Scrambling for People Who are Scared of Heights

Sharp Edge, mountain ridge in Cumbria

Sharp Edge ridge scramble

Taking on a scramble can be a very rewarding achievement. If you have a fear of heights you are inevitably going to be scared. You will have to push yourself, but that makes the challenge all the more rewarding.

So if you are scared of heights but you want to go scrambling you are likely to find yourself in a bit of a dilemma. That is to say, if you embark on a scramble are you going to end up on a mountain unable to proceed along your route and unable to retreat? Will you end up completely stuck and not able to move a muscle, i.e. cragfast?

Since everyone is different and everyone’s fear kicks in at a different point it is difficult to know in advance if a particular scramble is within your capability. There are three grades of scramble: 1, 2 and 3. Grade 3 scrambles are difficult and require ropes, so you’re not going start with them! Grade 1 scrambles are the easist, but even grade 1 scrambles can be vertigo inducing.

The most famous grade 1 scrambles in Wales are probably Crib Goch and the north ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia. In the Lake District Striding Egde and Sharp Edge are the most well known.

Before attempting these routes you need to have suitable walking gear, experience of fell walking and be fit enough to spend a good part of the day doing fairly strenuous exercise.

You will also need to get some experince on small scrambles. It is important that you develop some technical skills since you will be doing some climbing moves. Just as important is getting use to being in an exposed position. This is necessary to help reduce and control your fear of heights.

If you have a fear of heights and have not been scrambling before, where do you start?

The easiest place could well be Grinds Brook, which is on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Starting from Edale the footpath follows the course of the brook. Towards the top of Kinder Plateau leave the footpath and scramble up the rocks that make up the stream bed. This should be fun and is unlikely to be scary. During the summer there is not much water at this part of the brook so you will not get wet unless its raining!

Looking down Grinds Brook near Edale
Grinds Brook on Kinder Scout is a fun place to start scrambling.

Next, find somewhere with low rocky outcrops to practice. There are plenty of these around the lower parts of mountains. Even if the rocks are only a meter or two high, climbing them can give you experience necessary for scrambling on larger and higher rocks.

In the Lake District, climbing Scafell Pike via Mickledore there is a short scramble at the top of a scree slope. This is can give you some experience of scrambling in a position where you are quite high up. The actual scramble is quite short and in a little gully, so it is not too exposed. This is ideal for gaining experience and building up your confidence.

Easy scramble route in the Lake District
A view from the top of the Mickledore scramble on Scafell Pike

In north Wales the footpath up the Devil’s Kitchen offers a few short sections where you need to use your hands, so is a good starting place. The north west ridge of Moel Saibod has some good rocky places to scramble. If you keep to the right on your way up you will not be close to any steep drops. For experience of being on an exposed ridge that does not require you to scramble, Bwlch Main, on the south side of Snowdon is a good place to start.

Once you have gained experience, a good classic ridge to scramble across is Sharp Edge on Blencathra in the Lake District. The ridge is fairly short followed by climb up to the summit. The rock on the ridge is slippery due to the wear of people’s walking boots. The drops are steep and you will feel some exposure but you can hold onto the rocks most of the time. There is a small section which must be crossed where there is nothing to hold onto, called the ‘Bad Step’. This is the most scary part and once you are across it there are no other sections that are as a scary.

After you have crossed the ridge of Sharp Edge, the climb up to the summit of Blencathra is through a narrow gully, without much exposure, and there are plenty of hand holds. Special care is needed in wet conditions, so it would be best to tackle Sharp Edge on a dry day first.

Crib Goch scramble route up Snowdon
Crib Goch is a well know ridge scramble in Snowdonia. In the foreground are rocky outcrops suitable for practising scrambling.

Having someone with you who has experience of scrambling and who has a good head for heights can also help boost you confidence. The BMC’s Hill Walking Officer, Carey Davies, recommends hiring an instructor for the scramble and going rock climbing at low level to gain experience.

If anyone can recommend some more places for people who are scared of heights to build up their scrambling skills and experience of exposure please leave a comment.


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