On an easy but long scramble, 30 to 45o incline, un-anchored, what should be the safe distance between two people?

Should the better person be ahead, or be behind supporting the other just in case?

  • Possibly the rule of slowest person first might work here, not sure, but you'd want to go at the slowest person to set pace?
    – Aravona
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 16:19
  • Why would you need a safe distance?
    – user2766
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Aravona You don't want the slowest person in front, you let the slowest person set the pace. You want a guide or a leader in front, and one of the responsibilities of a good leader is to set the pace so everyone can keep up. Route selection is another important responsibility of the leader. If you lead your group up a safe route, then you don't have to worry as much about falling rocks or people.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 21:53
  • 1
    @ShemSeger: In my experience there is no hard and fast rule about who goes in front unless it's roped climbing, in which case you're certainly right that the stronger climber would usually lead (especially if the other climber doesn't lead, or the lead would be beyond that person's ability to climb safely).
    – user2169
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 0:27
  • 1
    @ben On well defined trails it doesn't matter who's in front, but I have literally had to instruct people on how to walk on scree. I've led many city folk in the woods who quite simply did not know how to walk on uneven ground. Trail finding is something else altogether.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 1:03

1 Answer 1


The main issue you're going to encounter in this situation is rockfall. You don't want a situation where the person in front inadvertently kicks a rock loose, and the rock then hits the person behind. There are a bunch of possible techniques for dealing with this. You can limit the number of people climbing at one time, either by keeping the whole group small or by doing dangerous or loose sections in subgroups while others wait in a safe location. You can keep climbers close together so that if a rock does fall, it doesn't have time to accelerate before hitting the follower. You can traverse or switchback rather than climbing straight up. You can fan out and take different routes.

Although it is possible to stay far apart vertically and therefore give plenty of time for the follower to get out of the way of rockfall, this risks letting the rock accelerate to a more dangerous speed, and you also want to make sure that the follower isn't in a terrain trap where the rocks are funneled through and they have no way to move laterally.

Obviously you want everyone wearing helmets, and if someone kicks rocks down or sees rocks coming down, they should keep shouting "rock! rock! rock!" until the rock is no longer falling.

Should the better person be ahead, or be behind supporting the other just in case?

Sometimes it's nice to have a more experienced person climb immediately behind someone who's sketched out, so that they can spot for them. "Put your left foot there," etc. But if you're unroped and don't have harnesses or a cordelette, I don't think it's that practical for one person to belay the other; the belayer would just get pulled down. With a cordelette, it might be more possible for the belayer to assume a safe stance or find natural pro, and then give a short-rope belay.

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