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August 2005

Next Level: Scrambling Steep Peaks

Don't let a steep hike keep you from the best views. Put these vital mountaineering tips to use this weekend.

A few sheer rocks separate you from the summit. Don’t let them turn you back. Done safely, scrambling is one of mountaineering’s true pleasures, and it’s the only way to reach off-trail terrain requiring third-class (handholds often needed) or fourth-class (constant handholds, fatal-fall potential) climbing. Master these three moves to bag that peak safely.


When the next good ledge is too high to step up onto, use this basic rock-climbing technique: Grab the hold and walk your feet up the wall until the hold is chest-high. Turn slightly to one side and press the corresponding palm flat onto the hold, elbow pointing up. Push yourself up until you can lift the opposite foot onto the ledge; then look for a higher hold for your other hand. This move is potentially hard to reverse.

Edge and Smear

Don’t climb like Stallone in Cliffhanger–all arms. Let your feet do most of the work. On tiny ledges, press your big toe down and into the wall; just getting the front edge of your shoe on the hold provides enough purchase to push off. On a smooth face, mash the sole of your shoe-as much of it as possible to maximize friction–against the rock and keep pressure against it as you lever up.


Face the rock and look down at holds while moving your feet onto them. Remember: When ascending, reaching the next handhold sometimes requires first moving a foot higher; similarly, when downclimbing you may need to first move your hands down to good holds before stepping lower.


>>Think your moves through before you make them; if you’re not sure you can downclimb a section, reverse a move before continuing.

>>Always wear a certified helmet (which bears a UIAA or CE seal).

>>Test holds with a firm thump (a hollow sound indicates a loose hold) before committing your full weight.

>>If the terrain above harbors teetering rocks or evidence of recent and/or frequent rockfall, move through quickly or find an alternate route.

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