Sim on how a scramble can turn a run in the mountains into a exhilarating adventure

Greator Rocks, Dartmoor. Copyright Jen & Sim Benson.

Setting off before dawn I’m first on the mountain, run-walking up the well made trail towards Ben Vorlich. The early morning air is cold but with the promise of some sun and a steep climb I’m soon warming up. Crossing the footbridge and joining the mountain trail I pull on a jacket before the final summit climb in anticipation of the wind that always hits you full force as you break cover for the top. The summit’s a good one with a trig point so I stop briefly to take in the view before descending south-west down a brilliantly runnable slope towards the rockier and steeper Munro, Stuc a’Chroin. Reaching this I stop to study the face, looking for the lines of weakness that reveal the scramble to the top. The left hand edge of a steep scree slope draws me up into the cliff and I’m pleased to find a vauge path. I try to follow it up steep steps, traversing this way then back again and up a short section of rocky slab. The climbing is easy but I’m using my hands and I can see that it could be much trickier if I lose the route. The ground is steep around me but I feel secure and soon reach the lower summit of the hill. The rest of the run is great, first over the rounded rocky summit of Stoc a’Chroin and then the long descent back around the coire and down the path, fast and testing every foot placement.

Looking back on the route later on it would have been a great run in its own right, but it’s that section of scrambling that really elevates to something exhilarating and special.

Stoc a’Chroin, Perthshire. Copyright Jen & Sim Benson.

Mountain running is always an incredible adventure. The views are phenomenal, the trails exciting and the physicality of tackling the ascents and descents rewarding. Running whenever the terrain allows means you cover distances far quicker than walking. Scrambling is the middle ground between steep walking and climbing or mountaineering; you’ll need to use your hands and routes may be quite exposed but are normally easier than graded climbs. Run-scrambling combines mountain running with sections of easy scrambling for that extra level of challenge and excitement. We reckon it guarantees an amazing day out.

Long Crag, Coniston, Lake District. Copyright Jen & Sim Benson.

The scrambling element also adds more objective risk to a day in the mountains, so it’s worth being careful and progressing slowly, especially if it’s wet or windy. Often scrambling sections are avoidable so always look for alternative routes when planning the day. Make sure you carry sufficient equipment and clothing to match the conditions and pay particular attention to your footwear which needs to be protective, precise and grippy enough to have your absolute trust when the ground gets steeper. Running with a friend is advisable or you could go out with an experienced guide – you’ll find a few personal recommendations for guides at the end of this article.

Druim na Ciche of Aonach air Chrith, Kintail, Scotland. Copyright Jen & Sim Benson.

To find run-scramble routes look for scrambling guide books, magazine routes and UK Scrambles. You can also look at the routes of Sky races as they often have great sections of scrambling. Run-scrambling is best done in summer conditions, as adding rain, snow or ice turns the routes into a much more serious undertaking. There is a scrambling grading system that ranks routes by difficulty from grade 1 to grade 3; grade 1 is ideal for run scrambling. To identify a good route we pick a scramble that looks fun and then find a good runnable loop that incorporates it. The Ben Vorlich and Stoc a’Chrion route described above is here on the OS Maps Online app. We’ve had awesome run scrambling adventures on the Cornish coast path, Kinder area of the Peak District, Snowdonia, the Lake District and many areas of the Scottish Highlands and Islands; you’ll find several of them in Wild Running.

St Sunday Crag in the Lake District on the Lakes Sky Ultra. Picture credit Paul Mitchell Wildman Media

Run Guides:

Mountain Run based in the Lake District

RAW Adventures in Snowdonia

Trail Running Scotland