Group management for scrambling

Group management for scrambling

Leading groups scrambling is not something to be undertaken lightly. This article looks at the key factors to bear in mind when leading a group on the more adventurous end of the walking continuum.

For simplicity I'll define scrambling as the kind of popular scrambles that experienced walkers can usually enjoy for the exposure and 'hands out of pockets' approach - something a small group of the more adventurous club members would be happy to tackle - where a rope may be useful for a little support but the route can usually be done without resorting to ropes.

Know your group

I would be reluctant to lead a group scrambling unless I knew them fairly well. You need to ask the group a number of questions: have they a good head for heights, do they have suitable experience for the undertaking, do they have appropriate footwear? Of course, in order to make a calculation as to whether someone might be competent enough to join you, this assumes that you are familiar with the route. This is a good idea, as it means you will be less determined to complete it if there is a problem with a team member. For anyone in a leadership situation this can be a real key asset and safety valve. It does not matter personally to you whether you complete the planned outing or not, so you are much more likely to make a sound decision based on the facts rather than your personal ambition.


Aim to travel lightly and quickly but with some safety equipment

Equipment

Aim to travel lightly and quickly but with some safety equipment: a helmet each, a rope and the knowledge to use it effectively, along with a sling and a couple of screwgate karabiners. It's up to you, but I'd recommend that you, and everyone in your party, wear a helmet. You only have one head and it's worth protecting. Modern helmets weigh very little these days (you can also use them as very effective protection for your sandwiches in your rucksack during the approach). Many scrambles involve loose rock and if you are a group there is a strong chance of someone being hit by a falling stone. On popular routes you are likely to be below others as well. An early start is not a bad idea.

Weather

The weather can have a big influence on your scramble, particularly the wind and cold. Wind can upset your balance, especially sudden gusts. Cold will affect the feeling in your hands, but avoid wearing gloves as it is difficult to feel how good a hold is in gloves, bare hands give a far more positive feel on the rock and wet gloves will actually lose heat more quickly than bare, wet hands.

It's best to keep the group size to no more than about four

Group size

It's best to keep the group size to no more than about four, but you can manage a few more on short or easy scrambles. Note that every time a person negotiates a step in a ridge (best done one at a time) it takes perhaps a couple of minutes per person. So those waiting to climb or descend can be waiting around for six or eight minutes either before or after their turn. This can add up to a considerable amount of time on some of the more sustained expeditions. For example, I add half an hour per person to the overall time it would take me on the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe. 

Training centres

Scrambling is the way to go if you are seeking more excitement in your hill walking but it's well worth starting with training and experience under supervision is a good way to start. The National Mountain Training Centres - Glenmore Lodge and Plas Y Brenin - both run courses to give people the skills and confidence to scramble safely for themselves, and there are also many professional outdoor instructors who can offer instruction.

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