How to Cope with Terrain While Hill Walking

except for the occasional badly eroded or very boggy section. This is where trekking poles can be a great help in keeping your balance. They are even more use if you leave popular paths for little-used tracks or go cross country.

Steep Slope

Steep slopes can be intimidating, especially when there is no path. Descending is usually more unnerving than ascending. The key to confidence and safety is good balance – keeping your body upright and your weight over your feet. To do this do not lean back when descending or into the slope when ascending or traversing as both of these will cause your feet to slip away from you. As far as possible put the whole of your boot sole on the slope rather than just the toe, edge or heel as this will provide much greater security. This is one reason why I prefer flexible footwear.

Terrain While Hill Walking

Unfamiliar steep slopes should not be rushed. Take the time to study a slope before starting up or down and try to pick out a route that avoids crags or stream gullies. If you are not happy going straight up or down, zigzag back and forth across the slope, looking out for any flatter spots where you can rest. If the ground is loose or slippery, stones or bits of tough vegetation can stop your feet slipping. In descent trekking poles placed below you are a great help too.

Steep slopes should always be treated with caution. Be prepared to retreat and find another route if you feel unhappy with the angle or the ground underfoot. Lining on could lead you into a situation you cannot easily escape from.


Grass would seem a very innocuous surface to walk on and so it usually is but when the slope is steep and the grass is wet or, even worse, coated with ice or frost it can become very slippery and keeping your feet can be impossible, especially in descent. Trekking poles or an ice axe can be a great help though care is still needed.

Ascending is easier than descending but still difficult. If the terrain is potentially dangerous with crags or steep drops below you it would be better to find an alternative route, however long. This is preferable to a fast slide into a boulder or over a cliff.


Slopes of small loose stones, known as scree and often found in and below gullies and at the base of cliffs, can be frustrating to ascend, difficult to traverse and unnerving to descend. This is because scree slides at every step and firm footing is impossible. Only climb scree when there is no alternative. This is sometimes the case as with Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak in the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye. The only route up the peak that does not involve ?difficult scrambling is by a long steep scree slope called the Great Stone Chute. I have done this a few times. It is hard work!

Descending scree is easier if you allow yourself to slide with it again, trekking poles help with staying upright. Do not descend any steep scree slope that ends in a dangerous drop, as it is very easy to pick up speed and lose control. Running down scree is exhilarating and a fast way to descend, but it is also potentially dangerous and very damaging to the terrain. When descending scree put your weight on your heels rather than trying to keep your feet flat as this is more stable and gives you more control. Do not lean back or you will sit down – which on sharp stones can be painful – and perhaps continue sliding. If you do not have trekking poles, holding your arms out will help with balance as the scree throws you from side to side, as it inevitably will even at slow speeds.

Whether descending or ascending scree it is easy to dislodge stones and send them whizzing down the slope. This can be dangerous to any walkers lower down the slope so if you do set a stone rolling warn them by yelling “below”. If you are beneath others and you hear someone yell this do not look up! A group should ascend or descend scree diagonally or in an arrowhead formation so that no one is ever below anyone else, at least not for long.

Terrain While Hill Walking

Boulder Fields

Large areas of boulders can be awkward to cross and care needs to be taken as you could easily break a leg if you slip into a gap between the rocks. Stepping from boulder to boulder is fine if the rock is dry and you check each boulder for movement before you put your weight on it. With wet rock you should be more cautious as it is likely to be slippery, especially if covered with moss or lichen.

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About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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