Britain's Best Grade 1 Scrambles

by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com Aug/2015
This article has been read 15,246 times

Grade 1 is the ideal hillwalkers' scrambling level - airy and exciting enough to keep you on your toes, yet not so tricky that you should ever find yourself gripped and terrified. It may be mountaineering, but no special skills or equipment are required. In decent conditions anyone with a passable head for heights and a grain of common sense can get by at this grade. If you're new to scrambling then here is the obvious entry point; but even old hands can get full value out of a quality grade 1 day. These easier routes are far more than a mere prelude to more challenging fare. Among the grade 1s you'll find some of the greatest hands-on hill walks in the country, and here are ten of the best.

Snowdon Horseshoe

Crib Goch Traverse , 179 kb
Crib Goch Traverse
© BStar, Aug 2013

Hill walks do not come much greater than this. By a lucky quirk of geology the highest massif in Wales and England can lay claim to one of the grandest low-grade ridge scrambling traverses south of Scotland. Treading the chiselled crests that link Snowdon's four principal summits, the imposing rock peak of Crib Goch, razor-backed Crib y Ddysgl, Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) itself and dark brooding Y Lliwedd, the loop around the cavernous eastern cwm is airy and aesthetic all the way. Scrambling sections are concentrated on the ascent and crossing of Crib Goch and the continuation ridge Crib y Ddysgl. It may not be technically difficult (grade 1 by the easiest options), but this traverse is relatively serious, with bags of exposure and few sensible escapes.

Tryfan and Bristly Ridge

Scrambling on Tryfan, 193 kb
Scrambling on Tryfan
© Martin Davies, Jul 2015

Snowdon's big tick might win out for knife-edged exposure, but the Glyderau's own classic hands-on horseshoe, the round of Cwm Bochlwyd, is second to none for the quantity, quality and variety of scrambling at the grade. First it's the mighty Tryfan. From some angles it resembles a giant stone dorsal fin dwarfing the A5; from others, the ramparts and turrets of a decaying fortress. There isn't a dull side. Take the North Ridge in ascent for a full 600 metres of superb scrambling. Leap, if you dare, from Adam to Eve (or vice versa), the twin summit blocks; then descend the rugged South Ridge. The appropriately-named Bristly Ridge comes next, with thrilling-but-manageable clambering over a porcupine of spectacular pinnacles. A wander over the moonscape boulder graveyard of Glyder Fach, a scramble through the shattered spires of Castell y Gwynt and an airy descent of the Gribin Ridge round off a very full day on the rock. Yet if you've taken the easiest options throughout, you'll have done nothing harder than grade 1 all the way.

Crib Lem, Carnedd Dafydd

Llech Ddu Spur - Carnedd Dafydd - Snowdonia, 113 kb
Llech Ddu Spur - Carnedd Dafydd - Snowdonia
© THE.WALRUS, Mar 2013

The head of Cwm Llafar is as dramatic as any spot in Snowdonia, with mountain architecture on a vast scale. Dividing the cirque into Cwmglas Bach and Cwmglas Mawr is the prow of Crib Lem, otherwise known as the Llech Ddu Spur. This blocky stairway is a fab easy scramble, elevated to best-of status by the strength of its line and the wild grandeur of its position. It would be an ideal first taste of ridge scrambling, since practically all the best bits can be avoided if necessary (though they really shouldn't be). Round off the day with a long stride over the three 3000 foot-ers that hug the cwm, Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewelyn and Yr Elen.

Sharp Edge and Halls Fell Ridge, Blencathra

Summer day on Sharp Edge, 193 kb
Summer day on Sharp Edge
© Dan Bailey

By any standard Blencathra is a charismatic mountain. Grooved by deep gullies and buttressed with ridges, its steep southern wall dominates the wide dale at its foot. But tucked away around the back is the real star attraction, perhaps the best and certainly the most famous ridge scramble in England, the knife-keen sickle of Sharp Edge. Despite its fearsome profile the dry weather difficulties are in fact quite modest, the main one being an exhilarating sense of space beneath your feet. From a gentle start the smooth slate ridge soon narrows, rising to a little pinnacle that gives the crux of the route. Now scramble more easily to a notch where the ridge joins the bulk of Blencathra. There's a choice here: a slabby wall or a groove just to its right. Both are nice. Complete the classic loop with a descent of the narrow, scrambly Hallsfell Ridge.

Jack's Rake, Pavey Ark

High up on Jacks Rake, 131 kb
High up on Jacks Rake
© Migsy, Jul 2011

Following a diagonal line of weakness on a rising traverse across the rambling face of Pavey Ark, Jack's Rake could well be the most popular hands-on route in the Lake District. Though the techical difficulty is a pushover, this attractive outing takes the low grade scrambler into the sort of big crag positions normally reserved for climbers. In its lower parts the Rake forms a trough, or chimney, with a reassuring side wall that reduces the sense of exposure. Nevertheless, and despite the carefree crowds to be found here on a sunny weekend, it's not a place to take for granted. As a natural drainage line the rock can often be damp and slimy, while the more open upper section has quite a serious feel. Do it for its own sake or as part of a scrambling tour of the Langdale Pikes; either way Jack's Rake is a cracker.

Sourmilk Gill, Borrowdale

photo
Sour Milk Gill
© Laurence

Of several Lakeland streams that go by this name (and what a great name for a foaming cascade!) Sourmilk Gill above the farmstead of Seathwaite is the best for scramblers. Though it's easily escapable at any point - perhaps a plus point for a beginner-friendly grade 1 - the pools and waterfalls are idyllic, the water-washed rock is clean and sound, the clambering is lighthearted fun, and there's plenty of it. Depending on the precise line you choose up each successive slabby tier the difficulty can be tweaked to suit your ability, but unless it's a dry spell you may not escape entirely dry shod. Above the gill there's plenty of scope for further fun, from the crag of Gillercombe Buttress to the summits of Brandreth and Great Gable.

Long Crag, Coniston

Coniston from Long Crag, 190 kb
Coniston from Long Crag
© Lynn Robinson www.speyvalleyphotography.com

At the entrance to the Coppermines valley, almost literally within spitting distance of Coniston village centre, is the easy-angled, rambling buttress of Long Crag. Access couldn't be quicker, and with superb grippy rock and a go-anywhere choice of lines it's just a shame that Long Crag isn't much longer. You are however part way up Wetherlam now, and there are many options for extending the day over the felltops or linking in with other scrambles in the Coppermines valley.

CMD Arete and Ben Nevis

cmd, 157 kb
cmd
© jaggy bunnet, Jun 2011

In summer conditions it may barely be hands-on enough to merit a grade, but this grand ridge is the absolute epitome of a classic. The best walkers' route by far up our highest mountain, the narrow bouldery crest of the CMD Arete sweeps in a perfect curve from the graceful 4000-foot peak of Carn Mor Dearg (that's the CMD bit) around the head of Coire Leis onto Ben Nevis. The scrambling is straightforward but with grandstand views of the craggy north side of Ben Nevis, the closest thing we have to an Alpine face, and a real feel of big mountain exposure, there's not another ridge quite like it in Scotland.

Ring of Steall

Devils ridge, 66 kb
Devils ridge
© andymoin
Wintry scrambling on An Garbhanach, with Ben Nevis beyond, 137 kb
Wintry scrambling on An Garbhanach, with Ben Nevis beyond
© Dan Bailey

An exhilirating day-long scrambly adventure through the heart of the Mamores, the Ring of Steall has to be up there with the best ridge walks anywhere. Linking several fine peaks in a series of swooping arêtes, the route may be pleasantly airy at times, but it's never stop-in-your tracks difficult. In scrambling terms the two stand-out sections are the blocky An Gearanach - An Garbhanach crest and the Devil's Ridge. Ignore the sinister name; this sharp-pitched crest, like the apex of a giant grassy roof, is pure hillwalking heaven. Need more persuasion? How's about the dramatic Glen Nevis gorge; Steall Falls - one of the country's biggest; and a famously wobbly wire bridge?

The Horns of Alligin

Liathach, and the final horn of the horns of Alligin from Beinn Alligin., 174 kb
Liathach from the Horns of Alligin, Photo (c) S.J. Hopkins

The most straightforward of Torridon's big three mountains, and the prettiest, Beinn Alligin nevertheless offers a superb traverse, a classy hillwalkers' ridge spiced with a hint of scrambling. First up go for the 'Horns' of Na Rathanan, blunt-topped towers striped with tiers of sandstone crags that give the meat of the action. It's airy going rather than awkward, making this a perfect intro to scrambling novices. Beyond the Horns there's plenty to keep you entertained: the mountain's two Munro summits, the huge cleft of the Eag Dubh, and archetypal West Coast sea-mountain-island views.

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