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No such thing as scrambling? But there are four guidebooks!

Scrambles in Snowdonia

Of course, there is no such thing as scrambling, or at least there wasn’t, not until in 1980 Steve Ashton produced a radical guidebook. It was a guidebook to scrambles. This was the guidebook that invented the scrambling grades of 1,2 and 3. When first published it may have been met with derision in some quarters, but 40 years on it’s still selling well and is as popular as ever. Furthermore it has spawned offspring in the shape of scrambling guides across Scotland, the Lake District and Ireland. There is even one for the Peak District and no one has come up with better grading system than 1,2 and 3.

Incredibly, it has now been joined by three other Scrambling guides to Snowdonia, yes you can now choose between four different scrambling guidebooks. It is something I started working on myself a few years ago, but never quite got my act together. I can assure you, writing a book is not an easy task. It’s hard to imagine any of the authors of the following volumes will have got rich on their work, they do it for love, they do it because they want to. Remember that when you are lost in a sea of rock and vertical heather, it’s not their fault, you need to learn how to route find!

So, what are these guides to steep walking/easy climbing (on ignored, often scruffy, bits of cliff), a.k.a. scrambling or looking for esoteric, eccentric, enigmatic mountain passages?

· Scrambles in Snowdonia, Steve Ashton, Cicerone Press, most recently updated by Carl McKeating and Rachel Crolla (latest update 2017)

· North Wales Scrambles, Garry Smith, Northern Edge Books 2018 (2nd ed)

· Snowdonia Mountain Walks and Scrambles, Mark Reeves, Rockfax 2020

· Snowdonia Scrambles, Mike Peacock, Carreg Gwalch 2020

I’m not going to tell you which one to buy. If you are into your scrambling, don’t mess about buy them all. You could also consider the Climbers Club Guide to Ogwen as that incorporates scrambles too.

I suppose we should start with the Steve Ashton book. It really is very good. I’ve always enjoyed his writing and if you follow his descriptions they are pretty hard to beat. Time after time I’ve followed them word for word and they have worked out well. In this modern era of blow by blow photo topo’s readers may be disappointed and might struggle with the amount of reading required. The newer edition has better photo topo’s in but rarely are they all that is needed to follow the routes.

It’s similar with Gary’s North Wales Scrambles too. Superb descriptions, probably better photos and certainly lots of cool pics of the routes themselves. His newer edition with a hardback cover, the design of which I love, gives it a more robust feel than his earlier paperback version. Gary claims to cover 50 scrambles, the best ones, whereas the Steve Ashton book claims to cover 80 scrambles, maybe that will sway you. I find it hard to choose between them. Steve’s, as the ’Grandfather’ of scrambling, or Gary ‘cos I know him?

A newer book has a very different feel to it. The Rockfax treatment has come from climbing to scrambling, and walking. This, Mark Reeves authored, volume is larger and glossier than its predecessors and clearly a brilliant piece of work. I love the introductory bits on gear, on mountain skills and especially on the environment. I didn’t need the winter section, but it it’s hardly a drawback. As you’d expect from Rockfax the photo topo’s are excellent and I’m quite sure plenty of people will buy this book, not read one word and just look at the pictures, good for you. Mark, by use of a drone, has made this possible with his superb photographs. It is slightly curious mix of easy walks and some quite hard scrambles, ticking the whole book will take some time and little bit of perverseness. We perhaps should get used to saying Glyderau, instead of Glyders and Moelwynion instead of Moelwyns, but these are not reasons not to buy this book. If you like north Wales, if you like walking, if you like scrambling then it’s essential.

And finally the newest of the bunch and, I could say, now for something completely different. Mike Peacock has taken a look around the corner. He’s been bold and gone off the beaten track. Rather than compete with the above books he’s found a load of new routes to do. He pays full homage to the above volumes, but shuns the crowds and heads off to wallow about in obscurity. In doing so he opens our eyes up to looking at some very familiar places with new eyes. Now, I know these hills pretty well and I really don’t like being told that I’ve missed a gem, so of course I knew about all these routes before. Err, hang on, not that one, or this one or that other one! Thanks Mike you done a great job, you’ve sorted out some scrambles I’ve looked at and never done, you’ve linked up some great journeys, you’ve been to some daft places and you’ve shared them with modesty. This is a work of genius/a mad man. But do you know what it doesn’t matter, I for one will be seeking out some of the gems that are new to me in here. I was little worried that this book might start a stampede to some delicate quiet corners of the national park, but Mike has avoided this by cleverly not included photo topo’s, and making people have to use grid reference to find the routes, good on you Mike!

A word of warning though for Mikes’ complacency in not promoting his scrambles and cleverly thinking they’ll never get popular. In the 1992, reprinted until 2005, edition of Steve Ashton’s book he introduces Bastow Buttress Variant like this “The rock, lichenous through lack of traffic, is not as reliable as most on Tryfan, dry conditions are essential.” Today, it is very popular and there is a well-worn ‘trough’ ascending the route.

There are several lifetimes of fun to be had in these books. I love them all and am very glad to report they all, along with their authors, are esoteric, eccentric and as utterly bonkers as the whole concept of scrambling itself. Steve Ashton is either a proud man or one in hiding!


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