Black Beauty – Lower Eagle crag

The south side of the Afantinzar valley is dominated by Lower Eagle crag – about 200m high and a kilometer wide. Shady for most of the day, we’d watched it gradually illuminated by the setting sun the previous evening, and picked out the obvious central black streak of the classic Black Beauty, E1

This seemed like a good option; especially when someone (no names!) managed to leave the guidebook at the crag the previous evening.

The appeal of climbing in the shade was thrown into question as we plodded up to the base of the crag through a light frost around 10am – a fairly decent path through the crumbling terraces and fiercely spikey vegetation, once you’ve found the well-cairned path – here’s a Wikiloc trail to help you find it (recorded on the way down with the benefit of hindsight as usual) https://www.wikiloc.com/rock-climbing-trails/lower-eagle-crag-approach-to-black-beauty-31285456

The start, at least, is obvious, and I ran the first couple of pitches together – the first 15m of fun 5a climbing on immaculate incut red quartzite proving to be the best moves of the route. This gets you into the black streak itself and this provides absorbing and not over-protected 5b climbing. Here’s Jake seconding the first pitch.

P3 leads fairly easily to a stance beneath a tree and a bit of a puzzle in the route description, as you are supposed to start P4 up a technical groove. I eventually found this about 20m higher – there’s a missing bit in the description which should read something like: climb to the right of the tree onto the large ledge and traverse this rightwards to an arete. Climb this on juggy holds until it is possible to step across rightwards onto the wall opposite which is climbed easily but without much pro and through a damp streak. Now you arrive at a ledge and a good situ spike belay from which you can admire the “technical groove.”

Here’s Jake leading what turned out to be a really quite technical groove, without great gear – well worth the E1 grading.

The remaining 100m or so to the summit is straightforward – to the obligatory selfie…

… with tremendous views of the crags and village of Annemer

The path down is very well marked by cairns – as the guide says, you just need to make sure that you avoid all temptations to head down too soon.

Our genius plan to get two routes done had a couple of significant flaws: we didn’t get up early enough and we massively underestimated the bushwacking required to get from the descent back to the bottom of the routes. This rated B4 in our newly created bushwacking grading system (a bit like aid ratings – it couldn’t be B5 because we’ve lived to tell the tale!)

By the time we were back at the sacks at the foot of the route it was around 3:30pm but Jake was still keen and came up with the plan to do the first (crux) pitch of Infinity, a bold E4 about 50m right of Black Beauty which has a spike belay and he was happy to sacrifice a sling.

Tough moves to the first gear at around 20ft followed by more runout steep territory to good gear at a break, followed by a stunning diagonal layback flake which is tricky to enter but then offers great finger slots and big pulls. Well worth a sling, but actually there was some situ tat and a crab to lower off (nervously – I wouldn’t vouch for it being safe much longer). Anyway, great pitch!

Here’s our parting view of the crag with the dark streak of Black Beauty clearly visible left of centre and the diagonal overhanging flake crack of Infinity picked out in shadow to the lower right.

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