The Route: Eel Crag via (Liza Beck) | Distance: 8km (5 miles) | Time: 3.5 hours
Ascent: 2,260ft (689m) | Start: NY159207 | Map: OL4 | Date: 25/06/2010
Grasmoor’s brooding shadow cast a cold chill through us as we stood next to the car anticipating what was possibly to come today. Suddenly the otherwise beautiful valley of Buttermere was taking on a decidedly more sinister feel than usual.
We had driven over the pass from the village of Braithwaite through the dense Whinlatter Forest and down the winding road towards the lapping waters of Buttermere Lake and continued to drive along the valley floor until finally we arrived at our start point for today’s little expedition, Lanthwaite Green Farm.
With rucksacks on backs we started to cross the green boggy moorland towards the craggy Whin Ben from which point we would pick up our stream for the hike the (Liza Beck). Our intention would be to follow the rough path which tightly clung to the banks of the stream, along and through Gasgale Gill up to its birthplace on Coledale Hause. From the ‘hause’ a simple ascent turns Eel Crag to the west.
Immediately we were met with landslides and mud slips on both banks of the stream. Boulder hopping our way from bank to bank we eventually arrived at the bottom of the first drop-off to be ascended for the day.
We carefully pulled ourselves up and over this first obstacle of the day, (which as it happened would be a taster for still far worse to come). It was already becoming obvious that this tiny path which hugged the contours of the stream so tightly had been badly damaged by storm water, probably in the springtime after our severe winter of earlier this year. The paths had simply vanished in certain parts and what was left in other areas consisted of precarious scree slopes and precipitous drops. Tentatively we edged our way along.
Clinging to whatever foliage was left binding the banks together we anxiously continued our way along situated way below the imposing Gasgale Crags soaring above us. The deep v-shaped valley that we were in began to take on the look and feel of a distant Himalayan trail. The high steep-sided crags above and the gushing clear stream below was like no place I have been in the UK, it was hard to believe that we were only a few miles from habitation and civilization. The grandeur of the wilderness and sheer height of the mountains all around created a distinctly shrinking and diminutive feeling and effect on both of us as we hiked slowly along our precarious path.
Slowly but surely we crept along, hanging on here, and slipping there, until eventually we could see the distinct profile of Coledale House ahead. Gasping for breath after the eternal haul up the scree we triumphantly emerged onto the windswept plateau of the hause.
Joyously we broke open the Mars Bars and feasted until we were full and fat and unable to move.
Now all around us we could see familiar peaks, the wonderful Hopegill Head, the brooding Grasmoor, Grisedale Pike’s distinct shape, and today’s ultimate aim Eel Crag.
After a quick discussion it was decided that I would venture on alone to reach the summit as the tricky approach and energy sapping scree had taken its toll on Tracy who sat slumped beside a prominent boulder resting and recovering from her ordeals of the morning.
Now with the weather closing in yet again and the chill factor increasing I needed no prompting to sling my rucksack on the floor beside her and go ever onwards in a lightweight style. With only the map and compass for company I set off, first south, and then easterly up the western flank of the mighty Eel Crag.
The path is obvious but stoney but set amidst inclement weather I supposed it could be a real navigation nightmare, luckily for the time being the gods were smiling on me and so it was, in broken sunshine, that I hiked my way up to the summit.
The view rewarded from this strangely named peak is magnificent even by Lakeland standards and I enjoyed my moment of ‘almost’ solitude on the top, (as being in the summer months few peaks are ever empty in the Lakes).
My objective finally achieved I started my descent across the boggy slopes back down towards Coledale Hause. A short exchange then ensued as Tracy who had left her original position on the hill (a possible mistake when hill walking) had almost missed me as we had both been following parallel paths (and) in opposite directions for several minutes. But cold had set in and she had decided to move to reinvigorate herself in my absence, so with movement and warmth now a priority we made we quickly regrouped and made hastily for Gasgale Gill and our route back.
The path was no easier in reverse as we descended, in fact the complexity of navigating the steep banks seemed to have amplified since our trek along it only a short time ago that very morning. Tricky brooks had to be negotiated, steep scree conquered and the drop-offs of the ascent now had to be descended often calling for hand to rock moves to be safely navigated. But finally the long and steep valley sides opened up again and the shimmering waters of Buttermere could clearly be seen before and below us. We exited the valley exultant but tired in equal measures and proceeded to walk once more over the open boggy fields of Lanthwaite Green back towards the car.
Throwing our packs to the ground we lent against the car tired and cold but feeling that we’d had a rather good little adventure along the Liza Beck and one I would thoroughly recommend. Its remote, wild and intense in places with spectacular scenery the whole way. A great empty little corner of the otherwise crowded lakes for those seeking a more remote feel to their lakeland hikes, thoroughly recommended!
Footnote: This route opens up many options for attempting other peaks in the area offering a much more exciting approach to Coledale House than via the Miners Road from Braithwaite.