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Scrambling on Mount Bushnell


Scrambling to the summit of Mount Bushnell, I was thinking about what to write next for this web site. Once I reached the top, I sat on a boulder that was cracked down the middle. A few seconds after my usual summit photo of my bare feet hanging over the edge, the left half of my rock fell loose, and I watched as it bounced down the mountainside.

I took my crackers from my backpack and continued to watch, as the rock, and the others it had collected along the way, rumbled to a stop 500 feet down. Happy that I chose the right side of the rock to sit on, I finished my snack.Summit of Bushnell Peak

Scrambling down the mountain an hour later, I slipped and fell on my butt. I bruised my leg on one rock, and got a gash on my hand from another - the one that kept me from tumbling down the slope. I rarely ever have a bad slip like this when hiking and climbing, and this one was especially ironic, because I had just stopped a moment earlier to take some notes on "safe scrambling" for this page. First safety lesson: concentrate on the task at hand - take your notes at the bottom.

According to one dictionary, "scramble" is "an ambiguous term - somewhere between hill-walking and rock climbing." However, it is a necessary part of hiking and backpacking in the mountains, unless you are content to stick to the trails and always be looking up at the peaks, which I'm not. I have to be looking down at everything on occasion, and since not all mountains have easy trails to the top, this sometimes means crossing long stretches of rocky terrain.

Rock isn't a problem by itself. It can be solid and sloped gently, so you can hike across it easily. But sometimes, like on Mount Bushnell, it is loose, and mixed with almost vertical stretches which require your hands as much as your feet. The following are some tips for making this kind of scrambling a little bit safer.

Bushnell Lakes

1. Don't pull rocks loose. Use the rocks above you to steady yourself on steep parts, but try not to put much weight on them unless absolutely necessary. When they come loose, you are below them, and more than one hiker has pulled a rock down upon himself with fatal results.

2. Bigger is better. When hiking on loose rocks, try to step on the larger ones. They're less likely to move, and when they do move, they typically do so more slowly, giving you time to react

3. Stay apart. When there are two or more in your group, don't travel directly below each other on steep rocky slopes. If you do, rocks you knock loose will head for the hiker below you. Put some distance between you. If ascending straight up, do so parallel to each other, ten feet apart.

4. Consider the downward trip. Will you be able to climb down the rocks you are scrambling up? Going down is always more difficult and dangerous.

5. Stick to the grass. When there is a choice of routes, stick to those where the rocks are mixed with patches of grass or other plants. The rocks are usually anchored more solidly there.

6. Learn to read the terrain. You'll eventually get a "feel" for which rocks are more likely to break loose, and which slopes are easier. To speed up this learning process, pay attention as you scramble, making rules as you go, like "these kind of rocks are slippery," and "that type often pulls loose."

7. Beware of wet rock. Every second rock you step on moves under your foot, and then it starts to rain! Rocks are usually more slippery when wet. Notice the surface of the rocks you are crossing, and whether it might rain before you get back down to solid ground.

8. Try a walking stick. Consider using a walking stick instead of trekking poles. Thinking back on the number of times my walking stick was wedged between rocks or holding my weight the other day, I'm not sure that a trekking pole would have survived the beating. A wooden walking stick can help with balance, reduce knee-strain, and take a lot of abuse when you are scrambling.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Scrambling