Being an avid outdoor type I often come across the term scrambling. It sounds exciting but also a bit scary. Sometimes people have ropes in the pictures, sometimes they appear to be walking along a fairly thin but otherwise unremarkable rocky stretch of ground.
I decided it was time to find out, once and for all, what this scrambling malarkey was and work out whether it was for me.
One of my outdoor mottoes is fast becoming; if in doubt go on a course. It’s the cautious Carol living within me but I’m coming to accept that being a bit cautious and gently exploring your limits is probably the right way (for me) to go about being an outdoorsy soul. Anyway; we set off for Plas Y Brenin for a weekend of guided scrambling. We couldn’t have been luckier with our instructors, both were excellent and one had even written the authoritative tome on scrambling in North Wales – tuition doesn’t get more expert than that! More about Garry Smiths North Wales Scrambles later.
One thing that was really confusing me about scrambling was the grading. At what point did you need ropes? If you needed ropes then surely this was climbing? The questions were coming thick and fast. It took multiple lines of inquiries to get Garry to commit to a definition of the grades but I have to say I think he has just about nailed it in the book.
A grade 1 scramble is a walk; but it is a walk that most people will want to use their hands for as well as their feet for part of it. There might be sections where there are fairly big drops either side of where you are walking but there will always be lots of nice, chunky, grippy rock for your hands and feet to hold on to. Not being scared of heights or exposed drops will mean that lots of keen hillwalkers will really enjoy a day out on a classic grade 1 scramble. Obviously be a bit weather savvy; a nice day out can quickly turn if high winds, rain or snow are forecast. Be sensible. The pub is always an option.
The majority of our weekend was taken up with some classic grade 3 scrambles to make the most of the fact that we had guides with us. I LOVED the routes but would not be able to do them with my current skill set without a guide or a more experienced lead. The walk to get to the scrambles was often off piste and steep. Once at the foot of what initially appeared to be a climbing route we all roped up with the guide at the front and the two of us spaced along the rope behind attached via our climbing harnesses. Progress was swift without a lot of the faff associated with trad climbing. On steeper sections the lead would climb a 10-15m section and then create a belay to ensure they were able to catch a slip of those following behind. Some of the sections were pretty challenging; the main challenge being trying to climb in walking boots. It was fantastic to be able to cover steep ground quickly and have a true ‘quality mountain day’ without having to spend the day at a crag in rock shoes. Don’t get me wrong I love to climb outside but it’s always nice to have new ways to appreciate the mountains.
In case you’re worried I’ve forgotten about grade 2 scrambles panic not. By defining the top and bottom end of a scale you can pretty much work out what grade 2 means! For me it means I’ll need to do a few more grade 1 classics before thinking about pushing myself on a grade 2 in good conditions. When I do attempt it I think it’ll be with someone a little more sure footed leading!
North wales is a fantastic place to get into scrambling. So easily accessible and also so easy to get away from the crowds which that accessibility brings. Just push yourself a little and explore the mountains in new ways.
I really can recommend Garry’s book wholeheartedly; its descriptions show a real enthusiasm for scrambling and for the beautiful area that he lives in. £20* well spent for any mountain lover.
*I paid for the weekend and my copy. I’m just writing nice things about a lovely book and an all round good guy.