grade 1 (Exposed)' because of the ridge.

Crib Goch Ascent

Crib Goch Ridge

Some Q&A's for the impatient:

Can I do it?

If you enjoy strenuous mountain hiking, feel confident on steep and exposed ground with sheer drops in the immediate vicinity and are considering the next step, then yes! If you feel uncomfortable on steep ground and don't enjoy strenuous hikes then the answer is probably no.

Is there a particular technique I need to learn?

Technique comes with practice. Critically, it is about maintaining balance whilst progressing up a steep ascent (usually rock). Balance is achieved with progressing smoothly (not quickly) and keeping a safe number of contact points with the rock at all times (usually 3 out of the 4 possible with both hands and feet).

Scrambling has much in common with climbing, but unlike indoor climbing, hand and foot holds are not 100% reliable and should always be tested before you put your full weight on them.

How safe is Scrambling?

Scrambling does carry a increased risk of injury over hiking, but this risk can be minimised primarily by sensible selection of scrambling grade according to your ability. Effective group management by the walk leader(s) ensures you will not be rushed or taken out of your comfort zone by the group dynamic, but the onus is still on you as an individual to assess your own risk, and if necessary, stop. Walk leaders will be happy to guide you up, or another way round the obstacle, or (if necessary) change the route all together.

For grade selection, you should only consider scrambles of Grade 2 and above if you are an experienced scrambler with a head for heights. If you are a beginner who thinks they may experience issues with the typically greater exposure and steeper ground, consider Grade 1 (minimum exposure) scrambles only to begin with. Start at the lowest grade and work your way up. If for any reason you find yourself on the edge of your comfort zone whilst scrambling, don't be afraid to say so - the walk leader is there to help and will carry a confidence rope at all times whilst scrambling.

Group Management - unlike all our other walks, you'll notice that our scrambles have a limited number of places. Keeping the group size down allows the leader/guide(s) to more effectively work within the group and offer advice or assistance to individuals if needed. Scrambles are only run by experienced mountain leaders and the use of a confidence rope only by leaders who have received training, usually through the Mountain Leader Training England and/or Scotland approved training schemes.

Scrambling Grades

The following table details the grades along with relevant examples.

Grade 1 (Minimum Exposure) - Grade 1 scrambles encompass routes which are always obvious and have varying levels of exposure. Grade 1 routes with minimal/slight exposure will have some (but minimal) exposure to heights - these include Wilderness Gully near Saddleworth, Cribau and easier Tryfan North Ridge routes in Snowdonia.

Grade 1 (Exposed) - still Grade 1 (easy), but routes are more exposed, either directly on or nearby the route. Examples include Crib Goch, harder routes on Tryfan North Ridge and Jack’s Rake in the Lakes.

Grade 2 scrambles are almost always exposed and have an intermediate level of difficulty. Route-finding is not always obvious, but the walk leader will guide as necessary. You should have existing scrambing experience and be comfortable with scrambling at Grade 1 level before progressing to Grade 2. Sinister Gully on Bristly Ridge borders on a Grade 2 scramble.

Grade 3/4 scrambles cover the blurred boundary between hard scrambles and easy rock-climbs. Grade 4 assignment to scrambles is going out of fashion as it arguably coincides with the lower end of the traditional climbing grades, i.e. Moderate and above. Instead, the slightly lower Grade 3 is often assigned to the area of difficulty immediately below a Moderate rock climb, where the terrain is still classed as scrambling.
Grade 3 scrambles are for the experienced scrambler only who has a head for heights. Guides will always carry a confidence rope and may insist that it be used for some sections of a grade 3 route for safety reasons. Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag has a sustained vertical pitch of around 6m and is classed as a Grade 3 scramble.

Further Q&A

Is bouldering similar to scrambling?

Bouldering is more associated with rock-climbing and requires a similar skill level, the difference being that you are rarely more than a few metres off the ground with bouldering, so you use a 'crash-mat' instead of ropes.  Scrambling ends where rock-climbing begins, but bouldering can be as hard as you want it to be.

Page by Rick Connor / Chris Wareing. Contact Photos ©Photoric, used with permission

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