Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Walk of Life. E12

The Walk of Life

[photo: Hot Aches productions]

The release of Committed Vol 2 has been put back to early November 2008. The reason? Simply that we were waiting, gambling, hoping that James Pearson would succeed on what has been his hardest climbing project ever. A line that for James, both inspired and challenged him at a whole new level.

James Pearson on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

Yesterday we made our 7th filming trip down to the north Devon sea cliffs at Hartland Point. James' project climbs directly up an immaculate expanse of rock, a 48 metre cliff.

James Pearson working the moves on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

This section of rock does have some history. Many climbers had attempted the top half over the years, each adding to the ladder of pegs that protected it.

James Pearson working the moves on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

The super talented climber Ian Vickers then succeeded in climbing a line in what sounds like 'sports style', with pre-placed quickdraws in the pegs, but that line, Dyer Straits comes in from the easier arete at half height before traversing out onto the face. This was graded E8.

James chose to remove the rotting pegs and climb the route on trad gear. He also chose to climb the face direct from the bottom, somehow finding a path through the expanse of nothingness on the bottom 12 metres.

James Pearson setting off on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

The other climbers that have passed by during our time at the crag all shared a feeling of awe about this piece of rock. It is huge, intimidating and very very blank. But only James can have an appreciation of the true level of difficulty involved.

James Pearson mid way on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

Comparisons have been made with Indian Face on Cloggy. For both these, the psychological challenge is perhaps the biggest factor for the climber. This is not like a gritstone route where a climber can get into the 'zone' and it is all over before they realise.

Here the climber is on the route for 45 minutes (Indian Face was about 23 minutes for the 3 ascentionists). That period of time allows the doubts to kick in. "What am I doing here? This is crazy". That period of time also has a big impact on the cumulative difficulty of the moves, compared to just doing them in isolation. So it is not just a head game. It is scary, yes, but hard and also incredibly sustained.

James Pearson mid way on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

James will describe the level of difficulty and his experience on his blog.

The grade of E12 is a mighty grade indeed. But James is certainly one of very few to have a track record that enables them to make such an assesment. He also has a responsibility to say honestly what he thinks.

As a film maker I cannot comment on the grade, but what I can point out, and what people will see in the film, is that James' experience on this route was far harder and more challenging that anything he has done before, considerably harder - a different level. This includes routes like Equilibrium (the 'benchmark' E10) and his own routes that he felt were harder, then harder again.

James Pearson mid way on The Walk of Life, E12 [Hot Aches productions]

Some other thoughts about the route.

A very quick summary about the route is that is is about 48 metres long. The first 12 metres has some of the hardest climbing and is also unprotected. James thinks this would be E10 in it's own right if it were, for example, a gritstone route.

The face is concave. The bottom is a steep slab, then it gradually tilts back to vertical. Beyond the first section there is one good piece of gear. Thereafter the gear is very poor, very difficult to place, and very difficult to tell if it is placed well. Most of the pieces are no 1 or 2 sliders and the seams into which these are placed are either chossy or parallel sided and frictionless.

Rich Mayfield keeping the ropes dry, belaying James

James fell during his first redpoint attempt, a monster fall. I was filming on ab and through the view finder I did not expect him to stop. I was certain he would just keep plummeting. But the gear at that point did hold. I stripped the route for him that day, and the micro cam that held the fall was in a shocking placement, and it was mangled and bent.

That day was a quite terrifying experience. We have filmed many routes with James, and he has never fallen before. This time he got away with it. But the consequence of failure meant that he had to eventually return and face that first 12 metres again, and then to hold it together for all that time higher up.


So that's it, James, you can relax for a month or two. Do some bouldering. No more scary routes for a while, please.

The pictures on this blog are screen grabs, hastily taken from the footage.
David Simmonite was taking photos and has some superb pictures.

Thanks to all the people who have passed through there while we were filming, and particularly Sam and Rich who were there yesterday.

So that's it. C2 is now 'in the can', as they say...

A personal thought:
I think this route will become one of those seminal hard routes in the history of our strange sport, the Indian Face of the new generation. An incredible line on a stunning rock face, and a style of climbing and level of difficulty that demands nothing short of the complete armoury of skills from a top climber; huge technical ability, finger strength, unrelenting footwork, stamina and vast, vast reserves of mental toughness.