Set a Trail Through Scree

Set a Trail Through Scree
Scree and talus---the piled rock that accumulates at the base of steep slopes---can look intimidating to the cross-country traveler. But to the ambitious trekker with a good sense of caution, this fascinating and challenging terrain can be crossed. Indeed, it sometimes provides a better alternative than bushwhacking shrub-thickets or deadfall-strewn timber.
Scree (smaller, gravel-sized) and talus (larger boulders) are debris of physical weathering---rock dislodged by mass wasting from slopes and rolled downhill. The fragments---usually talus below, scree higher up---typically arrange themselves in aprons or cones along the shoulders of escarpments, mountain walls and valley shoulders.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Traversing Scree/talus Fields

Things You’ll Need:
  • Trekking poles or ice axe (optional)
  • Trekking poles or ice axe (optional)
Step 1
Dig in to the scree on an ascent with the front of your boot and test this foothold for stability before following suit, slowly, with the other. Steeper scree slopes may be effectively impossible to climb up, so avoid such routes if possible. They are easier to traverse coming down.
Step 2
Descend scree slopes, using caution, like a glissading skier. Keeping your body centered over your feet (as with most difficult hiking), don't go too fast and always keep an eye out for obstacles, such as bigger rocks and isolated vegetation.
Step 3
Stay close together if traveling as a party when descending scree to lessen the chances of bombarding each other with spraying gravel.
Step 4
Hop across the larger talus, never getting ahead of oneself and always being aware of delicately positioned rocks. Scrambling up and down each boulder is too exhausting and time-consuming to be efficient.

Route-setting

Step 1
Erect rock cairns to set trails across scree and talus slopes. These markers must be frequently maintained on account of talus creep (the effects of gravity in this context). When following such a path, use cairns as general guides, always being alert for changed conditions that may have rendered routes treacherous.
Step 2
Take notes or pictures when crossing talus/scree slopes for reference on the homeward trek.
Step 3
Be as aware of the country as you can on the outbound hike; landscapes always look different coming back, and you might as well identify the secure route you scouted on the way out as best you can to save yourself time and trouble on the return. (These tips serve just as well for cross-country travel over any terrain.)

Tips & Warnings

 
Avoid stepping on snow, dirt, sand or moss layered on rock fragments---this is a near-sure recipe for a nasty tumble. Keep to bare rock for better traction. Wielded carefully, trekking poles and ice axes can make scree/talus traverses easier.
 
Avoid stepping on snow, dirt, sand or moss layered on rock fragments---this is a near-sure recipe for a nasty tumble. Keep to bare rock for better traction.
 
Wielded carefully, trekking poles and ice axes can make scree/talus traverses easier.
 
Some obvious dangers in traversing inclined gravel and boulder beds are twisting limbs and ankles and starting miniature rock slides. If you're trekking in a group, try to cross such slopes in a line so that people aren't positioned downhill from one another. But if such becomes the case, shout to alert others to dislodged rocks. Keep an eye on any tumbling fragments. The oldest talus slides, signified by established vegetation, are usually safest to cross, as they're more stable.
 
Some obvious dangers in traversing inclined gravel and boulder beds are twisting limbs and ankles and starting miniature rock slides. If you're trekking in a group, try to cross such slopes in a line so that people aren't positioned downhill from one another. But if such becomes the case, shout to alert others to dislodged rocks. Keep an eye on any tumbling fragments.
 
The oldest talus slides, signified by established vegetation, are usually safest to cross, as they're more stable.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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