It's taken a long time for me to realise that when it's too hot to climb in the Peak District, the answer is to head to the mountains instead! It sounds so simple, but when you've got so much fantastic climbing on your door step it's hard to look further afield. However with Snowdonia and the Lake District just 2 or 3 hours away, a day trip is certainly possible, especially if you can find an enthusiastic driver who's happy to let you sleep most of the way!
Last week Glynn and I headed north for something special. After several weeks of dry weather, many north facing mountain climbs have come into condition - Engineer's Slab on Gable, Botterill's Slab on Scaefell and Acheron on Craig Cywarch are good examples and well worth seeking out. But instead we headed for Eagle Front, an often overlooked seven pitch VS in Birkness Combe, perched high above the Honister Pass. I have to confess that the route had only recently crossed my radar. Back in 2014, Mark Glaister, writing on UKC, described it as the best route to have not made it into Classic or Hard Rock. Given our love for these books, Glynn and I couldn't resist a visit!
Eagle Front (VS 5a) - The 7 pitch route weaves across the clean right face of Eagle Crag and finishes up the prominent sunlit corner.
As we arrived we knew we had made a good choice. 9 am and already 25 degrees C in the valley. A north facing route starting 600m above sea level was the place to go! Leaving the car park at Gatesgarth we made quick, albeit sweaty, progress. The start was easy to find and thanks to recent visitors there was a smattering of chalk to show us the way. The route couldn't have been drier. This was vital as our guidebooks predicted grim consequences for anyone trying the route in anything less than ideal conditions. Water worn grooves, patches of moss and smooth, sloping holds supported their warnings! Encouraged by the good conditions, we made rapid progress, quickly working our way through the mix of fine 5a, 4c and 4b's pitches that appeared. Soon we were siting below the final pitch. A steep and long corner, it seemed a tough proposition from below. But fortunately encouragement quickly appeared - chockstones, ledges and a helpful flake crack made it into something much easier. There are few pitches that make me look good. This might have been one of them!
Glynn enjoying the second pitch of Eagle Front
Bill Peascod, writing about the first ascent in 1940, put it better,
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 a pause, with a song in my heart, if not in my throat. A short scramble led to the top of the crag where Bert, a few minutes afterwards, joined me. The evening was still, we were completely 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?
Soon we too were siting on the top of Birkness Combe taking in the scene, tracing the dark outline of Grassmore in the distance. Reluctantly we headed down, enjoying the gentle breeze and planning what we'd climb next...