What is scrambling?


Scrambling is probably best described as the middle ground between walking and climbing. Basically, if you need to use your hands to make headway, you're scrambling.

Walkers often progress from low-level easy walks to more challenging days out that involve scrambling; sometimes presenting difficult or dangerous routes that call on a range of mountaineering skills.

But at what point does scrambling become 'climbing'? It's not an easy question to answer, since scrambling can involve some climbing, so in the UK there is a scrambling grading system from 1 to 3 - to help you understand the type of challenge you will be undertaking on a given walk or scramble:

Grade 1 - (Easy) - This will be an easy scramble with little or no hazards, and an easy route suitable for most experienced hill walkers. It will generally present an interesting route (or line) up a gully, ridge, or buttress where you are not overly exposed and where the route can be varied at will. Use of a rope is not expected.​

Grade 2 - (Moderate) - This will be a route that has longer and more difficult sections that require sustained use of hands, and at certain points will require a short rock climb to overcome an obstacle. Retreat may be quite difficult and you may wish to take a rope for confidence and/or safety, but it is not usually expected for experienced scramblers.​

Grade 3 - (Advanced) - This will be a route that involves making moves on potentially very steep rock in very exposed situations, so should only be undertaken by experienced scramblers or climbers. A rope is advised and the ability to abseil may be useful if a retreat has to be made. This route could also contain steep grassy sections that offer no hand-holds, where a slip could be fatal.​

NOTE: The boundary between harder scrambles and easy rock climbs can be blurred. Some scrambling guide books now offer a grade 4 or 3S and often the same routes will be in climbing guide books and graded moderate or even difficult. These routes require a competent leader who can manage any required ropework safely and look after the rest of the party.
Sounds like a good way to define scrambling. I always figured it was scrambling if mixed terrain components were present, various surfaces and angles as well. I once did a grade 3 ascent of a clay face next to a highway, and turned at the top to see several cars had pulled off to watch the event.


Regular Member
A peninsula
There are some fairly serious scrambles whose grade belies their difficulty, mainly because they aren't done often so can be wet and greasy and quite isolated, being away from the main walking route and often following a gorge. Rope skills are a must for harder grades and some climbing experience definitely helps. A lot of classic scrambles in the UK can be done without though and are well worth the effort.
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