Scrambling on Mount Bushnell
By Steve Gillman
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.