After looking longingly towards the imposing bulk of Eagle Crag on Thursday, I was keen to return and climb the classic Eagle Front (VS 4c ***). Penny was not so keen and a call to Bob sorted out a willing partner for Saturday (once he had painted his house). The walk in was quicker than Thursday since is wasn’t so hot and we took a slightly more efficient route, staying left of the beck until across the wall and then following the beck almost as far as the crag. I was amazed by the number of people in the combe, there were at least ten on Eagle Crag and plenty more on Grey Crag.
We geared up slowly whilst waiting for a traffic jam to disperse and then each wearing an extra layer headed onto the dark wall. It is a buttress that has a serious air about it, plenty of dark patches of lichen and in shadow for most fo the day. The rock itself was rough and had plenty of holds yet we both admired the pioneering spirit of the first ascentionists who set off up this route in 1940 looking for the easiest way to the top not knowing if there even was one!
The route splits naturally into two halves since the face is bisected by The Terrace. There are three pitches below the terrace, one to cross the terrace and then a further four to the top.
- Pitch 1 was a scramble to a grassy ledge. It was supposed to follow a rib on the left but I went up one on the right which gave Bob an interesting pull up onto the ledge using greenery for hand holds.
- Pitch 2 involved climbing a series of grooves and slabs that alternated between left and right. There was one delicate section up a small leftward slab known as Little Botterills after the slab on Scafell, only this slab was only a couple of metres high.
- Pitch 3 started off with a vicious 4c move just above the belay ledge. There was one hold that would take a number one cam but then could not be used for your hands. I placed the protection and then climbed using other higher and smaller holds, it felt more like 5a but that could have been the ledge a metre or two below me. The rest of the pitch was a scramble up to the Terrace.
- Pitch 4 across the Terrace is know as The Green Traverse. Bob lead this pitch which was mostly an unprotected and exposed walk across a grassy ledge. After the grass there was a slab to be crossed. I was grateful for the dry condition of the rock. The whole climb and this section in particular would be much harder in damp or greasy conditions.
- Before starting pitch 5 we had to wait for a pair who were climbing Carnival to sort themselves out. This pitch gave both of us difficulties with route finding. I chose to go left where despite being steeper there was gear and positive holds. Bob tried the right where there were some tempting holds but they seemed to run out before getting to the sloping ledge.
- Bob didn’t like the look of the dodgy belay (one very good friend and two very rusty equalised pegs of unknown vintage) and set of leading the sixth pitch. This was a traverse followed by climbing a smooth groove capped with some apparently sound blocks.
- We were now sat beneath the excellent corner crack of pitch 7. This can be seen from the bottom of the combe and must have worried the first ascentionists until they tried it. It has a series of huge holds and a couple of chockstones for protection. It can be climbed in a variety of ways; I chose mostly to layback with my arms whilst using the huge footholds for my feet. At the top of the crack I continued up to the top of the crag rather than belaying so we climbed it in 7 pitches rather than the guidebook’s 8. In all the route took three hours, not bad (Penny and I always estimate 30 minutes per pitch unless climbing at my limit).
So what next, well Bob and I are both keen to climb the Miner’s Crag Girdle, a 16 pitch VS 4c in the Newlands Valley and I have yet to climb long classic routes on Pillar, Dow or even Esk Buttress. I am writing this on Sunday evening and after this afternoon’s torrential rain it will be a while before the high crags are dry enough for more adventures.
So far this week had seen us enjoying sunny single pitch climbing (even if they were very long single pitches at Sergeants Crag Slabs) so it was time to head for some multipitch routes. In order to register for my Mountain Instructor Award I have now achieved the required 30 multipitch VS 4c and above routes, but at least two-thirds need to be on sea cliffs or major mountain crags. With this in mind we headed up to Grey Crag Buttermere looking to bag as many VS 4c routes as we could.
We last climbed on Grey Crag with Brad and Kristen whilst in the lakes at Easter 2009 looking for houses. This time the walk in was just as tiring and a little hotter. My plan was to climb Spider Wall, followed by Sol and then the classic Dexter Wall to finish. This link-up goes from the bottom to the top of the crag and would make an excellent enchainment. However, another group had arrived before us and were heading up Spider Wall so we made Harrow Rib our first route instead. Both Harrow Rib and Sol were first climbed in the preparation for the recent guidebook, that such quality routes had not been climbed (or recorded) until five yours ago makes me wonder what there is out there for me to discover.Harrow Rib (VS 4c) was very dirty to start with and a little exposed. It took a few minutes to gain my confidence and figure out the moves off the arête and onto the right face. Towards the end of the first pitch it crosses Harrow Buttress (D) before then finishing up on the right of the rib. The dirt and a couple of loose holds did detract from the thought-provoking climbing and excellent position. More traffic should improve this.
Sol (VS 4c) started from the col at the top of the scramble heading towards Slabs Ordinary. The first pitch was a practically unprotected climb onto a huge boulder and the up the slab above. Whilst this was not difficult and was on excellent rock it made me think. The second pitch was up a perfect corner crack. It was steep and strenuous; I placed plenty of gear and was relieved to reach the top. Despite this being short it packs a punch!Finally Dexter Wall (VS 5a) would take us to the top. This is a long-established route that features in both Bill Birkett’s Classic Climbs of the Lake District and Tim Noble’s Great VS Climbs in the Lake District. It climbs a series of cracks and ledges traversing rightwards before finishing up a finger crack at 5a. I choose to belay below the final crack and whilst the ledge was not large I made up for this with the amount of gear I used (Penny was attached by six pieces!) I enjoyed the final crack, it was very well protected and reminded me of a crack on the Embankment at Millstone. Penny said that she found it harder than I made it look (this does not happen often) I think she was feeling the cumulative effect of the walk in and previous five pitches.
We descended to the south-west and the path back to our bags was not too bad. On the walk back to the car we watched a series of paragliders descending from the hill opposite. One of these misjudged their landing and ended up a little embarrassed but apparently unhurt in Buttermere about fifty metres short of the field.
Before we set out however there is just the story of Penny’s phone. Yesterday when descending in the rain a pair of trousers got wet and muddy and so on returning home they were placed in the washing machine. This morning with the sun shining it seemed a good time to do some washing so said machine was put on. About five minutes later Penny could not find her phone… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Luckily I had a spare old phone and her sim card still works (her old phone is very clean now).
After crossing the slate-scree of death (a nerve inducing pile of precariously balanced large blocks of quarry rubbish) we found that the only other pair at the crag were on the route I wanted to do, Cleopatra (HVS ***). Instead we decided to do the two pitch Groove Two (HVS **) first and then see what we fancied afterwards. The first pitch was mostly a scramble, however, towards the top there was a move that involved smearing on the very smooth rock. Considering this pitch did not merit a technical grade in the guidebook I was a little surprised. It was however a good warm-up for what was to come.
The second pitch was where the difficulties lay. It was a steep corner crack. The crux was a very smooth section which had tenuous smears for feet and very little for the hands. It was well protected and whilst not as long as yesterday’s crux pitch it was over 25 metres. The holds improved towards the top and there was even a rest on the left before the final few moves. There was a lot of loose slate about at the top and it took some time to find a secure belay that did not risk knocking rocks down the route onto Penny.
She again climbed it comfortably but did not seem to enjoy it particularly. ‘I don’t like cracks’ it was a shame as Cleopatra was an exposed face climb, rather than being stuck in a corner. She now she says that she enjoyed it in retrospect (type 2 pleasure). Despite our careful planning we were not able to avoid the wind entirely and so we decided to call it a day after some of us got a little cool belaying some of us taking a while on the crux pitch.
Our return route took us over the top of the scree, this was less nerve-wracking and a route we could use in future.
One thing that has been happening recently is a lot of dropping things. This started at Buckbarrow with me dropping a glove, and Penny spectacularly catching it with her left hand whilst belaying with her right. At Wallowbarrow I dropped another glove and Penny dropped a nut (and almost hit Ian). Yesterday Penny dropped half a quick-draw and finally today I dropped two large nuts off the racking crab. So far we have recovered all of this with very little hassle. But it is a becoming a bit of a habit and one that we did not have before this season. On the other hand we are moving quickly and confidently on multipitch routes.