If you are planning a walking holiday in Scotland, perhaps an Isle of Skye hiking tour or a stay in Glen Coe, then some scrambling skills will come in very handy. Some peaks, such as those in the Cuillin Ridge on Skye, have advanced scrambling sections for example, as do many of the other Scottish mountains.
If you are comfortable with a few scrambling techniques, your options will be much wider, as you will feel up to the challenge of tackling those tougher climbs. Here’s a look at what scrambling involves, and how you can get some practice in.
Scrambling is when you use both your hands and feet to help you move along a steep section of terrain. It doesn’t need any specialist equipment, but it does demand more skill than walking, and you also need to be confident with heights and potentially steep falls. It’s a great way to introduce more advanced skills, without moving into climbing territory.
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) set out a classification system to help denote the level of difficulty involved in a scramble. They are graded from 1-3, with level 1 being the easiest and level 3 the hardest. The gradings help you choose a route that is most suitable to your abilities.
For example, if you have done some mountain walking before and are reasonably fit, you might start off with a grade 1 scrambling route. The grade of a route will usually be denoted in the guidebook, and they can also be looked up online. There are loads of suitable beginner’s scrambles in Scotland, such as the Ledge route on Ben Nevis.
The distinctions between grade 2 and 3 scrambles can be less clear cut, because some people may prefer safety and protective equipment, such as helmets and ropes, in certain places, while more confident and experienced scramblers may feel perfectly OK tackling the terrain without it.
A classic grade 2 scramble is the Aonach Eagach Ridge above Glen Coe. It may require ropes in some places, especially if some of the group is less experienced or confident. One of the most well-known grade 3 scrambles is Skye’s Cuillin Ridge, which also has plenty of options for climbers as well.
A grade 3 route is best tackled when you also have basic rock climbing skills under your belt, because the boundaries between and a difficult scramble and a climb are flexible, as we have seen. Plenty of places in the UK offer rock climbing lessons, both indoor and outdoor, so it’s very easy to get going.
For the harder routes, you need to have good level of fitness and flexibility, and be comfortable with heights. One of the dangers of scrambling is not always presented by the designated route, but by the unwary hiker straying from the marked route and into more difficult rock climbing territory.
Therefore, it’s important to study the map carefully before you set off, and keep referring to your route and navigation tools along the way. Also be realistic about your abilities, and those of the other party members.