How to Scramble Safely

Going off-trail on steep, rocky terrain? Follow these tips from Climbing Editor Shannon Davis.
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Going off-trail on steep, rocky terrain? Follow these tips from Climbing Editor Shannon Davis.

1 Be sure you’ve packed heavy stuff closest to your body. Don’t tie anything outside—swinging water bottles and sleeping pads will throw off your center of gravity.



2 Put away your trekking poles. You’ll need your hands for the ascent.



3 Make sure the route is appropriate. Ask yourself these questions: If you encounter a tricky section, can you overcome it in just a move or two? Can you stop yourself from falling or tumbling more than a few feet if you slip? How hurt would you get if you fell?



4 When scrambling on unmarked terrain, take periodic checks of your surroundings. Consult your map frequently or make sure to work toward a specific landmark.



5 Maintain three points of contact at all times on steep terrain.



6 Test each boulder before committing your full weight.



7 Trust your feet and maximize the friction between rubber and rock by keeping your center of gravity low, placing your foot flat with most of the rubber touching, and seeking bare, dry rock.



8 On a more vertical climb (75 degrees or greater), keep your weight on your feet but lean in toward the rock.



9 For the descent, take out one trekking pole to use for balance and, facing out, shift your weight back toward the slope to prevent tumbling forward.



10 When downclimbing tricky spots, turn and face the rock for better purchase (and to keep your pack from bumping the rock).



11 Going down is harder than going up. If you’re feeling maxed out on the ascent, you’re pushing your comfort level for the descent.