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What Exactly Is Scrambling?

If you are fairly new to the world of hill walking, you might be aware that when hikers talk about scrambling, they don’t mean their breakfast eggs. But what exactly do outdoor types mean when they describe a particular mountain as ‘a good scramble?’ Here is a brief look at this popular activity, and where the best places are for some practice!

If you have done some hill or mountain walking in the past, you may even have scrambled without realising it: basically, it’s when you use both your hands and feet to help you safely navigate a steep section of the terrain. Some walkers see it as a fun intermediate stage between hiking and rock climbing, and a great way to challenge themselves.

The UK even has its own classification system to describe the level of difficulty of scrambling routes. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) explains that this is to help people choose routes that suit their experience and abilities, and avoid accidentally straying into rock climbing territory, for which you need specialist training and equipment.

The scrambles are graded from 1-3, with level 3 being the most difficult. Bryn Williams, National Development Officer for Mountain Training (Wales) explains to the BMC:

“The natural progression for walkers is going into grade 1 scrambling terrain.”

He continues: “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.”

Grade 1 scrambling routes

The BMC defines a grade 1 route as one where you will need to use both hands and feet on sections, but will not require any more technical skills or ropes. The Ledge route on Ben Nevis is given as an example of a grade 1 scramble, although newcomers should take care not to stray into more demanding areas of the terrain.

Grade 2 scrambling routes

On a grade 2 route, you can expect to meet more challenging terrain, where a rope and protective equipment may be required in places. The BMC warns that the higher grade scrambling routes can be more dangerous than rock climbing, because people don’t always know when to use safety measures.

The Aonach Eagach Ridge in Glencoe is a classic grade 2 scramble. More difficult routes are great for those ready to test their mettle, but some degree of confidence and physical fitness is necessary, so be realistic about your abilities, and those of the rest of the party.

Grade 3 scrambling routes

There is often a fine line between a grade 3 scramble and a rock climbing route, which requires ropes and other special equipment. Good routes include the Skye Cuillin Munros, where you will be rewarded with spectacular views over land and sea.

It is advisable to have some basic rock climbing skills under your belt if you plan to tackle a grade 3, as you may well need to use a rope, harness, and helmet in places. There are plenty of rock climbing and scrambling courses available in the UK if you would like to improve your technique before a big adventure.

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