One of Climbing’s Best Comback Stories
In 15 years, James Pearson has become one of the world's best trad climbers
Steve McClure, one of the U.K.’s most accomplished hard trad climbers, has repeated the 40-metre Le Voyage, a 5.14a trad route in Annot, France first climbed in 2017 by James Pearson. McClure, 52, said that it’s one of the best in the world, with just enough gear and sustained.
However, McClure had travelled to Annot to attempt Pearson’s most recent new route, Bon Voyage – which is one of the hardest new trad routes in the world. Pearson didn’t grade it, saying, “At the moment I don’t feel able to give this route a definite grade, which always sounds funny to me as a grade proposal should be just that, a proposal. In theory I should simply say what I think, leaving future repeater’s to give their opinion, and eventually we settle on a consensus. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than the average person but in practice I’ve seen and felt that it doesn’t quite work like that.”
In 2008, Pearson famously made the first ascent of The Walk of Life and graded it E12 7a, the hardest grade ever given to a route. Dave MacLeod made the second ascent and down-graded it to E9. Pearson was subject to redicule by countless armchair climbers who beraded his overgrading. The Walk of Life has been repeated by Dave Birkett, Charlie Woodburn, Ali Kennedy, James McHaffie, Angus Kille, Anna Hazelnutt, Tom Randall and Calum Muskett, and is considered one of the most psychologically demanding climbs in the U.K.
McClure said that Bon Voyage was too hard for him, but added that it could be E12 – which would make it the world’s hardest and most commiting all-gear lines ever climbed, if not the hardest. “If this route is not E12 I’ll be amazed,” said McClure, “just for the pure difficulty, never mind the scary big fall potential.” For James Pearson to now have a route that might be the world’s first E12 15 years after The Walk of Life is surely one of the best comeback stories in the history of rock climbing. Pearson has previously climbed Lexicon E11, Pride E11? and Rhapsody E11.