The hardest traditional route in the world may be a slab climb. The young English climber James Pearson has climbed The Walk of Life (E12 7a) on a steep slab on the North Devon coast in southwest England. At this grade, the route must include hard 5.14 climbing with death-fall potential.
According to a report at Climbmagazine.com in the U.K., Pearson’s new route begins with nearly 50 feet of very serious climbing above the boulders at the base of Dyer’s Lookoutthe “most mentally difficult and terrifying piece of climbing he has done.”
After placing some small gear, Pearson continued on an existing route, Dyer Straits (E8 6b), established by Ian Vickers with preplaced pitons and other gear. Pearson removed all of the pitons and placed gear on the lead for the 90-foot-plus upper wall. During an earlier attempt, he fell off this upper section as rain began to fall and took a 50-footer onto a Wild Country Zero #3, a tiny microcam. Dave Brown, who was filming Pearson for the upcoming film "Committed, Vol. 2," said, "I stripped the route for him that day, and the microcam that held the fall was in a shocking placement, and it was mangled and bent." On the successful lead, rain fell again but Pearson waited out the brief shower at a decent rest on the upper wall, and then continued when the rain had passed.
“The Walk of Life pushed me further and made me dig deeper than any other route I’ve climbed before,” Pearson told Climb magazine. “The route is…far harder than any other route I’ve tried.”
Pearson is no stranger to hard and dangerous routes. He has repeated many serious headpoints in Britain and also established The Promise (E10 7a) and The Groove (E10 7b). He was the first person to flash a V13 boulder problem, a feat he has repeated a couple of times since.
No climb in the world has previously been graded E12. Dave MacLeod’s Rhapsody (E11 7a) in Scotland was the first E11, and has been repeated twice. Last summer MacLeod established a new route, the Echo Wall, on Ben Nevis in Scotland, and said it was harder and scarier than Rhapsody; however, MacLeod did not grade the route.
James Pearson. Courtesy of Tnf.typepad.com.
Adding to the difficulties of Pearson’s new route is the nature of the rock, a type known as culm that’s unique to North Devon sea cliffs. It looks somewhat like sandstone, and can be loose and friable. The UKClimbing.com database for Dyer’s Lookout summarizes, “Possibly not going to be there long, so climb it while you can. It may be a good idea to take some pegs with you. And maybe a hammer. Don't bang too hard though.”
Date of Ascent: September 29, 2008