In January 2007 James Pearson made headline news with his first ascent of "The Promise" at Burbage North, England. The route weighed in at a mighty E10 7a and the uninviting 8m arête boasted a Font 8a crux with only one piece of gear as psychological protection above a bad landing. As such the route represented the state of the art of modern gritstone climbing: balancy, powerful and without compromises.
This status was not to last long though. Haunted by inner desires, a year later Pearson made the most of crisp Peak District conditions to place his signature on his true work of art, a subtle line up Cratcliffe Tor named The Groove. The route had been attempted and abandoned by various generations of extremely talented climbers and it took Pearson four years of effort to reach the state of perfection - both physical and mental - to keep it together on this phenomenal E10 7b.
With a series of Font 8b flashes, Pearson's physical strength is beyond question and these latest ascents have lifted him into the restricted inner circle of gritstone elite. We decided to check in to find out more about this mind game which relies on a careful balance of power, vision, talent and... a touch of sane insanity!
James Pearson on the Promise E10 7a, Burbage North, England courtesy of Hotaches productions
James Pearson - the gritstone extreme
Equilibrium, The Promise, The Groove, all E10's. What's next?
I have a couple of projects in mind for the near future, some on grit, some elsewhere. I try not to get too stressed about making and sticking to plans because it can get frustrating, especially in England, when stuff out of your control stops you achieving your goals. I try to have a ideas floating around in my head that I can pick and choose from when the time feels right. A few of my projects feel really hard, its hard to know at this early stage but they could move trad climbing on to a new level.
On your recent ascent of the Groove you set off without a crash pad beneath you. Was this an ethical statement?
Yes. In general, I think the ethics of hard trad have gone downhill, they certainly don't seem to have improved. People seem to be doing anything and everything they can to climb hard trad routes, and certain things ie. bouldering pads, pre-placed gear make a huge difference to the difficulty and seriousness of routes. I don't think now is the right time to go any deeper into this very grey area, but I do feel it is important that people are honest about exactly how they climbed a route.
Headpointing was very much in vogue until recently, with routes pre-practised and sometimes gear even pre-placed…
Again, this is a very grey area and at the end of the day, people can, and will do what they like. I personally do not use pre-placed gear as I feel it means you are physically unable to climb the route in its natural state, from the ground to the top.
Climbing top end is tough both physically and, importantly, mentally. Does fatigue ever set in?
Yes it does, especially if you start to make negative progress whilst working a route due to poor conditions etc. The weather in England also causes me stress from time to time.
Yet you manage to perform and produce at just the right moment.
It is strange how things work out. Sometimes, from arriving at the crag everything feels like a real fight and you have to accept that for whatever reasons, today is not the day. The opposite is also true when things just seem “right”.
You seem to be intrinsically linked to gritstone. What makes it so special?
I just really love climbing on the grit and when the weather is good and conditions feel great it really is hard to beat. You can use holds you would never think possible. I just wish the weather was a little more predictable.
James Pearson on The Groove E10 7b, Cratcliffe Tor, England courtesy of Hotaches productions
In many respects you put yourself under extra pressure by recording your ascent on film...
It is added pressure but they are all very professional which makes it much easier to deal with. I think ot is important to document my ascent for many reasons; it is great to be able to watch footage and see pictures of a climb I have done and brings back lots of fond memories, its important for the history books to know exactly what I have done and how I did it, and the greater my media prescence, the more desirable I am to sponsors meaning I get more funds and ultimately can climb more.
You've travelled extensively. What do you feel does climbing in Britain prepare you for best?
Climbing in Britain is hugely varied. Climbing in the Peak (where I do most of my British based climbing) prepares you for climbing anywhere where good technique is important, so most of the world. Sure, certain areas require specific strengths and skills but these can all be trained and learnt relatively quick whereas technique is much more difficult to teach.
You amazed all with you flash of an 8b boulder. Is this a once in a lifetime performance or are we only at the beginnings?
I am sure, like most aspects of climbing, that standards will rise as time moves on. This will happen quicker if someone invests some money and provides proper (scientific) training resources, but that is another story entirely.
Gritstone ticklist by James Pearson
E1 - Flying Buttress Direct, Stanage
E2 - The Sentinal, Burbage North
E3 - Long Johns Slab, Froggat
E4 - Traveler In Time, Ramshaw
E5 - Left Wall, Brimham
E6 - Painted Rumour, The Roaches
E7 - Kaluza Klein, Robin Hoods Stride
E8 - The Power Of The Darkside, Falling Rocks
E9 - Knocking on Heavens Door, Curbar
E10 - The Groove, Cratcliffe