Talus slopes can either help or hinder the climber. Most offer handy brush-free pathways to the mountains, but some are loose and dangerous.

The peaks constantly crumble, dropping fragments that pile up below as talus and scree. Most of the rubble pours from gullies and spreads out in fan-shaped cones that often merge into one another, forming a broad band of talus between valley greenery and the peaks. Talus fans also often alternate with forest.

Talus slopes build gradually over the ages. On the oldest slopes, soil fills the gap between rocks, making smooth pathways. But talus can be dangerous on volcanos and younger mountains, where rocks are only loosely consolidated because vegetation hasn't filled in the spaces. Move nimbly here, ready to leap away if a rock shifts underfoot. Disturbing one key stone on a glacial moraine or a talus slope can even set off a serious rock avalanche.

Climbers on talus slopes need to keep alert because almost everyone will knock loose a rock or two. Try to travel outside the fall line of climbers above and below. If you're in a narrow gully and this isn't possible, tread gently and be ready to shout "Rock!" if a stone is dislodged. Keep close together so a rock set off by one climber can't gain dangerous momentum by the time it reaches other team members. Or permit only one climber to move at a time, while the rest stay in a protected spot.

Slopes with the smallest fragments, called scree, are sometimes as loose as sand. This makes the uphill going a slow-motion torment, but on the way down it might permit some careful "scree-ing." This involves shuffling your feet to start a minor slide of pebbles and riding it down, in a standing glissade. If there is any vegetation on the slope, skip the screeing out of regard for the plants.

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