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I have hiked quite a lot, and today I challenged myself to an easy 'alpine route'. At one point I came across this exposed slope (Is this considered a scree slope?) Considering that at the base of a slope is a small platform followed by a cliff, I don't think I want to slip at all. I had proper hiking shoes but since the surface was rather sandy it felt like it didn't give me enough grip that I could trust. I tried putting myself flat down for more friction but there isn't any fixed rocks I could use to stablize and it felt that that has even less grip than my shoes. I had trekking poles too but that does not seem to help on rocky terrain. I would like to ask: What would be the correct safe way to traverse such a slope? 1) Get boots with even better friction 2) Try the lying down method 3) Some other method I'm not aware off. Since it is rock I'm not sure how useful it would be to have a pickaxe ready to arrest one's fall.

In the end I went to higher ground where there was more vegetation to grab onto while crossing but considering the angle it was still quite scary.

enter image description here

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You are correct that it is called scree. Depending on the incline and rock makeup it can be either relatively easy or almost impassable to cross. If you are traversing you want to pick a straight line across or with a slight "incline" since you inevitably will slide down a bit as you make your way across. I like to have a trekking pole on my downhill side but usually would keep my uphill hand free. Use your trekking pole to lightly test stability of your next step (you don't want to knock it all loose though). I like to take small steps so I can shift my weight in a controlled manner more easily. I also like to think about the "angle" of my foot. I like to keep it "flat" rather than will the angle of the slope. This way I can have a secure foot, and if I slip I'm more likely to fall uphill rather than downhill.

Regarding your suggestions, I don't think boot material friction will make much of a difference. I wouldn't "lie down" since it will shift the direction of your force sideways pushing the rock downhill making it even harder (unless I'm misinterpreting what you mean by lie down).

Also, hopefully this goes without saying, but don't be downhill of another person. It is very easy for rocks to come loose and hurt someone. Similarly don't cross above someone else.

In the photo there seems to be a defined trail in the vegetation on the other side indicating this section is somewhat regularly crossed. While not always a good indicator, typically well traveled scree is easier (more stable) than untouched scree in my experience. What can be knocked loose will have already somewhat been knocked loose by earlier people making it more stable. If you see what looks like a "trail" through scree you are generally better off sticking to it.

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  • Thank you for the helpful advice! I posted the same question on Reddit and everyone avoided my question and started talking about how gentle the slope actually is. Normally I would agree that a few falls or slips couldn't hurt, but with the dropoff at the base of slope, Risk * (severity of accident) becomes very large, and this is no place to make mistakes. There were two such scree slopes, one of them had a relatively visible path through it which I can take. I read somewhere that the other one was freshly ripped out by the snow more recently and it was indeed a lot more slippery :/ Jul 20 at 21:11
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    There's also scree and scree. This one looks like a relatively gentle slope, with small rocks. I've seen areas which are much steeper, with bigger rocks that sometimes roll down on their own and some with cliffs at the bottom. The path somewhat indicates it's safe-ish here, but scree needs careful assessment. What works here may not elsewhere. hikingdude.com/hiking-scree.php Jul 20 at 22:31
  • If anything, if the slope is amenable to it, I will intentionally tilt my foot away from horizontal to, in effect, dig the uphill side into the slope. That picture shows a lot of soil mixed with the few rocks and looks like that would work fine. Even for more fist-sized piles of rocks that works reasonable well. By the time you get to rocks bigger than your foot not so much...
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 21 at 14:18
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First off, congrats on the "alpine route"! I think you'll find after doing more of these that the slope pictured will feel a lot more comfortable for you.

Ice axes are not just for ice!

You say

Since it is rock I'm not sure how useful it would be to have a pickaxe ready to arrest one's fall.

Actually, it could be quite useful, especially because there's also a lot of dirt and sand involved. The standard textbook Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills has this to say about scree:

Ice axes are helpful; the technique on scree is similar to that on snow. Nonetheless, be aware that scree can sometimes consist of only a thin, ball bearing–sized cover over large rocks. If there is vegetation on the slope, avoid setting off a scree slide that can damage the plants.

In many cases, you can self-belay by keeping a firm grip on the axe and driving the spike into the dirt uphill of you as you traverse. A fall can be arrested much like on snow, albeit likely more painfully. This answer has some further information that you might find useful.

However, your safety in this situation primarily depends on your footwork.

It can be difficult at first when transitioning from simple trail hiking to mountaineering. On a trail, each step is usually solid. If you wanted to stop and stand in any particular place it would not be much of a challenge. In a more scramble-like situation such as this, you must maintain dynamic footwork, moving or being ready to move to the next step before the previous one has had a chance to settle. Note that this does not imply rushing or scampering, but rather executing a series of fluid movements to shift yourself between positions of balance. It takes practice to develop a feel for various types of terrain, so if this one felt uncomfortable then find a more mild route to practice on before returning.

And I always recommend wearing a climbing or mountaineering helmet in these conditions. If you do slip, a helmet could save your life.

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