Monday Tip - Ghyll Scrambling Basics

No snow? Never mind, mild and wet conditions are ideal for tackling stream-based scrambles in the Lakes...

Posted: 9 January 2012
by Jon

Siouormilk Ghyll by Frank from the OM Gallery. A typical grade one ghyll scramble in Borrowdale. Like many ghyll routes, it's relatively low down and accessible, which can be a positive boon if it's windy up top.

While we're waiting for something like winter to arrive, how about taking advantage of the relative mildness for a sport of ghyll scrambling? Here's a selection of tips to keep you on the wet and narrow...

What Is It?

Ghyll scrambling? Put simply, it's scrambling up – mostly – Lakeland streams, waterfalls and water courses. Iffy in summer when it's often too dry, dubious in cold winters when it comes with added hypothermia and ice, but ideal when it's wet and mild.

Plenty of graded options in various scrambles guides too – hint: anything called Gill or Ghyll is a stream. Often routes follow sidewalls and boulders, but sometimes you'll find yourself climbing directly up the middle of the stream and tackling a crux that's a small waterfall..

Clothing And Equipment

You will inevitably get soaking wet, fine while you're moving, not so clever once you top out and want to either descend or carry on with your day. One approach that's worked for us in the past is to climb in full waterproof shell clothing over a baselayer and carry a full change of underlayers in a dry bag. A lightweight travel towel is a good call too.

At the top of the route, find somewhere sheltered if you can and quickly strip off, dry off and reclothe yourself. A synthetic-filled jacket is good as it won't be too worried about underlying or overlying dampness.

As far as your feet go, all bets are off... One option is to carry some lightweight walking boots and shoes along with spare socks and simply swap your whole footwear system at the top. Another is to accept that your boot and feet will get soaked, but carry waterproof socks and dry normal socks to change into for the walk out.


Basically you can treat ghyll scrambles moslty like normal ones – which means, depending on your ability and experience and the route, you may want to carry a rope and some protection – a few slings, some rocks, maybe a cam or two.

One thing you can guarantee is that it'll all get soaked, so a rope with some sort of water repellent coating, either factory or applied afterwards, is a good call.

Finally, we'd always advise that you wear a helmet too.


Again, all the basic climbing and scrambling techniques apply equally to ghylls. Three points of contact and so on. One point worth bearing in mind is that often rock under fast-flowing water is grippier than intermittently splashed stuff as the current tends to wash contaminants off, but check holds carefully for slippiness before committing to them.

Fast-flowing water in your face is another issue. It makes it hard to see what you're doing and may cover vital holds, often it's easier to try to contour round real deluge territory. On some routes, you may be able to get a companion to divert the stream by standing or even sitting strategically at a certain point – beware though, step off at the wrong moment and your mate below may be swept off by a burst of water.

Finally, bear in mind that there may be deeper water than you think below you and while many Lakeland ghylls are relatively shallow, there may still be areas of potentially dangerous deeper water particularly below waterfalls so treat them with respect.

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