Scrambling Routes | videos | kit list | instructors tips

Welcome to our scrambling digital feature

I know what it's like when you are passionate about something. You want to read all about it, watch whatever videos you can find, magazine articles, top tips, look at images of routes you can do. If you are itching to get out and need something to keep you sane then this feature is for you. I will add to it over time as I get the good camera out on more routes so hopefully you will enjoy dipping in and out of it. I hope you enjoy and to see you out on the ridges and gullies of Snowdonia.

Rob Johnson - Expeditionguide.com

PS (Thats Huw and I on the left, on holiday in the Alps - mountaineering)

Scrambling is a uniquely British term

To the uninitiated it conjures up impressions of motorbikes whilst to Europeans it is simply mountaineering and hence the terms scrambling & mountaineering are interchangeable (and nothing to do with motorbikes or muddy fields!) Here in the UK it is some of the most fun you can have in the mountains - the ability to leave the well trodden path, to enjoy the narrow ridges and steeper faces and enjoy a sense of freedom that is hard to beat.

Based in Snowdonia

We are based in the mountains of Snowdonia and our courses meet in Capel Curig each morning at the Siabod Cafe. We chat over a brew, check out the weather forecast and make a plan that meets the aspirations and needs of everyone on the course before heading out and enjoying a full day in the mountains. We have the greatest concentration of scrambling routes of anywhere in the UK within a short drive of the cafe.

All of our courses are run by Rob Johnson and Huw Gilbert. We hold the highest instructional qualifications in the UK for all aspects of climbing and mountaineering in summer and winter conditions. We each have a lifetime of experience in the mountains around the world.

Huw and I are both members of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors and this film sums up nicely why we do what we do and tells you a little bit about the AMI. I put the film together in 2018 and its got some nice summer scrambling shots of the North Ridge of Crib Goch as the sun goes down, as well as winter mountaineering in Glencoe, winter climbing in the Cairngorms and summer climbing in the Llanberis Pass. The voiceover is by Alan Watts who is someone whose philosophy has always inspired me and I was over the moon to be able to use it in this film.

The routes

We have a massive selection of scrambling routes to choose from in Snowdonia. It is one of the main reasons that I chose to live here. The routes are graded from 1 to 3 in terms of difficulty. Our intro to scrambling course takes you out on grade 1 scrambles whilst our advanced course allows you to progress onto grade 2 and 3 with the security of ropes, helmets and harnesses. Here are a few of our favourite grade one routes, it is by no means a definitive list and I will add to it over the summer of 2019.

North Ridge of Tryfan

Grade 1 - Ogwen Valley - Good in any weather except high winds

Instantly recognisable from the road Tryfan is an iconic mountain and its North Ridge offers almost 3000 ft of scrambling from the car to the summit. It is one of our favourite grade 1 routes with brilliant scrambling getting steadily more interesting as you gain height. On our intro to scrambling courses we will make the most of the varied terrain to coach your movement skills and ability to manage risk. On our guided adventures (such as the Snowdonia Mountaineering Week) we will often combine it with Bristly Ridge which is a little bit harder again.

The North Ridge of Tryfan
Ever wondered what the record is from the summit of Tryfan to the road?

It's pretty incredible, have a watch of the video and prepare to be amazed!


Grade 1 - Beautifully remote on the Northern cliffs of Carnedd Dafydd

The Llech Ddu Spur feels pretty remote by North Wales standards and its pretty unusual to see another soul all day. I’m not sure why I don’t go there more often as its a wonderful route in a fantastic position and a very pleasant walk in. The ridge gets better and better as you get higher with most of the steep sections escapable to one side or the other if it all gets a bit much.

A wilderness feel and views across the sea and mountains prove a winning combination
Bristly Ridge, Glyder Fach

Grade 1+ Slightly harder than the North Ridge of Tryfan and more enjoyable in the dry than in the wet.

Bristly Ridge is a natural continuation having ascended Tryfan via the North Ridge and then descended via the South Ridge. It is a touch harder in the grade and starts with the ominously named Sinister Gully. Fear not though, the name simply refers to the Latin for "left" whilst the gully to its right is Dexter Gully. Bristly Ridge can be bagged in its own right if walking up from the Ogwen Valley. Either way it gives some great exposed scrambling, some meaty gulley action and some really nice pinnacles to weave around nearer the top.

The Gribin Ridge, Glyder Fawr

This is a brilliant grade 1 scramble for introducing people to this type of ground because it offers escape routes. You can stick to the crest and get the whole grade 1 experience or drop off the side for a respite. It also offers some great coaching ground on the approach so that we can look at movement skills and give some coaching. We will often combine it with Seniors Ridge in descent and both routes work well whether they are wet or dry.

Most of the grade 1 ridges in Snowdonia are good fun in the wet or the dry. The main weather influence that we are concerned with is the wind. If wind speeds are greater than about 30mph on the summits then we plan our day around avoiding being exposed to a cross wind on a narrow ridge as we don't want to get blown off it. When its windy we tend to head for the gullies and have several routes to choose from on Tryfan, in Cwm Idwal and above the Llanberis Pass.

Scrambling on the Gribin Ridge

The sharp eyed amongst you will recognise Barry McGuigan in the lower photograph. It was fun guiding him for a few days and having people come up and recognise him. It turns out that this is a great way to work out someones age. If you recognise him as a boxer you are probably of a similar vintage to me. If you recognise him as the winner of Hells Kitchen then you are probably a bit younger!

I took Barry out to do the Welsh 3000's over 3 days. On the first day we started with Snowdon and he was asking me about the funny things I get to see in the mountains. As our conversation developed we pulled over the top of the Pyg Track at Bwlch Glas to find a Piano being installed for a recital by Bryn Terfel which was about as bizarre as anything I could have made up. He was super fit and competitive as you might imagine. Shortly after I had taken the photograph above we reached the Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach and he challenged me to a pull up competition off the end.

Movement skills

When we are on grade 1 scrambles, the ability to move well over the ground is what keeps us safe. We don't generally use ropes, harnesses etc on the lower grade scrambles and so efficient movement is the key to our safety. These fundamental skills apply right the way through the grades into rick climbing terrain and beyond onto ice and snow. Here are some top tips that I give in the BMC scrambling series of videos.

Crib Goch - Snowdonia's most famous Grade 1 scramble

This has to be one of the best grade 1 scrambles anywhere in the UK. We need light winds and dry rock to enjoy it to its full.

Crib Goch is one of the mountains in Snowdonia that sits over 3000 feet high and is a summit in its own right. It is perhaps most famous for its knife edge stretch of ridge that you see in the photograph above. It is probably my favourite route of its grade anywhere in the world. It is rare we visit it on our Intro to Scrambling courses but we often get the chance on our five day courses. We need the right weather for it or it quickly becomes an epic!

I am a member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team and was Chairman of the team for three years. This is one of our hotspots so I know it well in all weathers and can speak form experience that it is best done in the daylight, when the sun is shining and when the wind is light. If we are guiding it we make sure its a positive experience. These days the parking at Pen Y Pass is always difficult and so we tend to ascend via the North Ridge and then descend via the Cwm Glas Spur.

Mountain Rescue

I am a member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team. We are a team of volunteers who respond to 999 calls on Snowdon and the surrounding area and are the busiest team in the UK with over 200 call outs every year. In 2015 I was joined by a team from Slam Media for a year and was one of the subjects of the program "The Mountain" a year in the life of Snowdon. You can watch the whole series on catchup for a nice insight into the lives of those people who live and work in the mountains. We are currently filming for Series Two and it should go out across the ITV network in the autumn of 2019.

Snowdon with the first snow of winter in November 2018 as the sun sets over Anglesey
How to route-find when scrambling

If you are out on grade 1 scrambles, a big part of your day will be finding the correct route. In this video I go through some top tips on finding the right way for you.

Moving up the Grade

Once you are happy on grade 1 ground and have got some mileage under your belt you may want to move up the grade onto the twos and threes. We drop the ratios down at this stage with one instructor to two clients and we use ropes, helmets, harnesses and a small amount of climbing kit to manage the increased consequences of a clip. (I talk more about the kit we use later in this article in another of the BMC videos).

North West Face Route, Cwm Idwal (2)

Here is Huw leading up one of my favourite grade 2 routes in Snowdonia. It has a short walk in, lovely rock, is in a beautiful setting and gets harder as you get higher.

We often combine the lower section of North West Face Route with the upper section of the Idwal Staircase to progress onto slightly harder ground. (The latter route gets a 2+ in the more recent guidebooks)

Cneifion Arete (3)

A wonderful Alpine style ridge that gives some of the best scrambling of its grade in Snowdonia - if only it was longer!

The Cneifion Arete is a wonderful grade 3 scramble that sits high above Llyn Idwal and is a natural continuation from the routes that make their way up the Idwal Slabs. The crux of the route is found in the first two pitches and after that it becomes a joyous scramble up big holds with wonderful exposure. Simply ace!

Clogwyn Y Person Arete (3)

Another fantastic ridge scramble that is longer than the Cneifion Arete, has a longer approach and finishes on Crib Goch/Crib Y Ddysgl

The Clogwyn Y Person Arete is a brilliant ridge scramble that starts in the beautiful Cwm Glas and leads up to Crib Goch and Crib Y Ddysgl. It has a couple of cruxes and for those not used to traditional "thrutching" the last move of the harder scrambling can often be the most fun! It goes as well in the wet as it does in the dry but I am always mindful of the windspeed as whichever way you exit you will be on a narrow grade 1 ridge, exposed to the wind.

Fun on the Clogwyn Y Person Arete and then along Crib Goch on our advanced scrambling course
Can I solo that?

This is a question that I see posed on social media on a reasonably regular basis. The short answer is yes of course you can as long as you don't fall off. Good climbers will regularly solo grade 3 scrambles as an enjoyable way of moving fluidly on steep terrain in the mountains. I often enjoy a quick blast up something like the Cneifion Arete on my own after work or in a spare couple of hours.

The thing that is worrying about the social media posts is that if you have to ask then the answer is probably "no, you don't want to solo that". When first moving onto the steeper scrambles it makes sense to stack the odds in your favour and manage the consequences of a slip by using some climbing gear and some rope techniques.

Dolmen Ridge (3)

A grade 3 scramble on the Main Cliff of Glyder Fach, giving almost 1000ft of scrambling.

The Main Cliff of Glyder Fach offers a wealth of options for the mountaineer. The walk in to the base of the cliff will make sure that you are sufficiently warm by the time the scrambling starts and then Dolmen Ridge is my favourite pick of the routes. It can be started by at least three variations but all options lead you into Dolmen Buttress which is climbed by a wonderful open book corner onto the crest of the ridge. The scramble has a bit of everything including a magnificent setting looking down the Nant Francon Valley and right across Anglesey.

Speed vs Safety

When we are scrambling we often have to balance out and out safety with speed, in this video I explain more about the concept and look at how we might go about that. A simple explanation of this is to compare soloing (which is what we all do on grade 1 scrambles) with pitched climbing. The fastest route from the bottom of the crag to the top will be done soloing. When this is well within our grade this is entirely appropriate and is an efficient way to travel. As the grade increases and the likelihood and consequences of a slip increase we will want to increase safety. We will do this by using equipment and at the expense of speed. Your level of competence and experience will determine the grade at which you want to start using equipment.

Remember, there are no rules. This is mountaineering. You choose the techniques that you are happy with to give you the element of protection that you require. The video below looks at the roper systems we use to allow us to slide up and down the scale of Speed Vs Safety.

The film Free Solo is a great watch and a really nice example of speed vs safety and the personal decisions that we make as climbers. We are responsible for our own safety and our own actions and we deal with the consequences. That is part of the appeal of what we do and a wonderful escape from the nanny state of the vast majority of every day life. Of course with that freedom comes responsibility and Free Solo explores the preparation that goes into soloing which is true at any level to a greater or lesser degree.

Trail Magazine for routes, inspiration and advice

I have been a contributor to Trail Magazine since 2006 and every month I answer readers questions in the "ask the expert" section. I have introduced many of their writers to scrambling over the years and the magazine continues to be a great source of inspiration with route ideas and new places to visit.



Kit List

What gear do you need to bring for our scrambling courses?

If we are very lucky and have perfect weather there are things that you might not end up using but more likely you will be very glad to have them!

Rucksack - 35 to 45 litres (room for your kit plus on the advanced course a rope, helmet and harness)

Waterproof jacket & Trousers - Goretex is the brand leader but there are alternatives available. Huw swears by Paramo whilst I prefer something lighter.

Walking boots - I really like a lightweight scrambling boot such as those pictured above - La Sportiva TX4. They offer the pros of an approach shoe with the benefit of ankle support and a Goretex liner. Scarpa do something similar if they fit your feet better.

Drink & Food for the day

Hat and Gloves

Thermal top – do not wear cotton

Mountain Trousers – no cotton please

Fleece jumper

Fleece jacket

1 x spare gloves

1 x spare warm layer

Spare food

Personal First Aid & sanitary supplies

Sunglasses and Sun Cream (weather dependant!)

Blizzard Survival Jacket (Emergency kit) http://www.blizzardsurvival.com/article.php/62/blizzard-jacket-active-range/ab47bae9a8eb0f054d84ed3c8b7ae403

On the advanced course we will provide ropes, harnesses and helmets and all other specialised equipment if appropriate. If you have any of your own gear then you are welcome to bring it along although we will only use our ropes.

Remove all jewellery before joining your course as it can snag on rocks, trees etc which can be nasty! If you do not want to remove a wedding ring then tape it up at the start of each day – climbers have lost fingers by getting rings caught!

How to choose kit for scrambling

The kit list above is what we ask clients to bring along on our courses, we will provide much of the safety kit ourselves. If you are interested in the sort of kit that you might want to carry to be self sufficient then the video below looks at the kit we carry.

Additional kit we use on grade 2 & 3 scrambles

An important part of your kit should be a guidebook. Scrambling routes are really difficult to pick out from a map alone and a guidebook will give you a whole description of the route, tell you where to park, what the grade is, if the route "goes" in the wet and any peculiarities to look out for. The two shown above are my favourite for Snowdonia. The Gary Smith book has the best routes in it whilst the Steve Ashton book (nick named the Steve Ashton suicide guide to Snowdonia when it was first published) is a more complete reference of all of the scrambles.

Our courses - which one is for you?
Our course progression and adventures with expeditionguide.com

For a lot of people time off is a scare resource that needs to be maximised and we run a variety of scrambling courses and trips to help you make the most of your holiday. You can choose between instructional courses where you learn skills to progress towards being self sufficient or guided adventures where we take you out on some of the best scrambling and mountaineering routes in the UK.

All of our courses are based in Snowdonia and are designed to take you from a hill walker to confidently leading your own days out on scrambling ground, from grade 1 to grade 3 if you wish to.

Our adventures are for people who have got some scrambling experience and now want to visit some of the best mountains in the UK to put their skills into practise. Our adventures include weeks in Torridon, Skye, Ben Nevis, Glencoe and more.

Further Inspiration

In the mountains clients become friends. Here are a couple of films that I have made about people who I have met in the mountains and become friends with. They each have inspiring stories and they each have some beautiful scenery. Nick is an amazing photographer whose work you can see in his gallery at the Siabod Cafe whilst Rachel is a fantastic musician and constant source of inspiration in the mountains - I enjoy watching the films even now, despite watching them countless times in the edit.

Happy scrambling and remember in the words of Edward Whymper “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

Whilst the BMC Participation Statement says "The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions."

As my friend Huw Gilbert might say, its pretty easy really - just don't fall off.

Created By
Rob Johnson


Rob Johnson

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