A two minute explanation
Scrambling is an activity where the participant ascends a steep mountain, hill, ridge or gully by using their hands as well as their feet. Many of the routes cannot be completed without using hands, at least on some sections.
Hiking or hillwalking is similar, but, for the most part, the participant here only uses their feet.
At the opposite end of the scale is technical rock climbing, where the participant uses their feet, hands, ropes and harnesses.
Most scrambling routes sit somewhere between hillwalking and rock climbing; they are more difficult than walking up a hill but less technically challenging than rock climbing.
Many people think of scrambling as more dangerous than hillwalking but not as risky as rock climbing; however, this isn’t the case.
Most scramblers ascend without using ropes or harnesses, and very few have completed any formal training; this makes scrambling particularly risky, especially on routes with steep drops and slippery surfaces.
Scrambling requires the following skills:
Good fitness – some routes require miles of walking just to reach the starting point, the scramble itself could be over steep terrain and challenging, so a good fitness level is required.
A good head for heights – as scrambling involves ascending steep ground, a good head for heights is required. Steep drops are commonplace, even on the easier routes.
Route finding skills – popular hillwalking routes often follow well-trodden and signposted paths, but scrambling is done over rocks where the route is less clear and signage is rare. Route finding goes beyond map reading and requires the participant to size up the challenge in front of them and make judgements calls on route choice, when to backtrack/reroute and when to call it quits.
Basic mountaineering skills are beneficial as the participant should ideally understand the predicted weather and the importance of suitable clothing/footwear. A route that appears safe in dry weather could be slippery and treacherous after rainfall. In winter, safe grade 1 routes become extremely challenging and often require crampons and rope protection.
The Grading System Explained
Scrambling routes in the UK are given one of several grades:
Grade 1 – These routes should be within the capabilities of experienced hillwalkers with a good head for heights. Rope protection is rarely required, and some of the routes are suitable for bad weather days or descent.
Grade 2 – Routes at this grade are much harder and riskier. Some will require rope protection, and few are suitable for descent. More attention to the weather, footwear and escape routes is necessary when considering a grade 2 route.
Grade 3 – Now things are getting serious. Routes at this grade involve sections of steep rock climbing, and rope protection is often required and only the brave and experienced should attempt a grade 3 without ropes.
Each grade has (–) and (+) classifications; for example, a grade 1- route would be a perfect introduction to scrambling, while a (+) would be one of the more challenging routes within that grade.
A more detailed explanation of the grading system with photos, videos and examples can be found here.
My Favourite Grade 1 Routes
These are my favourite grade 1 scrambling routes. These routes are popular with beginners but are best attempted on good weather days:
Y Gribin and Snowdon’s East Ridge – Take a detour from the popular Miners’ Track tourist path and ascend Y Gribin (not to be confused with Y Gribin in the Gylderau), where you can then continue onto the East Ridge up to Snowdon or jump onto the nearby Watkin Path. Y Gribin is a grade 1 route popular with hillwalkers seeking a little extra.
Crib Goch – A classic, exhilarating ridge traverse in the Snowdon Range suitable for those with a good head for heights. It’s even better in the winter.
Tryfan North Ridge – A popular grade 1 route from the A5 up the summit. Here’s a route description and video for Tryfan’s North Ridge.
Completely New to Scrambling?
The best way to get started with scrambling is to buy a good guidebook that contains route descriptions and photos.
For those of you who visit Snowdonia, try Scrambles in Snowdonia by Steve Ashton.
This book contains over 80 of the best routes and is considered a classic. Originally published in 1980 and updated in 2017, this publication is a must-have for those who want to scramble in Snowdonia.
Recommended Guide Book:
Scrambles in Snowdonia by Steve Ashton (#ad)