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written by Sam Harrison in July 2011

Scrambling is a great way to add another dimension to a day in the hills, and can add excitement and exhilaration that will leave you craving for more. This short guide aims to give you a brief introduction and to whet your appetite, but certainly shouldn't be taken as a definitive guide – there are plenty of websites and books out there entirely dedicated to the subject, so take a look!

What is scrambling?

The definition of scrambling is rather ambiguous, lying somewhere between straightforward hill walking and rock climbing:
  • Scrambling involves moving over terrain steep enough or technically challenging enough to necessitate using your hands for more than just the odd hand hold.
Easier scrambles often require no technical skills and most harder sections can be bypassed, whereas harder scrambles can include technical moves often in exposed situations with no alternative routes. Where scrambling stops and rock climbing begins is sometimes unclear, with some harder scrambles being classed as easier climbs for which a rope may be required (see here for information on the British climbing grade system).

Grading system

Because of the wide range of scrambles available, a grading system becomes very useful. The typical English system uses grades 1, 2, 3 and 3S (S standing for severe), with grade 1 being the easiest. In Scotland, grades from 1 to 5 are often used, which can become confusing, so be sure to check which grading system the guide you are reading uses. Please note however, scrambles are graded in good dry conditions and the advent of rain or strong winds can increase the grade of the scramble by one or even two grades.
  • Grade 1: A simple scramble with little technical difficulty. Often harder sections can be bypassed and escape routes may be present. Route finding will be simple. That said, a grade 1 scramble may still be daunting with some exposure, so it would be ill-advised to skip this grade and go straight on to grade 2 without trying at least one grade 1.
  • Grade 2: Will include more continuous and harder sections with routes more difficult to follow. Short exposed sections with somewhat more technical moves. Escape routes may not be present. Some people may feel more comfortable with a rope.
  • Grade 3: A much more serious proposition, often with long sections of technical and exposed ground. Pitches of simple rock climbing (normally of around grade Mod) may be unavoidable. Lack of escape routes means people should be skilled in ropework and a rope is often advisible. Should only be undertaken by experienced scramblers. Route finding may be difficult.
  • Grade 3S: Arguably a rock climb, scrambles of this grade can contain many pitches on steep rock or vegetation, normally around a grade Diff but sometimes up to V Diff. Route finding will be difficult and escape normally only by abseiling. Ropework skills essential, as is plenty of experience.
As well as the technicality grade, a starred grading system is often used to denote the "quality" of the route – in other words, how much fun it is!
  • * : Some good points and worth a visit, but may be short and not worth going too far out of your way for.
  • ** : Good sustained sections of quality scrambling.
  • *** : A classic route, continuous good rock in a great situation, worth making a special visit to!

Some examples

Here’s a few classic scrambles at the different grades. Check out our winter walking section if you fancy doing them in winter conditions!
  • Grade 1*** - Striding Edge: This ridge up to the mountain of Helvellyn in the Lake District barely makes it onto the scrambling grades as a path bypasses nearly all scrambling sections. A great place to start scrambling and judge how your head for heights is.
  • Grade 1*** - Crib Goch: A knife-edge ridge that forms part of the Snowdon Horseshoe, this scramble isn't one for those without a head for heights. Technically straightforward but very exposed in places, with few escape routes.
  • Grade 1/2*** - Tryfan and Bristly Ridge: Arguably one of the best scrambles in mainland Britain, the North Ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia offers something for everyone. There are countless different routes to pick from so you can make the ascent as easy or hard as you like. Continuing past Tryfan, Bristly Ridge rises up to the summit of Glyder Fach. Sticking to the crest of this ridge gives a great sense of exposure and includes scrambling more akin to grade 2, however a path does bypass this to the west, reducing the overall grade to 1. Combining these two scrambles in the same day gives you one of the best days out in the hills you can ask for.
  • Grade 2*** - Aonach Eagach: If the previous routes don't take the crown of best scramble in mainland Britain, then the (in)famous Aonach Eagach certainly should! Not amazingly technically difficult, but super-exposed, very long and inescapable. Not one for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. Look out for this one on our Glencoe weekend!
  • Grade 3*** - Pinnacle Ridge: Another fantastically exposed ridge, this time onto St Sunday Crag in the Lakes. Click on the link for a good video showing most of the route.
  • Grade 3S*** - Cyfrwy Arete: This arete leads onto Cyfrwy and then in turn onto Cadair Idris in southern Snowdonia. Different guide books grade the arete differently, some as Mod and some Diff, but it is certainly at the top end of the scrambling grades! Rope required.

Useful links

UK Scrambles - A database of a few scrambles in England, Wales and Scotland.
Outdoors Magic - Extensive selection of walking routes, some scrambling and some not. Good thorough descriptions of scrambles.