EAGLE FRONT:   Eagle Crag, Buttermere, 500ft VS 4c.

“The final crack looks most spectacular from the floor of the combe. To my indescribable delight it was loaded with splendid hidden handholds. Up without pause, with song in my heart, if not in my throat. A short scramble led to the top of the crag where Bert, afterwards, joined me. We sat there, together, in the sun. The evening was still;....

So described Bill Peascod the crowning moments of one of the finest climbs he pioneered on the Lakeland crags. The year was 1940 and Bill Peascod had surfaced from the dark coal mines of Workington to discover the delights of the fells and dales at his doorstep, often cycling 40 miles a day on a return journey to Buttermere or Borrowdale that also took in a ten mile walk, whatever the weather. But it was the crags that really caught his eye, and Eagle Front the climb which, more than any other, wrote him into the history books. Fifty one years later we sweated up into Birkness Combe, high above Buttermere lake and ringed by the precipices of High Crag and High Stile. A good path slowly dwindles and fades to nothing, leaving one in heathery hollows and hummocks with no idea of where to aim for, but eventually we crested a rise and surveyed the scene, the white, barrel shape of Sheepbone Buttress to the left, the fine, slabby, sunlit walls of Grey Crags up to the right and, straight ahead, brooding blackly in shade at the head of the combe, Eagle Crag. It had a serious air about it. It’s a big buttress, 500ft or so, and even from a distance we could see wet streaks weeping onto the slabs in the upper section. Oh crikey!

“Appen we could go across and do Dexter Wall?” offered Baz hopefully, casting loving glances at the shimmering sunlit crags a mere two hundred yards away, climbers gearing up below in shorts and T-shirt. But the thought went unanswered. Instead we slogged up to the toe of Eagle, put on thermals and racked up. There’d never be a better chance. Baz led off. It was 2 o’clock. We had eight pitches and 500ft ahead of us. It was cold in the shade, and below on the scree the eye of a rotting sheep winked up. I tried not to think of omens and turned to watch Baz move up the rib.

The first 6Oft to a grassy bay is easy enough, not more than V.Diff. I took the rack of dear and led through. Now the fun was starting. The second pitch is 9Oft, 4c, and dubbed Little Botterills after the bigger climb put up by its namesake on Scafell. I got some wires in the steep groove and pulled over onto a gangway running up to the left. Teetering up I found another good nut, clipped a rusty old peg and came face to face with ‘The Difficult Bit’, a steep slabby corner with little in the way of holds. Those available were rounded and sloped down, away from the crag, making balance an act of faith in sticky rubber. It suddenly seemed very exposed’
“Right, I’m going for it!” I shouted, and balanced up, boots creeping on holds and finders with as much adhesion as buttered onions. A rounded pinch-pull got me level with a small holdless platform. I mantel shelfed on and squatted there, swaying slightly, like someone caught short with the runs. Laboured breathing would throw me off backwards. I held it, eased a Rock I into a fingernail crack and hurried right by faith and friction to more comfortable around and a bombproof Friend. Phew! Easy slabs left and then flakey jugs back right to a belting stance. And what a view!
Baz came up smoothly and took over. Pitch 3 is 6Oft, 4c and with an awkward pull up to start. When Peascod and Bonninton did the route for TV in 1985, Bill stood on Chris’s head to get up the first bit! I wasn’t in such generous mood and left Baz to find his own way, but it’s only one long reach, a couple of shimmies up and a move round the rib to the right before difficulties are over and the Green Terrace quickly reached. Some might think this big ledge spoils the route, yet, oddly, it just seems to add to it Basically it’s a walk left for 7Oft, just one mossy slab to cross. But smooth rubber and wet grass have about as much affinity for each other as Serbs and Croats, With a worms eye view of the flora I shuffled across the hanging gardens to the rock ledge at the end. Belays are minimal and a ill Friend proves useful.

Pitch 5 is the hardest, 4Sft 4c and needs a cool head. Fortunately, it was Baz’s lead, though even ‘Mr. Cool’ was heard to murmur ‘There’s not much in the way of holds’. There’s even less in the way of protection and the step across from the steep wall into the groove is a bit of a heart—in—mouth affair. But once committed the holds arrive, not big, but sufficient to land one on Nail Ledge, where the first ascensionists used a pit nail for a belay! There’s a peg or two there now, but it’s an exposed, sloping stance - and the prospect ahead improbable.

“Above and to my left the wall bulged in a most disconcerting fashion. A way seemed possible to the right across steep ribs to a water—worn slab. And when my turn came to move I discovered just how delicate this traverse was and pondered on the sloping nature of the holds and what they would be like in wet weather.

Gulp! One look at the rightwards traverse and no way was Pitch 6’s 7Oft 4b. It is, of course, but it doesn’t look it and is the most exposed part of the whole climb. I worked right, moving on slopers and little finder undercuts, like a tightrope artiste - all delicate balance while wrestling with a mouthful of wires. step across the void and I pulled onto the slab with its alarmingly sloping holds. But it’s only short and soon there’s a good groove to a fine ledge. But God help anyone if the slab is wet. Reputedly it often is.

Now for the ‘piece de resistance’. If one feature draws the eye to Ea1e Crag it’s the great hanging corner at the top of the buttress, a real ‘open book’ job. We were at its foot, and it looked quite magnificent. Pure, clean, vertical rock, soaring up into nothing. Textbook stuff. What a pitch to finish with. 7Oft of 4b bliss for mid -grade bumblers like ourselves. It was Baz’s lead.

I payed out the ropes and contemplated the combe, nothing between my boots and its velvet contours 400ft below. Magic. What a situation. But why weren’t the ropes moving quicker’?

He should be up it by now?

“What’s up? Having problems?” I shouted.

“No, no problems at all. It’s just so good I don’t want it to

That rather sums it up. It looks a bit thin, only an off-width crack in the right anile. But Bill Peascod was right, there are loads of hidden holds making the bridging easy yet spectacular. At the top a step right onto a grassy belvedere and one short
scrambling pitch to the top.

We surfaced, like Bill Peascod and Bert Beck must have done, into the warm evening sun. We’d been a long time, over 5 hours, but it didn’t matter. We, too, both felt elated. It had been a memorable climb, all the more so for its sense of history. Baz set the self-timer and we captured ourselves against the deeply hued ridges of Dale Head, Grasmoor and Skiddaw behind us. And from the summit of the fell spectacular views across to Pillar, Cable, Great End and the Scafells. The weekend crowds had qone. The eveninq was still;....

 “We were alone in the combe -in the world! The war, the pit.... they didn’t exist. We didn’t say much. What was there to say? Each of us was drenched in his own emotions, dreaming his own dreams and experiencing that most exquisite of sensations - the elation of success at having climbed something really worthwhile. We called the climb Eagle Front”

Hugh St. Lawrence


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