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Scrambling versus climbing

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Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Trevers89 » Sun May 13, 2012 10:59 pm

This is a question which has been plaguing me for a while but especially since a climbing (scrambling!?) trip last weekend.

According to wikipedia, a loose distinction of the difference is that a climb is
any ascent where hands are used to hold body weight, rather than just for balance.

It also offers up this wisdom:
Alpine Scrambles are off-trail trips, often on snow or rock, with a 'non-technical' summit as a destination. A non-technical summit is one that is reached without the need for certain types of climbing equipment (body harness, rope, protection hardware, etc), and not involving travel on extremely steep slopes or on glaciers. However, this can mean negotiating lower angle rock, traveling through talus and scree, crossing streams, fighting one's way through dense brush, and walking on snow-covered slopes.

I've been going up mountains in the UK for about 6 months now. Initially, my understanding of the difference was that scrambling didn't demand any technical climbing ability or equipment, but that good fitness, flexibility and head for heights may be required, and occasionally rope on harder scrambles (note- already some ambiguity). I've done Crib Goch on Snowdon, The North Ride on Tryfan and Striding Edge on Helvellyn, all of which are regarded as Grade I scrambles. Tryfan has a vast number of possible lines of ascent so it's probably not worth mentioning in this discussion. We undertook Crib Goch in strong winds and mist which made the rock damp and slippery, and I was scared on a number of occasions. Having previously ascended much higher (non technical) peaks in the Alps I was probably guilty of judging a mountain purely on it's height.

A few months after, I did Striding Edge, well prepared this time with a spare pair of pants. This time the rock was dry but the winds were much stronger and gusting at gale force, enough to knock an unprepared walker off balance. Incredibly however I was actually glad of the wind because it made it more dramatic and a bit of a challenge. I only had to use my hands in a couple of places; the ridge top is wide and flat and in fair weather there's no reason anyone shouldn't be able to walk across the top. Even the exit ramp to the summit was very straightforward, and I never had to give any thought to handholds because everything visible was suitable. By comparison Crib Goch rises to a point, dropping away steeply on both sides, and the rock is uneven and frequently crumbles away when you apply any force.

Now I know the whole thing is highly subjective; one man's death defying climb is another's easy scramble, and some people just aren't bothered by the kind of exposure that would paralyse many with fear. I know through my experience of exposed places and indoor climbing that my own perceptions have changed greatly in just 6 months. But my point is that despite the vast difference in difficulty and seriousness between these two routes, they are both classed as grade I ridge scrambles. An inexperienced walker sucked in by the ease of Striding Edge could easily become a statistic on Crib Goch.

This point was drummed in to me last weekend on the Clogwyn y Person Arete on Snowdon, a grade 3 scramble. We took no chances and brought a rope, slings, nuts and hexes and we were justified. This route has it all: difficult route finding, rotten rock, some very exposed climbing with tiny holds and moves that definitely required climbing experience. It was definitely way beyond anything you'd expect on a scrambling route, and I'm not the only one who would agree. So why is such a route even classed as a scramble in the first place.

I've come to the conclusion that scrambling means that an experienced climber won't wet him/herself, but that's not very helpful for everyone else. My real concern in writing this is that the inconsistency of route gradings could lead people into serious trouble, especially in this day and age where people choose a route on the internet based on someone elses opinion without having seen it in advance. What do other people think? Is there a definite boundary between climbing and scrambling?
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby dadndave » Mon May 14, 2012 1:55 am

A definite boundary?

You could discuss these things forever and it's probably not all that important except for the importance of people not being mislead into underestimating what they may not be ready for in terms of equipment, experience and conditions.

This is one of my local haunts - the "Caves Route" on Tibrogargan in the Glasshouse Mountains, Queensland.

IMO it approaches the limit at which scrambling and climbing meet. It's a pretty easy route for people with a bit of experience and a head for heights. But (and it's big but) this route is also infamous locally for the many rescue calls, mainly caused by people getting off route and being unable to extricate themselves from difficulties with their limited or non-existent gear. This scramble is literally surrounded by climbs ranking up to about 28 on the Ewbank scale. Not the sort of terrain that optimistic scramblers should be wandering on to.

These people chose to treat is as a scramble.


.......whereas these people chose to treat it more seriously (it's the same route)


So back to the question of boundaries. Have I climbed Tibro without a rope? Yes. Would I take my teenage daughter up there without a rope? No.
What is this "scientific method" you speak of?
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Bob Sihler » Mon May 14, 2012 3:07 am

Here in the U.S. Class 3 is a fuzzy area because it can be rugged and steep enough to require hands but not so much that most people would want to rope up. Some lump Class 3 in with hiking, and others say it's the start of climbing. I tend to agree with the latter, even though most Class 3 terrain seems pretty simple to me now.

My personal definition is that if you need your hands to hold on, it's climbing, and if you slipped and fell and the result would be serious injury or death, it's climbing. There are exceptions-- I've been on narrow Class 2 goat trails that are merely hiking but in places only a foot wide and promising a fall of hundreds of feet-- but it seems generally true.

Experience does jade us, though. Sometime this month, I plan to take my 7-year-old son on his first roped climb:
Image

This is a 50' 5.1 route, though it feels a little harder. I have "scrambled" it several times and would never bother wasting the time and effort to rope up to climb it myself. But my son will be climbing it with the benefit of a belay and backed-up anchors.
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Mountain Bandit » Mon May 14, 2012 9:22 am

I agree with both DadnDave and Bob, and I think the bottom line is that if you don't feel relatively safe climbing without a rope, its climbing. Yes I know the term 'safe' is very subjective but that is half my point. Safe to a novice climber can be very different to safe to an experienced climber and therefore a scramble to an experienced climber can be classed as a climb to a novice.

When we climbed the "Caves Route" on Tibrogargan (DadnDave’s example) a few years ago we did it without ropes. However, as novice-intermediate rock climbers I have to admit we did find alternative safer routes to some of the more risky sections (Chimney Climb etc). I personally think to most climbers, although half of the climb would be considered a scramble, the Caves Route as a whole would be classed as a climb due to the more difficult sections.

We can argue/discuss all day but the terms 'scramble' and 'climb' are always going to be very subjective.......
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby yatsek » Mon May 14, 2012 12:04 pm

Trevers89 wrote:But my point is that despite the vast difference in difficulty and seriousness between these two routes, they are both classed as grade I ridge scrambles. An inexperienced walker sucked in by the ease of Striding Edge could easily become a statistic on Crib Goch.

This must be a mistake then.

Trevers89 wrote:This point was drummed in to me last weekend on the Clogwyn y Person Arete on Snowdon, a grade 3 scramble. We took no chances and brought a rope, slings, nuts and hexes and we were justified. This route has it all: difficult route finding, rotten rock, some very exposed climbing with tiny holds and moves that definitely required climbing experience. It was definitely way beyond anything you'd expect on a scrambling route, and I'm not the only one who would agree. So why is such a route even classed as a scramble in the first place.


Because it meets the criteria for a hard scramble. :) Have a look at what e.g. UK scrambles says.

Trevers89 wrote:Is there a definite boundary between climbing and scrambling?

No, there's a transition zone.
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby foweyman » Mon May 14, 2012 1:33 pm

I think this semantic exercise of attempting to attach precise definitions to general, non-precise terms is not only a waste of time but can also lead to a critical misunderstanding since there is no widely accepted definition.

If a precise description of a route is needed, there are several route grading systems that have widely accepted categories that are far more informative. I'm sure these systems were developed in order to avoid the use of non-specific terms like climbing and scrambling.
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Trevers89 » Mon May 14, 2012 7:41 pm

foweyman wrote:I think this semantic exercise of attempting to attach precise definitions to general, non-precise terms is not only a waste of time but can also lead to a critical misunderstanding since there is no widely accepted definition.

If a precise description of a route is needed, there are several route grading systems that have widely accepted categories that are far more informative. I'm sure these systems were developed in order to avoid the use of non-specific terms like climbing and scrambling.


I agree completely. It doesn't matter to me whether a route is seen as a scramble or a climb, if I've had fun and stayed safe, and I reckon the same goes for most people on this site. However my point is that the grading system does exist, and is applied, but often with little consistency. I reckon a better system might be to refer only to routes that are generally considered grade I as scrambles, and refer to everything else by it's equivalent climbing grade.

At the end of the day it's everyone's own responsibility to know what they're getting themselves into, and if you research a route beforehand you can generally get a good enough idea of what you're going to meet. Thing is that despite the disclaimers on websites and in books, scrambling is seen as something that anyone and their gran can come have a go at and I doubt that everyone does their homework so thoroughly. Having a grading system which is so vague and inconsistent doesn't help at all.

I probably should have put this in the Europe board as I don't really know how things stack up in the YDS and other systems
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby MoapaPk » Mon May 14, 2012 11:44 pm

To add to the confusion:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosemite_Decimal_System

I hosted a very nice fellow from Scotland. Before he came to the US, he wrote that he wanted to do some "scrambling" routes. I figured out, eventually, that his scrambling was more what would be considered class 2 in the southwest US, albeit on rough terrain. He was quite adept at jumping from big boulder to big boulder, and he wore stiff-soled, heavy boots that would be appropriate for that sort of travel. However, he told me "I like scrambling, but don't like cliffs."
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Fleshj27 » Tue May 15, 2012 3:21 am

Personally I use the Fleshj27 scale to establish the demarkation point...it's really a question of equipment. If I'll go threatened by fists or clubs, its scrambling. If I refuse to go up it without a gun at the back of my head, it's climbing.
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Mountain Bandit » Tue May 15, 2012 4:18 am

borutbk wrote:
Mountain Bandit wrote:We can argue/discuss all day but the terms 'scramble' and 'climb' are always going to be very subjective.......

Yes, especially if we add other parameters, f.i. : ascent and descent, day and night, wet or dry, summer and winter. But would we agree that as far as the outing is in the mountains, both scrambling and climbing would be considered as mountaineering ? Or would this be avoiding the point by throwing in yet another 'word' ?


Oh mountaineering........ Well yes, this is another kettle of fish.

I have not read Wiki or any other internet information regarding the definition of mountaineering but I don't necessarily think that Mountaineering is a combination of both scrambling and climbing.

A few of us climbed the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, and in my personal opinion I would consider it mountaineering even though we didn't do any technical 'climbing'. It did however involve a whole lot of physical exertion and stamina (which I personally think is a big part of mountaineering) due to the epic approach and steep unrelenting gradient, varying terrain (jungle-alpine grassland-rock), scrambling, spending multiple nights out in the elements, navigation, route selection, haphazardous weather, high altitude and a host of other elements which i would consider in the realm of mountaineering.

Others would ask 'is mountaineering limited to at least involving high altitude, snow/ice, camping over night etc etc etc'. Again, subjective............
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Trevers89 » Tue May 15, 2012 8:16 pm

Yeah the term mountaineering definitely carries the implication of knowing what one is doing. I guess that includes (but doesn't have to) ropework, rock climbing ability, snowcraft, navigation, camping/bivying, strength, stamina and self-sufficiency. That's a bit vague really but in the UK at least most hiking and easy scrambling is refered to as mountain walking. Mountaineering is probably reserved for multipitch routes to summits or full winter conditions.

At least Alpinism is pretty unambiguous :p
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Re: Scrambling versus climbing

Postby Sierra Ledge Rat » Wed May 16, 2012 2:18 pm

Scrambling is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. Generally, though, I think scrambling is best defined as Yosemite decimal system Class 3.

I just returned from a "scrambling" trip to the Wadi Rum in Jordan, where "scrambling" means free-soloing up to YDS grade 5.3 or French 3 or UIAA III.
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