In the years between doing my Mountain Leader training and my subsequent assessment I was blessed to have many days out on the hill assisting a highly experienced friend and qualified mountain leader working with school students on grade 1 scrambles and on steep ground in general. (In those days I was a teacher). Without going into the debate whether or not this was in our remit, those steep-ground days out on the mountain served me really well for when my assessment finally came, and more to the point in my time with clients out on the mountains now.
With that in mind here are 13 grade 1 scrambles for aspirant mountain leaders all packed into 8 stonking quality mountain days… (But do not fear, scrambling itself is not something you will ever be assessed on).
1. Nantle Ridge, Snowdonia
Get out on this route: if nothing else it’s a fabulous walk and chances are, you’ll hardly see a soul on it. It’s listed in the guidebooks as a grade 1 scramble, but in reality if you’re looking for a good scramble you will need to look for the interest on this route. Do it though since it is a good introduction to steep ground. Think how you would exploit it to make it more worthwhile as a scramble. Remember this day and route – when the weather is ragging the tops at or above 900m this delightful ridge will see you right since it lies at around 800m abs which can make all the difference.
2. Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, Lake District
Disappointing as a scramble, but a great way to ascend (and descend from) the summit of Helvellyn. (More an exciting walk really). Really there’s only one tricky bit and that’s the cheeky little down-climb you will do to get off the crest of the ridge-line. Swirral Edge is the natural descent to get in on the same day – though it does rather shorten the day to descend this way.
3. Sharp Edge and Hall’s Fell Ridge, Lake District
This is an iconic Lake District scramble that again links up to make a natural ascent and descent. I have included it in this list since I have come to the conclusion that this is an awful scramble to take people on. Over the years I have done this scramble many times in all kinds of weather and I have always found it to be slippery, greasy and rather poor value. Do this scramble to scratch an itch and to learn what makes for a crap day out! If you do decide on this route though, you really don’t want to be on Sharp Edge on a wet and windy day – be sure to consider the weather forecast carefully first.
4. Y Gribin Ridge, Snowdon group
Never again take the Miners’ Path or the Pyg Track to the summit of Wales’ highest mountain. Instead seek out this gem. It’s a great introductory route that’s worth knowing about. Route finding is easy and the scrambling is sustained enough to maintain interest, but not so sustained as to give you a epic-sized heart attack before you reach the top. If you’re not careful though you could end up walking up rather than scrambling. Try and make an effort to keep it interesting. Make it an even better day by following the crest of the east ridge to the summit of Snowdon before retreating back down its south ridge and then onto the Watkin Path. Finally hitch a lift back to your car which you probably left half a mile down the round from the Pen y Gwryd Hotel!
5. Llech Du Spur, Carneddau, Snowdonia
Wonder up the Afon Lloer from Bethesda and wonder to yourself how many people must be on Snowdon while you’re probably enjoying this delightful wilderness to yourself. Take yourself to the head of the valley and closely regard and consider carefully the description in the guidebook. Getting yourself to the start of this route might be the hardest part of the day – but there again, route finding is a good skill to hone! This is a superb route and particularly good when the south-westerly wind is too great to get up high anywhere else: since this route is nicely shielded by Carnedd Dafydd and its protruding spur Mynydd Du.
6. Stickle Ghyll and Jack’s Rake
Most people think that Stickle Ghyll is just for the centres or for kids. In actual fact it’s a lot of fun and great way to get up to the tarn whilst not taking the adjacent footpath. If you’re leading some friends on this adventure it also gives you a great chance to see how they move on steep ground which at the same time is not committing. Perhaps they’ll need coaching, close support or perhaps you’ll need a complete change plan instead of doing the hugely committing Jack’s Rake further up. Don’t miss out on scrambling as far as you can up this great ghyll. Also get any guinea-pigs you have to scramble up the water-fall. Before you they do so – rig a rope – this is a great opportunity for you to practise tying into an anchor and seeing up your “clients”.
Jack’s Rake is possibly one of the most popular routes in the Lake District. Once you’re on it, be sure to understand that really there’s no escape. If you or one of your friends is going to bail, do so sooner than later.
Wet slippy rocks, water falls, and later scrambling beneath climbers on multi-pitch routes … Helmets maybe?
7. Tryfan’s North Ridge, and Bristly Ridge too
These are two of the top scrambling routes in Snowdonia. If ever you get lost, just remember to follow the polish. Find your way to the Canon Stone and you’re roughly on route. From here things can get very serious very quickly. Think, if you were with a client, which route might you choose? Maybe best not to follow the masses, but to explore your own route to the top from here-on, things can get very hairy very easily!
Bristly Ridge begins with your choice of Sinister or Dexter Gully. Sinister isn’t a bad description – though these words are actually just the Latin for left and right. Either way you’ll be ascending a chossy gully – so be sure to wear a helmet. (Helmets are not just for climbers – I would wear one for ascending Lord’s Rake from Scafel Pike too). From there on follow the polish and continually think: is this a grade 1 scramble? If it feels too serious maybe you’ve gone off route.
Finish this day with a traverse of the Glyders and make Y Garn your final summit before you then descend down its exposed east ridge for a grand finale!
8. A traverse of Crib Goch
This is a grade 1 scramble at the top of its game. Big on exposure and big on commitment. I have done this route many times over the years and in both directions – I suggest for your first foray you go anti-clockwise towards Snowdon. With such a popular route finding your way is generally just a case of following the polish. If in doubt, always look to explore if there is a line over and along the true crest/pinnacles.
Beware though: with scrambling comes risk. If you’re not sure about which route to choose for that day, or you’re not sure about how to find it or how to follow it you can end up on dangerously steep ground that you’re unable to escape from. If you don’t have a rope and find yourself needing one the consequences of a fall can be catastrophic. If you have a rope but don’t have the skills to safely use it, again the outcome could be fatal.
As a mountain leader I always carry a rope when out with a group in the mountains. However I carry this not to facilitate the day’s plan but to facilitate an escape should the need arise. Typically in my 30 years of leading people in the mountains I have only ever needed a short line to short-rope someone off the hill because something has happened not to plan. One example of this was a client who suffered an injured knee on a traverse of the Welsh 3000s, and using the rope helped me get him off the mountain without him falling.
For grade 1 scrambles you should not expect to need a rope at all. For harder routes then a rope should be carried, but as important as having a rope to hand is having the skills that go with it. In essence, ropes are no substitute for experience and knowledge. If you’re going to do routes that may need a rope, learn the skills first.
As an ML trainee get out on these routes, and ideally take a friend or two. Be sure however that they understand the seriousness of the undertaking. The BMC have an excellent series of video clips showing you what each route involves. It would be a good idea to show these to your friends beforehand so that they are informed participants.
When you head out on these days, and as you ascend or descend steep-ground, think as a good leader would. Ask yourself continually what if I had a client here who was nervous, or tired and clumsy, or injured somehow? Or maybe just pushy and determined regardless of the conditions? It’s not just the ground that dictates how you do what, but the whole overall situation including the client’s condition and the weather too. It’s this continual reflection, thinking and asking questions that will reap the lessons learned for you.
Think about your own movement skills. Are you clumsily pulling yourself up the route or are you moving elegantly and efficiently? Maybe some movement coaching would pay dividends before you go for assessment.
Days playing soldiers (in a former life) in the Territorial Army taught me a valuable lesson: “time in recce is seldom wasted”. Now get out and enjoy a recce!
Mountain Leaders do take people on simple scrambles (so long as there is no planned use of the rope), but if you are someone just embarking on the award scheme you should be clear that scrambling is by no means an integral part of the scheme – and you will not be assessed on it.
Apologies for only including English and Welsh grade 1 scrambles – it’s where the bulk of my experience lies, but if you want a 14th route – have a crack at Ledge Route on Ben Nevis and round it off with a descent along the CMD Arete. It’s on my bucket list!
A Beginner’s Guide to Scrambling
UKH.com – SKILLS: 25 Tips for Safer Scrambling Without Ropes
The BMC: The 5 biggest pitfalls to avoid when scrambling
Outdoor First Aid – Five items of essential first aid kit for the outdoors
What to do in an Emergency Outdoors
One Item Of First Aid Kit: Always Needed & The Least Appreciated