Scrambling Grades Explained
by the bald scrambler
Scrambling is a mountaineering activity that takes the middle ground between hiking and rock climbing.
Participants generally cannot complete a scrambling route without using their hands.
Routes in the UK are graded 1-3, with grade 1 routes being the easiest and grade 3 the most challenging.
The grading system takes into account both the technical difficulty of the route, the exposure/steepness and the overall risk.
Within the 3 grades are sub-grades of (-) and (+).
For example, a grade 1- is the easiest route at this grade, while a 2+ is the most difficult at grade 2.
Dispelling a Myth
A common misconception held by newcomers is that scrambling is safer than rock climbing.
This is incorrect. Most scramblers do not use rope or harnesses and some do not wear helmets either.
Without such safety equipment, a fall can lead to serious injury or death.
Below is an explanation of the 3 grades with photos and examples:
Grade 1 Scrambles
Most grade 1 scrambles can be completed by those with experience of mountain hiking and a good head for heights. Most will not require the use of ropes and some will be suitable for descent and use in poor weather.
The participant will be required to use their hands, and there may be short sections of exposure, including steep drops.
Examples of Classic Grade 1 Scrambles
Crib Goch is an exposed knife-edged ridge walk that isn’t technically difficult but does have a steep drop to one side that has petrified many a scrambler.
The aptly named Seniors Gully and Seniors Ridge are less popular grade 1 scrambles often used as introductory routes.
Crib Lem is a grade 1 scramble in the Carneddau that’s difficult to find, slippery and very long but sits firmly in grade 1 territory.
Above: Me scrambling on the classic grade 1 scramble that is Crib Lem. While a Grade 1 route, the ground is mossy and slippery.
Above: Me on the South Ridge of Tryfan. Clearly this is more than a hiking route but I don’t need rope here so it’s not a climbing route either.
Above: This photo shows the rocky terrain on Bristly Ridge, a popular grade 1 route where the scrambler threads through, over and around the rock.
Grade 2 Scrambles
The difference between grade 1 and 2 scrambles is noticeable and the terrain is serious, steeper and often more exposed.
The risks of tackling a grade 2 route should not be underestimated.
Many of the routes should only be tackled in good weather and some may be difficult to find.
These routes are rarely used in descent and often have short sections of “Moderate” grade rock climbing.
It’s not unusual to find roped groups on grade 2 scrambles, a sensible decision.
Examples of Grade 2 Scrambles
My favourite grade 2 scrambles are:
Notch Arete – A delightfully steep ridge with a gully to one side. I found the terrain here near perfect, it was solid with very few loose rocks, it was just the right steepness for me to scramble without needing rope, and the view across the Glyderau was perfect.
Bryant’s Gully – Always wet and slippery, this grade 2+ route is over 500m long and presents many challenges that I enjoyed tackling. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and is often quiet.
Pinnacle Ridge in Snowdonia – One of the shortest scrambles at this grade and within a 15-minute walk of the main road, this is a perfect introduction to grade 2 scrambling and is usually busy with roped novice climbers.
Above: Making my way up grade 2 Pinnacle Ridge in Snowdonia.
Above: You can see me here on Notch Arete here. This is a classic grade 2 route and much steeper than most grade 1 scrambles.
Above: The top of Bryant’s Gully, it’s rugged, varied and often slippery too.
Grade 3 Scrambles
Grade 3 scrambles usually involve one or more sections of Moderate or Difficult grade rock climbing that is very steep and exposed where the risk of a fall is drastically increased.
Participants often wear helmets and use rope for protection. These routes are rarely used in descent and any moisture on the surface can be fatal. Appropriate footwear and past experience of scrambling or climbing is advised.
Classic grade 3 scrambling routes are often used by roped rock climbing instructors and their students and might be busy during the summer.
Examples of Grade 3 Scrambles
My favourite grade 3 scrambles are:
Dolmen Ridge – The crux of this route is near the apex of scrambling, very steep with decent holds and a wonderful continuation.
Cneifion Arete – A route with a notorious steep start on reliable rock, Cneifion Arete is popular with climbing instructors and their students and scramblers alike.
Maybe Tower Rib – Not as popular as the nearby Cneifion Arete but the tower at the top is fun to climb and there is a notable crux section mid-way up.
Sentries Ridge – Lots of loose rock here and several gendarmes to navigate over or around, this is a wonderful, but challenging route.
Above: Here I’m on the crux of the grade 3 Dolmen Ridge scramble. Any steeper than this and I would want rope; many do here.
Above: The start of Cneifion Arete is even steeper.
Above: Me at the top of Maybe Tower Rib scramble.
Above: Me on Sentries Ridge.
Footwear and Equipment
Most of the scramblers I’ve met over the years started off with just regular hiking boots, and that’s fine for grade 1 scrambles, but for anyone who wants to do a lot of scrambling or planning on moving up the grades, a decent pair of scrambling boots or shoes would aid with grip.
In the winter, I wear La Sportiva Trango Tech boots as they’re warmer, a little stiffer and compatible with crampons.
For those wanting to venture into grade 2 and 3 scrambling, I recommend going on a training course or, at the least, going out with people who have lots of experience at this grade.
The use of rope and safety equipment is entirely the choice of the scrambler but more and more people are using helmets and carrying rope than 10 years ago when I started scrambling.
Watch My Video
Watch my video where I offer 5 scrambling tips for beginners:
About Daniel Woodley
From walking along beaches and kayaking down rivers to making his way up mountains and even jumping out of planes, Daniel has a love of the outdoors but scrambling is his real passion.
Daniel Woodley aka The Bald Scrambler