This article is about climbing steep slopes. For other uses, see Scramble (disambiguation).
Scrambling on Crib Goch, Snowdonia, Wales
Part of the Crib Goch ridge, Wales. An easy section of the path runs over the grassy saddle.

Scrambling (also known as alpine scrambling) is "a walk up steep terrain involving the use of one's hands".[1] It is an ambiguous term that lies somewhere between hiking, hillwalking, mountaineering, and easy rock climbing.[2] Canyoning often involves scrambling.

Alpine scrambling is a term applied to scrambling in high mountains like the Alps and the Rockies of North America, and may not follow a defined or waymarked path.[3] The Mountaineers climbing organization defines alpine scrambling as follows:[4]

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 talus and scree, crossing streams, fighting one's way through dense brush, and walking on snow-covered slopes.


Although ropes may be sensible on harder scrambles, sustained use of rope and belay counts as climbing; typically, the use of ropes in scrambling is limited to basic safety uses.

While much of the enjoyment of scrambling depends on the freedom from technical apparatus, unroped scrambling in exposed situations is potentially one of the most dangerous of mountaineering activities. For this reason mountain walkers are advised to carry a rope on harder scrambles. Scramblers are also advised to know their limits and to turn back before they get into difficulties.[5]

Some mountain tops may be reached by walking or scrambling up their least-steep side.

Via Ferrata routes

A via ferrata in Germany. 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";[6] that is it is a serious form of scrambling, which 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 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.

British routes

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 theses 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.


Stanley Peak, British Columbia, Canada

A guide to 156 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.[7][8] The Canadian Alpine Journal referred to it as a "scree gospel".[9]

Stanley Peak is a 3,155 m high mountain located in the Ball Range, at the northeastern section of Kootenay National Park, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (British Columbia, Canada), which can be ascended from a scrambling route by late summer but this involves difficult route finding among the many ledges and gullies on the north face. [10][11][12]

United States

Mount Jefferson is in Coos County, New Hampshire, and is the third highest mountain in the state. [13] Mount Jefferson has a direct ascent along the Caps Ridge Trail, whose base, Jefferson Notch, is the highest point of any public road in New Hampshire at 3,009 feet (917 m). This route, gaining only 2,700 feet (823 m) vertically to the summit, makes for the easiest ascent of any Presidential mountain. However, climbing over the "caps" involves some exposed scrambling and can be steep and challenging at times.


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 an insidious danger for all hikers, and especially inexperienced hikers. Weather does not need to be very cold to be dangerous, since ordinary rain or mist has a strong cooling effect. In mild weather hikers may neglect to bring appropriate clothing or gear for keeping dry and warm enough for safety.

Scramblers normally travel equipped with a waterproof jacket and other protective clothing, as well as emergency supplies of food and drink. A large-scale map is also needed, so that the route can be followed with accuracy, and escape made via recognised paths in the case of bad weather or injury.[14]

Scrambling safety

The ten essentials, and a companion are recommended for any scramble, as well as the need to leave details of the planned trip with a responsible person. Where snow conditions exist, a helmet, ice axe, crampons, and the knowledge to use them, are also recommended for mountain hikes.[15]

Classification systems

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

In the U.S., scrambling is Class 3 in the Yosemite Decimal System of climb difficulties. In the British system it is Easy with some of the harder scrambles incorporating moves of Moderate or even Difficult standard.

Some guidebooks on scrambling may rate the routes as follows:

In Britain scrambles are usually rated using Ashton's[16] 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. Note that 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.

See also


  1. 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. New Oxford American Dictionary.
  4. The Mountaineers. FAQs on Alpine Scrambles. Retrieved on 2008-01-15 from
  5. British Mountain Council: Hill skills (Scrambling)
  6. New Oxford American Dictionary.
  7. Backpacker Magazine Aug 2004
  8. Backpacker Magazine Aug 1999
  9. Canadian Alpine Journal
  10. "Stanley Peak - British Columbia #1538". Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  11. "Stanley Peak". Peakware World Mountain Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  12. "Peak Stanley". Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  13. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 168.
  14. British Mountain Council: Hill skills (Scrambling)
  15. The Mountaineers, Freedom of the Hills, (The Mountaineers Books, 7th Ed. 2003), ISBN 978-0-89886-427-4
  16. Steve Ashton, Scrambles in Snowdonia, (Cicerone Press, 1992), ISBN 1-85284-088-9

External links

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