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James Pearson Ups the Ante on Hot UK Testpiece “Lexicon” 5.14 R

The 5.14 crux is firmly situated in the no-fall zone, but that hasn't stopped many of the UK's best from having a go.

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Last week, James Pearson made the fifth ascent of Lexicon (E11 7a/5.14 R) at Pavey Ark in the UK, after an admirable flash attempt. Climbing has, admittedly, covered the route extensively as of late: first as news, then as a Weekend Whipper, and, yesterday, as a video breakdown. While our editors attempt to cover the climbing world in its many forms, across the globe, this 5.14 with 80-foot fall potential is understandably captivating.

When Neil Gresham made the first ascent of Lexicon on September 4, 2021, he later wrote: “If I was expecting the trad-climbing equivalent of an Olympic gold then I wasn’t going to achieve it with the approach of a keen amateur. I would need to give everything.” This attitude isn’t a new concept for climbers (we’ve all seen Adam Ondra pantomiming beta while writhing on the floor) but, unlike the hardest sport sends, climbing Lexicon was on the verge of a very bad idea.

Neil Gresham’s “Lexicon” Is 5.14 With 80-Foot Fall Potential

Lexicon is roughly 80 feet tall with the highest gear placements nested at under two-thirds height. With rope stretch and belayer lift—and as Steve McClure, the first repeater, found out—blowing the final 5.14 moves deposits you incredibly close to the deck. (Like, six-feet-from-the-deck close.)

I exchanged emails with both Gresham and McClure following their ascents, dropped my jaw after reading their stories, and believed it would take a long time before Lexicon received another repeat. I certainly didn’t think it would receive its fifth ascent just eight months later—or that it would come after a bold flash attempt. But Pearson, who has climbed the only other E11-graded route in the UK, Rhapsody, said that this style of ascent appealed to him more than the typical headpointing tactics of wiring a route on top rope before venturing out on lead. Now, the details of what constitutes a “flash” ascent are fuzzy at best. Can you feel the holds? Make ticks? Pull onto the wall but not climb any sequences? For Pearson, to keep things sporty but sane, he decided to rappel the line, feel the holds, and suss the gear, but didn’t try any moves until he was on lead.

Weekend Whipper: Massively Runout on “Rhapsody,” 5.14 Trad

“I’ve not done every single hard trad route in England, but it’s the best and most fun hard trad route that I’ve been on here,” Pearson said. “Rhapsody (E11 7a) is also really fun to climb, [but] the line’s not as good and the climbing is in no way pure like on Lexicon. But the fact that Rhapsody‘s fall has pretty much zero consequences just means it’s more of an easy experience to go for, so you can enjoy it a little bit more.”

On Lexicon, Pearson said he believed the fall to be “safe enough” but he certainly wouldn’t jump off the top of the climb, like he had done for fun on Rhapsody. “I think it’s quite on the line between everything being OK and everything not being OK and whilst I don’t really think you’d injure yourself massively on it, even breaking an ankle which is a genuine possibility would just be miserable. It’d be a full on rescue,” he said.

Watch Dave MacLeod Send “Lexicon” 5.14 Trad with 80-foot Fall Potential

“[Lexicon] is by no means a death route, but you shouldn’t underestimate its danger. Just because I managed to climb it without top roping it or without really practicing it doesn’t mean that I think it was 100 percent safe. … I just can’t get over how no one had really spotted it before. It came down to the vision of Neil to really open that thing up. Now I’ve climbed on it, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that it’s already been repeated so many times, because it’s a very hard route which clearly is still very approachable and such a fun line.”

Anthony Walsh is a digital editor at Climbing.