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James Thacker talks scrambling

Image for article James Thacker talks scrambling


Taking on scrambling terrain can be a tricky area to master and is perceived by many to be the grey area between hill walking and full on climbing. With many skills common to both, there probably isn’t a huge amount of technical skills to learn, and like most activities a good deal of mileage and the steady acquisition of experience will pay dividends. But in the short term here are some quick tips to get you started in the dark art of scrambling:

Scrambling Movement

For lots of scrambling routes people will choose to move unroped enjoying the freedom of movement on exposed and rocky ground. To do so safely we all need to move carefully and with sure footing, to prevent those risky trips or falls. Here we can take some skills from efficient hill walking, by moving steadily and smoothly. But as the angle increases and we start to negotiate rocky steps we can steal some techniques from the climbing community.

First, look ahead and anticipate where and how you might move upwards, but don’t forget the footholds. Efficient scrambling is very much “rear wheel drive” using our legs to drive us upwards. This in turns requires efficient and balanced footwork. Selecting small but positive holds where they exist is a good start along with a stiffer boot to avoid fatigue in our feet and calfs. Secondly, small movements means that our centre of balance stays over our feet.

Of course being perfectly balanced on our feet probably means that we are at risk of being stationary, and this is where the “ABC” of climbing comes in. We need both Agility, Balance and Coordination in equal measure. So plan ahead and be prepared to reach or rock over onto a higher foot hold to reach that next position of balance. All of these techniques require a bit of practice, so it’s best not to try while half way up a tricky scramble. But do experiment low down on small boulders and steps before committing yourself to something bigger. Practicing balancing on boulders, through boulder fields and on rough terrain while wearing boots and a rucksack is alway time well spent.

To move freely in the mountains well fitting equipment is also essential and its worth selecting clothing that allows good freedom of movement. This also extends to your rucksack. It’s worth selecting a small well fitting rucksac to achieve a stable and snug fit so that your balance is not affected at a crucial moment. This can be achieved by making sure that the waist and chest straps are adjusted appropriately as well as giving some thought to the packing of the contents. Make sure that the sac isn’t top heavy by placing heavier items towards the bottom and close to your back as well considering which items to leave behind.

Technical Stuff

One of the main differences between the some climbing venues and scrambles is the likelihood that you will encounter loose rock. Scrambles are often broken by ledges and grass slopes where loose rock accumulates as well as suffering from frost shattering and heavy rain at higher elevations. As a result care is required particularly if there are people climbing behind you, and I would consider wearing a helmet in many cases even as a solo unroped scrambler.

Testing suitable handholds carefully is probably a good idea to prevent any nasty surprises. Hopefully on most popular routes there will be signs of traffic in the form of footprints, polished or warn rock that is free of vegetation. As a result the rock should be of better quality in these areas and good route finding is really useful to avoid the lichenous and vegetated loose stuff. Checking the guidebook description will be useful if there is one available and keep looking for the line of least resistance…

Bruce Goodlad talks technical stuff next…

Article by James Thacker.

You can join James and Bruce on the George Fisher Summer Academy and learn first had about scrambling in the Lakes District.

18 April 2016 by Haglöfs UK

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