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On a hike a while back, I was going up the less favored side of a large hill. Due to recent geological activity, the hill side had sort of cracked/split creating a 5-10 foot wide pathway along the hill. I was ascending up this path.

About doing about 3/4ths of the path, I found myself "trapped" in the middle a scree patch. The scree patch had initially been moderately steep, but further on it was a lot steeper.

As I was tired, I sat down for a bit before things got harder, and on trying to get back up, it was essentially impossible to assume any kind of standing position - I simply slid down on trying to stand up. This was despite solid hiking boots. The scree was too small for the lugs to get a grip on, and the angle too steep. Since it wasn't cold, I tried with my boots off. The grip was much better but my feet just couldn't stand the sharp scree - blame the years of wearing slippers indoors for a soft sole.

At that point, my only recourse was to assume a prone position on the ground and literally crawl across the scree patch to the side of the path, where I could use some of the tree trunks to hold on to, and to support my feet against.

After getting off, I found out the path I took was used very rarely by 1 of the goat herders and she goes up the hill barefoot (with her real tough soles, from always walking around barefoot on hard ground).

The question is, is there a better/real strategy for navigating bad/steep unexpected scree patches? I would really like to avoid having to crawl up on a hill if at all possible...

  • 2
    The real fun is riding the scree down again... be prepared for a huge cleanup session when at home, but it can be pure bliss. – AnoE Jan 10 at 21:45
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    In my admittedly limited experience, it can also be deadly - especially if the scree patch is steep and abruptly drops off by a few feet (so the slide cannot be easily arrested) and there are large/jagged rocks below.. it gets worse if some of the large rocks can come dislodged on applying a moderate amount of force... sorry, but I restrict my "fun" to parks and other manmade places.. – Yogesch Jan 11 at 10:14
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Climbing scree is a skill all on it's own. The trick is to have good balance and have a good feel for the ground, and gradually transfer your weight from one foot to the other, almost like walking on thin ice, you don't want the scree to "break". If you can plant your foot just right, and ease your weight on to it, then you can often manage to progress without swimming too much. Where people often go wrong while climbing scree is trying to attack the ground too aggressively with their feet, and they end up taking more than twice as many steps as they need to. You need to move slowly and with control on scree, or else the ground will just take off from beneath you. To get a stable foot plant, go toes into the scree, and keep your foot as flat as possible to try and sink your foot in deep enough to find purchase, and slowly transfer you weight to your foot.

All that being said I have been on "virgin" scree that is extra fine and extra loose on slopes steep enough that you feel like you're wading through deep snow. In those situations, I find it helpful to shovel away as much of the extra loose scree as I can using my alpine axe or a walking stick before putting my weight on it. When possible, it's best to navigate around it or move up on more stable ground, but I know there are situations where there are no other options but to move through the scree.

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@ShemSeger has a good answer. Some additional bits:

  • Don't try to go straight up. Doing a traverse is faster in fine scree. The uphill foot doesn't bury the lower foot.

  • place your foot as close to flat as you can. At the least, place the entire uphill edge on the rock at once. Few of us have the ankle flexibility to place both edges flat on a side hill at the same time.

  • You may find some benefit from retying your boot 2-3 hooks lower, and leaving the top more flexible for foot placement. Pull your outer sock down over the top to reduce scooping up samples.

  • A walking stick on the lower side enables more deliberate placement of feet.

  • Scan the route ahead frequently. It's easy to get wrapped up in the next 4 feet. You are looking for goat tracks, bigger scree.

  • Check downslope too. Some scree slopes end on cliff tops.

  • Sometimes you can make better forward progress by accepting some downhill travel.

  • If there are multiple people in your party it may work better for each person to make their own trail, or to follow your trail. Put an experienced person at the back end.

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