Britain's Best Grade 2 Scrambles

by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com 04/Aug/2017
This article has been read 3,253 times

Grade 2 scrambles are tricky to define: much easier and they'd be grade 1s, attracting every walker with a head for heights; but any harder and you'll hit the borderline rock climbing territory of grade 3. Yet this is a distinct category all its own, and among their number the grade 2s include some of the greatest scrambles in the country. You can't argue with Liathach, for instance, or the Forcan Ridge. Whether viewed as a stepping stone to sterner fare, or as the pinnacle of your ambition, here are eight absolute crackers to get you started.

Aonach Eagach, Glen Coe

Spectacular positions all the way on this Glen Coe classic, 131 kbSpectacular positions all the way on this Glen Coe classic
© Dan Bailey

A formidable jagged rampart forming the north wall of Glen Coe, the "notched ridge" has been a right of passage for generations of Scottish hillwalkers. Often considered the hardest of the great mainland ridges - a title not without other worthy contenders - some anticipate Aonach Eagach with dread, and are simply relieved to survive it, while others relish every minute. Taking in two Munros and a few other tops, the traverse of the ridge is an absolute classic, a hillwalker's scramble more than a climber's one perhaps, but not without its moments. On the standard east west crossing, difficulties kick off straight away with an unnerving descent from the first peak, Am Bodach. Further on, the infamous Crazy Pinnacles are waiting, with some entertaining scrambling in a position so exposed that it feels like you could land on the road hundreds of metres below. Do look down... ground this exposed is a rarity on hillwalking routes, and something to relish!

Idwal Staircase and Continuation, Glyder Fawr

photo
High above Idwal Slabs
© rusty8850, Sep 2014

Midges, Idwal Slabs and the Upper Cliffs, Llyn Idwal., 232 kbMidges, Idwal Slabs and the Upper Cliffs, Llyn Idwal.
© David Dear, Jun 2009

Home to some of the finest mountain rock climbs in Wales, and a fair few classic scrambles, the cliffs of Cwm Idwal form a vast sprawl of rock above the ever-popular Llyn Idwal. With a series of slabby tiers rambling across the wall of the cwm, the layout is baffling on first acquaintance, even a little intimidating. This scramble definitely demands experience and confident route finding; if conditions or a team member's abilities are doubtful then a rope might not go amiss. At the bottom of the face, the magnificent sweep of the Idwal slabs is key to identifying your line. A dark overhung gully defines the far right side of the area of slabs; the Staircase starts up immediately parallel to this. A worryingly slimy start - a stream in all but the driest weather - soon gives way to quality scrambling as you gradually trend away from the watercourse and strike your own line up a succession of rough slabs, staying safely to the right of the climbing routes on Holly Tree and Continuation Walls. Eventually emerge onto the broad crest of Senior's Ridge, an easy scrambly access route onto the Glyder Fawr plateau.

Cam Crag Ridge, Langstrath

Scrambling aficionado Stephen Goodwin high above Langstrath on the fantastic Cam Crag , 140 kbScrambling aficionado Stephen Goodwin high above Langstrath on the fantastic Cam Crag
© Dan Bailey

The only thing ridge-like about it might be its name, but this Lakeland gem ticks every other box you could want in a scramble: a remote setting tucked into the flank of Langstrath; a logical line; a variety of scrambling challenges on impeccable quality rock... and a top out onto the interestingly knobbly tops of Rosthwaite Fell. The crux is short and sharp, but the rest is a delight, with plenty of optional extra difficulties if you go looking. If only it were twice as long. To prolong the buzz, use Cam Crag as an entertaining access route onto Glaramara, or incorporate it into a longer scrambling enchainment of the central fells.

Liathach, Torridon

Spring on Am Fasarinen, 218 kbSpring on Am Fasarinen
© Dan Bailey

A real beast of a mountain, glaring down on Glen Torridon, Liathach has a unique sense of scale and primeval presence. With flanks of terraced sandstone topped with jagged pinnacles and cones of quartzite scree, the mountain promises great things for scrambling fans, and it delivers in spades. Once embarked on, the traverse over its several tops is problematic to escape, all those cliffs below you adding to the aura of seriousness. Appreciable difficulties are only found however in the famous Fasarinen Pinnacles a series of gnarled sandstone teeth that live up to their exciting appearance. For maximum value the pinnacles should be taken direct, and the option of a flanking path rejected for the wasted opportunity it is. You'll find harder grade 2s but you won't ever do a better one, and the setting in the heart of Scotland's wild west is the icing on the cake.

Climbers Traverse, Sphinx Ridge and Westmorland Crag, Great Gable

photo
Getting high on Sphinx Ridge
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com, May 2015

Great Gable is an icon of Lakeland rock climbing, and scramblers can get in on the action with this grand route - one of the longest, most varied and just plain best hands-on days in Cumbria. An airy trail threading beneath the famous crags of The Napes, the Climber's Traverse is an atmospheric kick off that affords views of the formidable pinnacle of Naples Needle. Keen scramblers should not pass up the option to "thread the needle", a technical and exposed clamber over the little notch that separates the Needle from the crag behind. Fairly easy, but certainly non-trivial ground then brings you to the Sphinx, a big rock that bears a passable resemblance to the inscrutable Egyptian idol. This marks the start of Sphinx Ridge, your route to the heights, and a delightful scramble with some fairly gripping terrain should you go looking for it. Above the ridge, a narrow grassy neck connects the Napes with the parent mountain. And still it's not over. Rope in the optional extension up the tottering spires of Westmorland Crag for an easy but atmospheric scrambling finale.

Bryant's Gully, Glyder Fawr

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Things to do on a wet weekend in Wales. Number 1: Bryant's Gully.
© lithos, Oct 2004

photo
Keith, gripped in Bryants Gully.
© allysingo, Oct 2009

A rarity in Snowdonia, a decent gully rather than a ridge or buttress route, Bryant's Gully has much of the character of a Lakeland ghyll scramble, at least initially. One of the longest scrambles in North Wales, it strikes a compelling line up almost the full height of Esgair Felen, the southwest spur of Glyder Fawr, leading practically from the roadside in the Pass of Llanberis to the heights some 500m above. From the enclosed lower stream bed, a succesison of obstacles - most in the form of greasy rock or chockstones - lead ever upward. The rock scenery and sense of isolation are superb, but a helmet comes highly recommended, and in all but a drought a rope might not go amiss too.

Forcan Ridge, The Saddle, Glen Shiel

forcan ridge, the saddle, 174 kbforcan ridge, the saddle
© jacobfinn, Mar 2009

Glen Shiel and Kintail are ridge walking heaven, with miles of graceful crests and sharp peaks; but surprisingly, scrambles of national significance are thin on the ground here. The one really notable exception is found on the area's finest mountain, the mighty Saddle. A route that more than makes up the scrambling shortfall, the Forcan Ridge is an exemplar of its type, a narrow rock crest rising in a series of jagged steps. With a variety of obstacles, a difficulty level you can vary to suit your mood, and plenty of airy excitement, this is the perfect advert for the joy of scrambling, the fast moving fun that this game is all about. With well-trodden easier alternatives to the most thought provoking sections, the Forcan Ridge would be an excellent choice as a first grade 2. But save it for fine weather to get the best out of both the shiny schist and the photogenic setting.

Broad Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor

There are better known scrambles than Broad Buttress, but few of better quality, 225 kbThere are better known scrambles than Broad Buttress, but few of better quality
© Dan Bailey

You'd struggle to compile a scrambling best-of without mentioning the spectacular rock peak of The Buachaille, the mountain with perhaps the greatest single collection of hands-on routes in Scotland. Scramblers are spoilt for choice here. Though a little overshadowed by more illustrious neighbours such as Curved Ridge and North Buttress, the under-sung Broad Buttress has the cachet and quality of a true classic. Never unduly hard, and generally offering a choice of line and the chance to avoid the more daunting challenges, this slabby buttress nevertheless has a big feel (with around 350m height gain), thrilling exposure, and some of the best rock in Glen Coe... get on it!

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