The last couple of days saw me returning to the Hills of Snowdonia with a client who wanted to develop his Scrambling Skills. Which of course begs the question, how can you develop a scrambler? Whilst the answer to this question for me at least depends on the client, there are a few essential skills and technique that I believe have to be developed for a hillwalker to bridge the gap to scrambling.
First off with scrambling, it is imperative that someone can find a route up a mountain, and not through what might be considered navigation, I am referring to a route up and throw steep and rocky terrain. A scramble does also need those navigational skills as well because getting up is just half ay on the journey and finding even the start of a scramble or more importantly your way safely back down is at times testing. Finally, if you do ‘overcook’ your route or get lost and need to get down a short step that is maybe beyond you then having some idea of how you can use a rope in an absolute emergency to aid your descent is a final skill.
With those basic skills as the syllabus then I met up with Alex who runs a small artisan Cider making business in the Black Mountains called Ty Gwyn Cider to help turn him into a mountain scrambler. How we went about that was to start on the North Ridge of Tryfan and using the guidebook description start to piece together the route on the ground.
At first looking at how we can get from where we are to a point in the distance via points we can identify over the 10m, 20m, 50m and out to the furthest point we can see. Breaking the early part of the route down like this got Alex used to the idea of picking a route through step but not generally too rocky terrain. As we ascended up and got into the more rocky scrambling I got Alex to continue following the guidebook description and then picking and choosing his way through the rocky sections by chatting through the pros and cons of each option.
Finally, as we got higher I started to steer Alex toward some of the harder options as he gained confidence and his technical improved. All so we could arrive at the North Tower full equipped for the challenge it offered. Alex then started to pick and choose his way up this before we headed to the summit. Tryfan is great for these skills.
Whilst the I love the classic North Ridge – South Ridge Traverse I like to descend Little and North Gullies as a way to introduce hard and sometimes difficult downclimbing almost from the start. Which allowed us to get a rope out and to help safeguard parts of the descent and cover those skills. We followed this up with a short session on using the rope to abseil down a short slab. If you like introducing the emergency skills you might need if it all goes wrong on the hill.
The weather was awful the following day, wet with high winds, so not ideal for learning to scramble. So instead we focused more on navigation up to Y Gribin. Using the 5 Ds of navigation to break a journey down and almost use the same process of choosing tactical places to stop along the way that we did when scrambling the day before.
At the start of the ridge the wind was not to bad and the rain was letting up so we headed up knowing we could stay off the crest of the ridge and gain the summit plateaux, where I introduced Alex to bearings and pacing work to find the summit before we picked up the path just after we left the summit.
All in all, despite the weather we managed to get Alex to cover all of the skills and as a one to one, he got to practice them over and over so that I hope he feels confident enough to head out and go scrambling for himself or with friends. That to me is what I hope we achieved over two days and unlike simply guiding people up and down a scramble it is about giving the client as many opportunities to actively practice those skills we introduced.
I truly believe that in using this approach we really do prepare people to head out into the mountains of the UK and scramble. Click to find out more or book.