James Pearson… E12 justification

by Mick Ryan – UKClimbing.com Gresham, Dunne and Pearson (click to enlarge) James Pearson has written a very illuminating account of his new route, The Walk Of Life at the sea cliff Dyer´s Lookout on the North Devon coast for which he has proposed a grade of E12 7a. The Walk Of Life, a huge 48m slab route, was climbed after top rope practice, headpoint style, as most hard non-bolted routes are. The route relies on hard to place micro-wires and cams for protection with huge fall potential that James tested on the higher reaches of the route. He survived of course to climb the route. The lower crux is unprotected and a fall could be fatal. Add not only hard moves, poor gear, the sea, rain, put friable rock into the mix and you have a very unique climbing experience. James was belayed by Rich Mayfield and you can read his account here: Hardest and scariest thing I´ve belayed on. E12 is a new grade in British climbing although Dave MacLeod did say that his recent new route, Echo Wall, also headpointed, was harder than his previous best, Rhapsody, but he refused to label the experience with a grade. Rhapsody is the first route to have a confirmed grade of E11. Whether Echo Wall is top end E11, there is latitude in a grade, or E12, remains to be seen. Both Sonnie Trotter and Steve McClure repeated Rhapsody in June, after top rope practice, and after his ascent Steve McClure said, “…What I will say is that Dave did not overgrade the route. Not from what he experienced. The climbing is super hard, and the falls are big.” You can read Steve´s thoughts on Rhapsody´s grade here at a UKC News Report. As is befitting most professional climbing athletes these days James Pearson discusses at length the experience of climbing The Walk Of Life and the headline grabbing grade of E12 at his blog. This is what he covers: – the nature and character of the route including the protection used. – the history of the route: from a first look by Johnny Dawes; Andy Donson placing 13 pegs on the route; to Ian Vickers´ successful headpoint of the top section of The Walk of Life, called Dyers Straits and including James´ own relationship with this wall. THE E12 GRADE Then James discusses the E12 grade in detail. James´ proposed grade certainly has had a lot of top climbers discussing grades. Climbers like Neil Gresham, Gaz Parry, John Dunne and Pete Robins have been heard discussing this new grade and grades in general recently, and it is certainly a hot topic on the UKClimbing.com forums. Grading something E12, a first, is not to be taken lightly, and quite rightly climbers want to discuss it, know more about it and analyse it. Hard routes are graded by their first ascensionists compared to routes that they have previously done; James´ hard ascents of routes include several E9´s, and ascents of one confirmed E10, Equilibrium at Burbage South, and two of his own first ascents The Promise at Burbage North with a proposed grade of E10 and The Groove at Cratcliffe Tor with a proposed grade of E10 7b… which he has now retrospectively proposed a grade of E11. James told UKClimbing.com that those two routes, “are significantly harder than Equilibrium” He then discusses Rhapsody and Echo Wall, two routes of Dave MacLeod´s that James has not done. Although James has attempted Rhapsody. James says: “It just so happens that the only routes I have to compare The Walk Of Life to are either Dave´s or my own.” One topic James does not discuss in his thesis is the commercial pressures that climbers face. As John Dunne told me last week, “top climbers have to make a living” and an immediate media report written by photographer Dave Simmonite for Climb magazine stated clearly that this route, “is without peers in terms of commitment, difficulty and danger”. An odd statement from someone who has not climbed the route or any of the world´s bold and hard routes. Climbers are quite justified in asking whether commercial pressures play an influence in grading the top routes. Headline grabbing routes and grades increase readership of magazines/websites, sell photographs, increase the advertising revenues of magazines/websites, help sell gear, provide marketing copy for catalogues, and raise the profile of professional climbers which can increase their income.It all makes for an interesting read into the mind of a world class climber. Whether the E12 grade will be confirmed depends on whether other world class climbers are willing to repeat Walk of Life, and whether they think the experience of climbing this route warrants a new grade of E12. James is sponsored by The North Face, Wild Country and Five Ten