Gear Up For Scrambling

Scrambling is fun.  Really good fun.  Amazing fun.  Brillant fu………okay, okay.  You get the idea!  At Peak Mountaineering we’re big scrambling fans.  Take last weekend for example.  I was running a scrambling course and we parked at the lay-by below Gwern Gof Uchaf campsite at 9.10am in bright and sunny weather.  There were already stacks of other vehicles parked there but I kept smiling because I knew we would find somewhere quiet.  We shouldered light packs and walked past several groups at the bottom of Tryfan Bach who were drowning under piles of shiny gear – we were still smiling. We passed several people weighed down with monstrous packs along Heather Terrace – still smiling.  By the time we got to the base of our scramble (South Buttress – grade 3) there were just a few people passing us on the way up to Bwlch Tryfan.  We geared up in no time, set off, and enjoyed a great scramble with no sign of anyone else throughout the whole route – still most definitely smiling! 

And, of course, that’s the point.  Scrambling’s strength is its simplicity and its ability to get you into spectacular (and quiet) places with the minimum of fuss and gear.  But the question is really what is that minimum gear we’re talking about?  So here goes - a geary type guide to what to take on your next scrambletastic adventure. 

First I should say that here we are talking about just the technical equipment for your average higher grade 2/grade 3 scramble. I’m sure you can make your own choice about items like woolly hats, mars bars and Gore-Tex mitts.  I should also point out that the list provided here is very much a personal opinion and if you asked several experienced scramblers you would undoubtedly get a pile of other ideas thrown into the melting pot too.  Just thought I should clear that up!

Rope

That will be handy.  A 30-35 metre length of thin single rope is a good compromise between usability and low weight.  You can get 35 metre lengths of ropes like Beal’s 9.1mm which are marketed as ‘scramblers ropes’ (you can pick these up for around £50).  I’ve found them to be durable and easy handling but bear in mind that at that diameter they will wear out quicker than a thicker rope – particularly if you are doing a lot of direct belays on rock spikes and such like.  Thin, slick ropes are also trickier to handle in some situations so bear that in mind too.  It’s always worth paying a bit extra for a dry treated one unless you’re planning to undertake you’re scrambling adventures exclusively in Greece!

Harness

Simple, lightweight, bit of waist padding, easy to put on and take off, with an abseil loop and enough gear loops – and not too expensive.  My top choices are Black Diamond’s Bod or DMM’s Super Couloir (both around £35-40).  Perhaps the DMM tips the balance because I prefer the solid waist padding over the fleece padding of the BD one - but it’s a small point.  An even lighter padding free option is the Black Diamond Alpine Bod.  All these models have the essential features you'll need and because they are fitted ‘nappy style’ you can put them on or take them off without having to pull the leg loops over your boots (or crampons).  They are also great value, which helps because they suffer a lot of abuse when you’re scrabbling around on slimy rocks (unless you’re still scrambling in Greece!).

Boots

No need for your sticky rubbers wall master shoes here.  Most people scramble in the boots they walk up in.  The ideal boot is fairly lightweight, comfy and supportive enough for walking, has good edges for standing on small rocky protrusions, a grippy sole that will perform fairly well on wet or slippy rock and a fairly stiff sole.  Oh yes, and they need to look cool too of course!  For ages we’ve been using the La Sportiva Trango S Evo and they’re brilliant.  Infact, they’re by far the best boots of that type for climbing that we have ever used.  Having said that – despite a Gore-Tex liner ours don’t keep the water out if it’s really wet, but they are still the dogs for all things scrambly.

Belay Plate

Something simple and light that will work with skinny ropes but will allow you to rap double if needed.  Something like the DMM V-twin or Wild Country Variable Rope Controller will be great although auto-locking plates like the Petzl Reverso add a bit more versatility if you know how to use them safely.  Pair up your plate with a light crab such as a DMM sentinel but remember an extra screwgate if you’re planning to use your auto-locker.

Helmet

You’d be mad not too.  Petzl’s Meteor III+ is great – comfortable, durable.  A good alternative is the hardshell Petzl Elios which is great value and very comfortable.

Rack

A small wizard beavers away in his magic lair honing magic tools that will guide the brave scrambler up the vertical path to the goblin’s secret crevice where the magic stones are held.  After days of back breaking toil the wizard appears holding forth gleaming, tinkling objects formed from precious metals.  The scrambler steps forward, thanks the wizard, drapes himself in the protective armour and sets forth on his great adventure…………..

Days later the scrambler crawls back to the wizards cave empty handed, creaks open the door, rests his gaze on the wizard and gasps “how the f*** did you ever imagine I could carry that lot up there!?!”

Sorry about that.  I got a bit carried away there (to say the least!).  But hopefully you get the idea.  The moral of a scrambling rack – LIGHT IS RIGHT!

So, here is a list of what we usually take…

3 x 120cm slings - A staple of your scrambling rack. 10mm dyneema ones are light, versatile and durable.  The skinny tape sits well over spikes, can be threaded easily through little gaps and allows knots to be tied in it easily.  Sling each with a lightweight screwgate crab such as DMM’s sentinel and rack them by clipping them doubled on your crab, hold the crab and twist the sling several times then clip the bottom loops back into the crab.  Quick to deploy and easier than lobbing them round your shoulder if you’re carrying coils.

6, 7 and 8 hexes on dyneema tape with light wire gates on each one.  These are light and versatile and can be neatly racked by pulling back the sling through the hex shape slightly and clipping the crab into this loop and the bottom of the sling too.  No more thigh slapping!  An alternative is the DMM Torque nuts which have a really useful sling lengthening feature and place really well.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 Rocks or Wallnuts. Alternatively, consider some Superlight Rocks for the sizes up to 6 (because they only make up to 6!) if you really want to lighten your load.  Some people take less (by carrying alternate sizes) but we like the versatility of this size range and it’s not too much to carry.

3 x 60cm cm slings coupled with light biners – rack them tripled so they can be used as superlight quickdraws.

A very light nutkey and crab – Black Diamond’s nutkey is very strong, very cool, very light and even has a built in bottle opener for that end of day Stella! If you’re into thinking a bit more ‘outside the box’ consider a bent wire coat hanger which works well but obviously isn’t as strong.

A couple of large HMS crabs - suitable for Italian hitches (but they will be indispensable for lots of other jobs too).  It’s tempting to carry very small ones but the Italian hitch knot needs to be able to swivel around within the curve of the crab so it’s one area where light isn’t necessarily right. The beefy DMM Boa does this job brilliantly.

And that, as they say, is that – almost!

It’s worth taking along some bits and bobs for just in case.  Some ‘tat’ that you don’t mind leaving behind if needed, a small knife with a serrated blade and a couple of short prussic loops for that ‘avoiding the touch’ moment (but ensure you know what to do with them).

Obviously this information is only our opinion and if you choose to follow it you do so entirely at your own risk.  If you are in any doubt of the techniques or equipment described please check before you do anything dangerous.