Scrambling and steep ground.
Scrambling is a category of mountaineering that involves ascending rock faces and ridges, often without the use of ropes. It is not an easy category to define exactly but it lies somewhere between hillwalking and rock climbing. A scrambling route is often distinguished from a hillwalk as a route where hands must be used in the ascent. There is less to distinguish it from climbing, with many easy climbs are sometimes referred to as difficult scrambles.
Although ropes might be necessary on harder scrambles, sustained use of rope and belay probably counts as climbing; typically, the use of ropes in scrambling is limited to abseiling or for basic safety uses other than belays up a vertical face.
While much of the enjoyment of scrambling depends on the freedom from technical apparatus, unroped scrambling in exposed situations is potentially one of the most dangerous of mountaineering activities. For this reason most guidebooks advise carrying a rope, especially on harder scrambles, which may be used for security on exposed sections, to assist less confident members of the party, or to facilitate retreat in case of difficulty. Above all, scramblers are advised to know their limits and to turn back before they get into difficulties.
In theory good hillwalking equipment is sufficient for the average scramble; it is usual however to include appropriate safety equipment as required.
There are several boots now made specifically for scrambling/lightweight mountaineering/via feratta; these are usually closer fitting than ordinary walking boots to reduce movement between the foot and the boot. Many also use sole designs that give more grip on dry rock but less grip of wet muddy slopes.
Ropes, safety harnesses, karabiners and basic belay devices are required when the experience of the group is unknown, when the security of a rope is likely to be needed for steeper sections or when it is necessary to safeguard a retreat from the route. It goes without saying that the equipment is no use without the ability to use it properly so, if you need a rope, learn how to use it before you take it on the hill.
Helmets: The terrain that scrambles traverse often includes loose or broken ground and on many routes several parties will be climbing at the same time. This brings about the danger of rockfall caused by clumsy footwork or breaking rock. It takes only a small stone falling a few metres to do considerable damage. At one time it was as rare to see a scambler with a helmet. Nowadays, as with cycling, helmets are used frequently. Modern helmets are light and comfortable and probably give the best safety/weight ratio of any piece of equipment.
Routes, Classifications and Guidebooks
There are many good guidebooks and magazine articles to direct you towards a suitable scramble route; try to get the most recent publication to ensure the route description is up to date.
Grading a scramble is slightly more tricky. All of the grades below apply to dry summer conditions only – in wet or wintry weather the use of grades such as these may not be appropriate. For this reason, it is essential to use your own judgement according to the conditions on the day. If in doubt, come back another time or use a rope!
Grade 1: A rough climb or exposed walk. There will be the occasional hard step where you will be required to use your hands. Route finding will be obvious and ropes should only be required by the extremely nervous. Prime examples of grade 1 scrambles in the UK are Striding Edge (Helvellyn), and Crib Goch (Snowdon).
Grade 2: These scrambles will be more sustained and involve greater levels of exposure. Routes will also be more serious and committing, involving small amounts of Easy rock climbing. The ledge route up Carn Dearg (Ben Nevis) and the traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe are grade 2 scrambles.
Grade 3: Grade 3 routes are likely to involve pitches of Moderate rock climbing and significant levels of exposure, therefore it may be advisable to carry a safety rope, even if it is not used. Broad Stand (Scafell) is an example of a Grade 3 route.
Grade 3S: This is the most technical and committing scrambling grade. A rope, the knowledge of how to use it and some rock climbing or general mountaineering experience are highly recommended. Grade 3s routes will involve V.diff rock climbs and exposure is likely to be high throughout. Tower Ridge (Ben Nevis) is an example of a grade 3s scramble.
A great example of the blurring between scrambling and climbing is Big Hex - a Scottish Climbing Challenge , a fundraising effort on behalf of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRCofS) that really requires knowing your safe level and how weather affects a route.
Instruction and tuition
Qualified mountain guides and outdoor activity centres such as Glenmore lodge provide coaching on basic and advanced scrambling skills The club usually has several walks where a scamble can be included in the trip. If possible team up with a member, get some practise in before you go and, if you still feel up to it, enjoy the experience. The club also runs an introduction to rock climbing evening for members at Neilston quarry once or twice a year and this is an excellent opportunity to try yourself out on steeper ground.