Choosing a route is never much of a problem as there is a wide selection of every grade available across the UK. The real challenge is to select a route that matches your ability level and the prevailing weather conditions. Selecting an appropriate guidebook will help. Unless you have a high level of experience, only attempt routes in good weather. If the weather is dubious, choose a route of a lower grade than normal as the wet and slippery rock can often add at least one grade of difficulty. Always consider the rock type of the scramble, as this has a great bearing on the security and safety en-route and may determine whether or not a rope is required.
Unless you have a high level of experience, only attempt routes in good weather
Gather as many weather reports as possible. Television, radio and web-based reports are now excellent and often contain synoptic charts that it is recommended you learn to read. Quite often the weather will break in the morning or afternoon leaving a window of good weather that may allow you to scramble up your route. Make use of these bright spells that allow better visibility and hopefully drier rock.
Leave a clear description of your planned route and any variations or alternatives that have been considered. Make sure that this is left with someone reliable who will call the services if you are overdue. Note any escape routes that could offer a fast method of descent or ascent in an emergency. Do this mentally on the route too. Quite often the classic scrambles follow distinct ridges, and on this ground an altimeter can be extremely useful for gauging height on otherwise indistinct ground. These devices can also give you an idea of your rate of ascent which can be related to the length of the route and therefore to your progress, especially if the visibility is poor.
Some scrambles require long approaches and descents, never mind the scrambling in between, so it helps to be fit. Always feel as though you have some energy or strength reserves; if know you're unfit or if you struggled last time, get to the gym! Any aerobic exercise will improve your cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs). Activities like step aerobics have obvious benefits, and squash is just wickedly tiring - providing excellent overall fitness.
It is really worth making regular visits to your local climbing wall to improve your specific scrambling fitness. The indoor wall is no longer just the domain of the rock climber. Many other sports are using the wall for cross training, for example the martial arts. Not only will climbing improve specific muscles required for scrambling techniques, it will improve your mental fitness and ability to deal with heights. You will soon find that you will be climbing harder than most of the scrambling routes outside - which can only be good for your confidence and progression. Remember to down climb routes if you get the opportunity, rather than be lowered back to the ground, as this builds on this essential skill.
Some scrambles require long approaches and descents, never mind the scrambling in between, so it helps to be fit
Always try to make an early start - firstly to get ahead of everyone else and secondly to allow time for any unforeseen difficulties. If you get to scramble another route or get to the pub earlier in the day, then all the better.
Adequate preparation also includes the ability to deploy technical skills at the right time and make good judgement decisions en-route that will avoid burning valuable time using inappropriate techniques for the circumstances. The key is to remain safe at all times and sometimes safety is speed, especially if you do not wish to spend an uncomfortable night out. The skills highlighted below should be practiced and learned if they are not already standard practice or part of your scrambling vocabulary. There are many good courses that cover these skills where you will learn about them quickly and in relative safety:
Scrambling © Friedberg
- Direct Belays
- Testing and selecting anchors
- Abseiling and retreating
- Protecting a lead
- Rope and hardware care
- Check your gear
It is vital to look after all of your equipment. Ensure that ropes, slings and harnesses are cared for appropriately by following the manufacturers' instructions and that hardware like Hexcentrics and Nuts are replaced regularly if they have tape. Check helmets for cracks and fatigue that could cause failure in a serious fall or bash, and retire any equipment that is at all dubious. This should be done regularly, preferably well in advance of your scramble, so that you have time to overhaul or replace anything if necessary.