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Travel: It's a scramble all the way to the top

It's not rock climbing and you don't need a motorbike, but you must know your ropes before you set out.
IF YOU have been a hill-walker for a few years now and are wondering how to take your mountain skills a step further, or if you are able-bodied and in search of some good old-fashioned excitement, then scrambling might be for you.

When I first heard of this sport I thought it was something you did on motorbikes, but for this variety you use your hands and knees - as well as a few well-placed ropes - to get much the same result; a safe negotiation of steep, slippery ground, usually with a frightening drop or scree just waiting to embrace you should the ropes fail. That's if you can see it in the fog or low cloud, of course, and if the high wind howling across the ridge doesn't transform you into a frightened infant curled into a ball and waiting to be rescued. Basically it's half-way between hill walking with your hands in your pockets, and full-blown mountaineering.

A number of walking and climbing centres now offer scrambling trips and courses, usually with a bit of mountain rescue and compass work thrown in for good measure. Just about all the upland areas of Britain now have regular scrambling routes set up, but for my money the best is the high ridge of the Black Cuillins, in the southernmost part of the Isle of Skye. One of Britain's best mountaineering playgrounds - and arguably its most beautiful - the Cuillins rise up from the sea in a series of near-vertical sharp, jagged peaks, all connected by a ridge that narrows to little over a yard wide in its narrowest parts. In between are steep edges and screes and arduous rock faces.

There are several small mountain guiding outfits in the area, including Hadrian Mountaineering run by Mark Tenent (actually based over in Glencoe) which will take small groups, couples or single scramblers up into the wild heights, not only of the Cuillins but also of Glencoe and Ben Nevis on the mainland.

Novice scrambling and ridge-traversing trips usually take place in summer and autumn only, starting from about May. Until then, conditions are such that true scrambling is not possible. If you can't wait for the snow to melt however, you'll find Mark Tennent out leading expeditions for more experienced mountaineers, involving crampons and ice-picks, right through the winter.

Beginners are encouraged to take a six-night scrambling course. You are assessed throughout and, if your fitness is good and you have picked up enough rope-managing skills to be ready, you may end up with an attempt on some of the more extreme routes - scrambles along Clach Glas, Bla Bhein, Coire Lagan, Coire Ghreadaidh or the Pinnacle Ridge. If you manage these, you will have faced and conquered a good deal of your fear. And if you need reassurance, bear in mind that although there is no legal requirement to hold a legal qualification to take people out on the hills (unless those people are under 18), Mark Tennent is professionally qualified.

scrambling fact file


Hadrian Mountaineering, 19 Carnoch, Glencoe, Argyll PA39 4HS, tel: 01855 811472.


Open all year for winter mountaineering; best season for scambling is May to October.


A six-night scrambling course will cost approximately pounds 250 (self-catering) or pounds 430 (full board). Two-day course costs pounds 90 to pounds 140.


Can be arranged through centre.


Children can attend only if accompanied by parent or guardian.


Coverage can be arranged through the centre.


Association of mountaineering instructors.