Last updated
Scrambling Mount Galwey in Waterton Park, Alberta, Canada Scrambling Mt. Galwey in Waterton Park.jpg
Scrambling Mount Galwey in Waterton Park, Alberta, Canada

Scrambling is a mountaineering term for ascending steep terrain using one's hands to assist in holds and balance. [1] It is also used to describe terrain that falls between hiking and rock climbing (as a "scramble"). [2]


Sure-footedness and a head for heights are essential. Canyoning and stream climbing both involve scrambling.


A dangerous scramble traversing an exposed ridge on Crib Goch, Wales Crib goch ridge arp.jpg
A dangerous scramble traversing an exposed ridge on Crib Goch, Wales

Scrambling is ascending or traversing a grade without technical apparatus. Unroped ascent in exposed situations is potentially one of the most dangerous of mountaineering activities. As soon as an ascent involves a rope, going up or down, it is no longer a scramble.

Alpine scrambling

Alpine scrambling is scrambling in high mountains and may not follow a defined or waymarked path. [1] The Seattle Mountaineers climbing organization defines alpine scrambling as follows: [3]

Alpine Scrambles are off-trail trips, often on snow or rock, with a 'non-technical' summit as a destination. A non-technical summit is one that is reached without the need for certain types of climbing equipment (body harness, rope, protection hardware, etc), and not involving travel on extremely steep slopes or on glaciers. However, this can mean negotiating lower angle rock, traveling through crossing streams, fighting one's way through dense brush, and walking on snow-covered slopes.

Hazards and safety

Many easy scrambles become serious climbs in bad weather. Black ice or verglas is a particular problem in cold weather, and mist or fog can disorient scramblers very quickly.

Hypothermia is a danger to all hikers, particularly the inexperienced. Any combination of cool temperatures, wind, moisture, and an absence of sunlight can create the condition.

Proper gear, clothing, supplies, and first aid materials are essential, as is in most cases a map [4] [5] :18–41

Classification systems

The Aonach Eagach above the A82, looking up Glen Coe, Scotland. Aggy ridge.jpg
The Aonach Eagach above the A82, looking up Glen Coe, Scotland.

By climbing grade, the U.S. generally defines scrambling as Class 2 or 3 in the Yosemite Decimal System of climbing difficulties. [5] :511 In the British climbing system, it is Easy with some of the harder scrambles incorporating moves of Moderate or even Difficult standard. [6]

In Britain, scrambles are usually rated using Ashton's [7] system of either Grade 1, 2, 3 or 3S (S for serious), with the grade being based around technical difficulty and exposure. The North Ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia, or Striding Edge on Helvellyn in the Lake District, are classic Grade 1 scrambles. At the other end of the scale, Broad Stand on Scafell is usually considered Grade 3 or 3S. Some of the older Scottish guidebooks used a system of grades 1 to 5, leading to considerable confusion and variation over grades 1, 2 and 3 in Scotland, however most well-known scrambles now have a standardised rating.

By country


Stanley Peak, British Columbia, Canada Stanley Peak.jpg
Stanley Peak, British Columbia, Canada

A guide to 175 scrambling routes in the Canadian Rockies can be found in Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Alan Kane. Backpacker magazine has twice featured the book as an expedition guide. [8] [9] The Canadian Alpine Journal referred to it as a "scree gospel". [10]


A via ferrata in Austria. The Hermann von Barth Weg (Path) Hermann von Barth Weg MQ.jpg
A via ferrata in Austria. The Hermann von Barth Weg (Path)

Via ferrata is "a mountain route equipped with fixed ladders, cables, and bridges in order to be accessible to climbers and walkers" common in the Dolomites of Italy. This form of scrambling has climbing aids built in on the route that help make it safe. The essence of a modern via ferrata is a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically (every 3 to 10 metres (9.8 to 32.8 ft)) fixed to the rock. Using a via ferrata kit, climbers can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any fall. The cable can also be used as an aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps and even ladders and bridges are often provided. Thus, via ferratas allow otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing or the need for climbing equipment such as ropes. Such routes allow the relatively inexperienced a means of enjoying dramatic positions and accessing difficult peaks, normally the preserve of the serious mountaineer; although, as there is a need for some equipment, a good head for heights and basic technique, the via ferrata can be seen as a distinct step up from ordinary mountain walking.

United Kingdom

Scrambling has become an increasingly popular form of mountaineering in Britain; the English Lake District, the Scottish Highlands, and the north of Snowdonia in Wales being the chief regions of interest. Popular Scrambling guidebooks exist for these areas, outlining a wide spectrum of routes in terms of both difficulty and style. UK scrambles come in many forms: the ascents, descents and traverses of ridges, gully and ghyll scrambles, rakes (lines of weakness that penetrate large, and often sheer, rock faces), and the ascents of buttresses and faces. UK scrambles vary enormously in length; from as little height gain as 30 metres, as with many crag rock climbs, up to the 700+ metres of vertical height gain encountered on Tower Ridge, a famous 3S grade scramble that ascends Ben Nevis via its north face (Tower Ridge is also graded as a 'difficult' rock climb - arguably Britain's longest.). Scrambles in Snowdonia typically feature between 60 (e.g. Milestone Gully, Tryfan.) and 500 metres (e.g. Bryant's Gully, Glyder Fawr) of height gain.

Ridge routes that involve some scrambling are especially popular in Britain, including Crib Goch on Snowdon, Bristly Ridge on Glyder Fach, Striding Edge on Helvellyn, and Sharp Edge on Blencathra, both in the English Lake District, as well as numerous routes in Scotland, such as the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe. Many of these routes include a "bad step", where the scrambling suddenly becomes much more serious. The bad step on Crib Goch for example, involves only 20 feet (6.1 m) or so of climbing, but the position is exposed. The rock face here is well polished by countless boots, but there are many holds which offer firm support. By contrast, the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye demands use of a rope at one point at least. The ridge routes of Liathach and Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross are easier to traverse but are extremely exposed. Descent from such ridges is very limited, so once committed, the scrambler must continue to the end. An Teallach to the north offers scrambling, as does Stac Pollaidh further north in Sutherland, which includes a bad step.

One resource for scramblers in Britain are the guides by W A Poucher (1891–1988), though these are now dated and more recent guide books exist.

A community project consisting of a comprehensive list of scrambles in the United Kingdom is available at [11]

Poland and Slovakia

Ganek/Ganok (2465 m) viewed from Zlobisty/Zlobiva peak, a typical example of Tatras' harder scrambles Ganek Z2018.jpg
Ganek/Ganok (2465 m) viewed from Żłobisty/Zlobiva peak, a typical example of Tatras' harder scrambles

Scrambling has grown ever so popular in recent years with more experienced mountain hikers in Tatras, the highest mountain range within the 1500 km-long chain of Carpathians, located on the border between Poland and Slovakia. A hiker who has scaled all possible marked tourist trails will in time typically start looking for more ambitious goals, namely those peaks that by law are only accessible via hiring a licensed mountain guide (for a fee). More adventurous individuals, however, or those on a tight budget (often college/university students) endeavour to climb those harder accessible summits without assistance, especially since very accurate descriptions of (typically "normal", i.e. the easiest) routes are readily available on the Internet. Apart from dedicated websites, guidebooks for rock climbers by Witold Henryk Paryski  [ pl ] or Władysław Cywiński  [ pl ] (Poland) and Arno Puškáš  [ sk ] (Slovakia) are particularly popular. There is an informal peak bagging challenge called Wielka Korona Tatr  [ pl ] / Velka Korona Tatier (or Great Crown of Tatras), involving climbing Tatras' all fourteen 8-thousanders (in feet), only 3 of which are accessible by marked hiking trails. Typically, they are graded at most I or II in Tatra climbing difficulty scale (equivalent to British Grade 3/3s).

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ben Nevis</span> Highest mountain in the British Isles

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the British Isles. The summit is 1,345 metres (4,413 ft) above sea level and is the highest land in any direction for 739 kilometres. Ben Nevis stands at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Highland region of Lochaber, close to the town of Fort William.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climbing</span> Activity to ascend a steep object

Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or other parts of the body to ascend a steep topographical object that can range from the world's tallest mountains to small boulders. Climbing is done for locomotion, sporting recreation, for competition, and is also done in trades that rely on ascension, such as rescue and military operations. Climbing is done indoors and outdoors, on natural surfaces, and on artificial surfaces

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountaineering</span> Sport of mountain climbing

Mountaineering, mountain climbing, or alpinism is a set of outdoor activities that involves ascending mountains. Mountaineering-related activities include traditional outdoor climbing, skiing, and traversing via ferratas that have become sports in their own right. Indoor climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering are also considered variants of mountaineering by some, but are part of a wide group of mountain sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Longs Peak</span> Mountain in the Rocky Mountains

Longs Peak is a high and prominent mountain in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 14,259-foot (4346 m) fourteener is located in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, 9.6 miles (15.5 km) southwest by south of the Town of Estes Park, Colorado, United States. Longs Peak is the northernmost fourteener in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the highest point in Boulder County and Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain was named in honor of explorer Stephen Harriman Long and is featured on the Colorado state quarter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sgùrr Dearg</span> Mountain on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Sgùrr Dearg is a mountain in the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It is topped by the Inaccessible Pinnacle, a fin of rock measuring 50 metres (160 ft) along its longest edge. The top of the Pinnacle stands at 985.8 m (3,234 ft) above sea level, making Sgùrr Dearg the only Munro with a peak that can only be reached by rock climbing. This makes it the biggest hurdle for many Munro baggers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sgùrr Alasdair</span> Scottish islands highest peak, 992 m (3,255 ft), UKs fifth highest

Sgùrr Alasdair is the highest peak of the Black Cuillin, and the highest peak on the Isle of Skye and in the Inner Hebrides, and indeed in all the Scottish islands, at 992 m (3,255 ft). Like the rest of the range it is composed of gabbro, a rock with excellent grip for mountaineering. It is named after Alexander Nicolson, who made the first recorded ascent in 1873. Prior to this the mountain had been locally known as Sgurr Biorach.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crib Goch</span> Mountain in Wales

Crib Goch is described as a "knife-edged" arête in the Snowdonia National Park in Gwynedd, Wales. The name means "red ridge" in Welsh.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tryfan</span> Mountain in northwest Wales

Tryfan is a mountain in the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia, Wales. It forms part of the Glyderau group, and is one of the most recognisable peaks in Britain, having a classic pointed shape with rugged crags. At 917.5 metres above sea level, it is the fifteenth-highest mountain in Wales. Tryfan was voted Britain's favourite mountain by Trail magazine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glyderau</span> Mountain group in Wales

The Glyderau are a mountain group in Snowdonia, North Wales. The name derives from the highest peaks in the range, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach. According to Sir Ifor Williams, the word "Glyder" derives from the Welsh word "Cludair", meaning a heap of stones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Welsh 3000s</span> 15 mountains in Wales with a height over 3,000 feet (914.4 m)

The Welsh 3000s are the 15 Welsh Munros. These are mountains in Wales that are over 3,000 feet (914.4 m). Geographically they fall within three ranges, but close enough to make it possible to reach all 15 summits within 24 hours, a challenge known as the Welsh 3000s challenge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dom (mountain)</span> Mountain in the Pennine Alps, Switzerland

The Dom is a mountain of the Pennine Alps, located between Randa and Saas-Fee in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. With a height of 4,546 m (14,915 ft), it is the seventh highest summit in the Alps, overall. Based on prominence, it can be regarded as the third highest mountain in the Alps, and the second highest in Switzerland, after Monte Rosa. The Dom is the main summit of the Mischabel group, which is the highest massif lying entirely in Switzerland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Via ferrata</span> Type of protected alpine climbing route

A via ferrata is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other Alpine locations. The protection includes steel fixtures such as cables and railings to arrest the effect of any fall, which the climber can either hold onto or clip into using climbing protection. Some via ferrata can also include steel fixtures that provide aid in overcoming the obstacles encountered, including steel ladders and steel steps.

Harold Andrew Raeburn was a Scottish mountaineer. He was one of the most prominent British mountaineers of his era with several first ascents. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries he took part in numerous ascents in Norway, contributing to the popularization of Norwegian mountaineering among the international mountaineering community. Some of his regular mountaineering partners in Norway were William Cecil Slingsby, Howard Priestman and Norwegians Kristian Tandberg and George Paus. He was mountaineering leader on the initial 1921 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tower Ridge</span> Mountain ridge in Scotland

Tower Ridge is one of several ridges protruding north east from the summit plateau of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom.

Wojciech Kurtyka is a Polish mountaineer and rock climber, one of the pioneers of the alpine style of climbing the biggest walls in the Greater Ranges. He lived in Wrocław up to 1974 when he moved to Kraków. He graduated as engineer in electronics. In 1985 he climbed the "Shining Wall," the west face of Gasherbrum IV, which Climbing magazine declared to be the greatest achievement of mountaineering in the twentieth century. In 2016, he received the Piolet d'Or for lifetime achievement in mountaineering.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sgùrr MhicChoinnich</span> Mountain in Scotland

Sgùrr MhicChoinnich is a mountain on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It is in the Black Cuillin range of mountains and is classified as a Munro. Like all the other Black Cuillin mountains it is made predominantly of gabbro rock and has little vegetation. The mountain is named after the mountain guide John MacKenzie.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Täschhorn</span> Mountain in Switzerland

The Täschhorn is a mountain in the Pennine range of the Alps in Switzerland. There are no easy mountaineering routes to its summit, and it is regarded as being among the top ten 4,000-metre mountains in the Alps for difficulty, and "one of the highest, finest and least accessible 4000m mountains". It lies immediately north of the Alphubel, and south of the Dom within the Mischabel range, and is very similar in shape to the Dom when seen from the upper Zermatt valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Williams Peak (Custer County, Idaho)</span>

Williams Peak, at 10,636 feet (3,242 m) high is the 6th highest peak in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho and is located within the Sawtooth Wilderness portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The peak lies 0.75 mi (1,210 m) north-northeast of Thompson Peak, the highest peak in the range.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine climbing</span> Type of mountaineering

Alpine climbing is a type of mountaineering that involves using any of a broad range of advanced climbing skills, including rock climbing, ice climbing, and/or mixed climbing, to summit typically large routes in an alpine environment. While alpine climbing began in the European Alps, it is used to refer to climbing in any remote mountainous area, including in the Himalayas and in Patagonia. The derived term alpine style refers to the fashion of alpine climbing to be in small lightly-equipped teams who carry all of their own equipment, and do all of the climbing.

Martin Moran was a British climber, mountain guide and author. In 1985, he became the first person to climb all the Munros during a single winter excursion. In 1993, he and his climbing partner became the first people to make a continuous traverse of all the Alpine 4,000-metre mountains in a single continuous trip, and without using any form of motorised transport. He created over a hundred new winter climbing routes in Scotland, and made a number of first ascents in the Himalayas. Moran died whilst leading a mountaineering expedition in India.


  1. 1 2 New Oxford American Dictionary.
  2. See Terry Adby and Stuart Johnston, The Hillwalker's Guide to Mountaineering, (Milnthorpe:Cicerone, 2003), ISBN   1-85284-393-4, pp. 62–65 for more on defining scrambles.
  3. The Mountaineers. FAQs on Alpine Scrambles. Retrieved on 2008-01-15 from "FAQs". Archived from the original on 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-01-15..
  4. "Hill skills: Scrambling". Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  5. 1 2 Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills (6th ed.). The Mountaineers. 1997. ISBN   0-89886-427-5.
  6. "Scrambling skills: The grades explained".
  7. Ashton, Steve (1992). Scrambles in Snowdonia. Cicerone Press. ISBN   1-85284-088-9.
  8. Inc, Active Interest Media (Aug 28, 2004). "Backpacker". Active Interest Media, Inc. Retrieved May 28, 2020 via Google Books.{{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  9. Inc, Active Interest Media (Aug 28, 1999). "Backpacker". Active Interest Media, Inc. Retrieved May 28, 2020 via Google Books.{{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  10. "The Canadian Alpine Journal". Alpine Club of Canada. May 28, 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2020 via Google Books.
  11. "UK Scrambling Walks - Peak & Lake District, Wales & Scotland". UK Scrambles. Retrieved 2017-11-09.