“Scrambling” is somewhere in-between hillwalking and climbing – it involves using your hands as well as feet to get yourself over some steep or rough ground.

It covers a wide range of difficulties, from simply using your hands to grab at the vegetation as you ascend a particularly steep grassy or heathery slope, through to steeper and more difficult rocky sections, with the hardest routes beginning to cross over into rock climbing territory. Indeed the harder scrambles can require the use of a rope and other climbing equipment.

There are various grading systems to formalise these levels of difficulty which
are used to classify scrambling routes in guidebooks. However these gradings can be somewhat subjective and it is not safe to assume that that two routes of the same grading will feel like the same level of difficulty. It is also important to remember that difficulties can vary enormously depending on the conditions (the same route could seem quite straightforward in calm, dry conditions and yet extremely demanding and dangerous in wet, windy or icy conditions). Here in the UK the system normally used is a numerical grade, roughly as follows below:

  • Grade 1: “Easiest” grade; hazards are generally not as serious and the exact route taken can often be varied. May still involve some very exposed or hazardous sections, however!
  • Grade 2: The route will probably involve some longer exposed sections where inexperienced scramblers may need a rope. Basic rock climbing skills may well be required for some sections. There will generally be a single route with limited scope for variation. In wet, windy or wintry conditions a Grade 2 scramble can feel very serious to the inexperienced.
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    Grade 3: These routes will tend to be very committing and should not be attempted by inexperienced scramblers. There will be longer rock climbs and more exposure. Most people will want to take a rope and probably some climbing equipment, especially if conditions are not ideal.

  • Grade 4 (or 3S): Hardest scrambling grade – above this, climbing grades are used. Should probably only be attempted by the most experienced scramblers who have already completed several Grade 3 scrambles in various conditions. Ropes, harnesses and climbing equipment should definitely be taken and will be used.

A star rating is also used alongside the numerical grading to denote how impressive / interesting the route is (1 to 3 stars with more stars being “better”).

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The grading descriptions above are only a rough guide – if you get a scrambling guidebook read what it says about the gradings given as they may differ. If in doubt limit yourself to Grade 1 and then work up through the grades as you gain experience.

Many Scottish mountains require some level of scrambling in order to reach the summit, although most of these are only Grade 1 or 2. Some of the most popular scrambles are those on the Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye, and in Glen Coe.

Check out the UK Scrambles website for more information and some scrambling routes.

Note re. Winter: the standard gradings discussed above relate to the route in summer conditions. In winter, when covered in snow and ice, many scrambling routes take on a very different character, with winter climbing gradings often then being applied instead. Summer scrambling gradings, route descriptions and timings should not be assumed to be valid. If considering attempting a route in winter, its a good idea to choose one which you have previously done in summer, and be prepared and equipped for winter climbing.