SHAFF2015 – Redemption – The James Pearson Story

PearsonWay back in 2008, rock climbing underwent one of its periodic naval gazing episodes. James Pearson, having shaken up Peak District climbing by cruising a number of existing hard routes and nabbing a couple of last great problems, climbed The Walk of Life on Dyer’s Lookout, grading it E12.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only under-qualified, opinionated, gobshite climber to stand in a nice warm pub and declare that he obviously knew jack-shit about grading and that he had been led astray by the surrounding media hoop-la.

Which all serves to make Redemption both fascinating and somewhat uncomfortable viewing. Pearson’s original grade of E12 7a was soon put in perspective when both Dave McCloud and Dave Birkett repeated and downgraded it to E9. Three grades lower, just like that.

Manna from heaven to armchair critics the world over. There you go, we all said, wouldn’t know an E12 if it came up, shook his hand and offered him a pint. The forums were chock full of keyboard warriors sounding off about Pearson’s perceived limitations as climber, route grader, human being even. Next thing we know and his Peak desperates such as The Promise and The Groove have also been downgraded. Jeez, Team America used them as warm-ups prior to soloing Meshuga 5 times. Not only was James Pearson a fantasist, but he had conspired to make British climbing a laughing stock.

As usual, strip away the surrounding hype, ignorance and British desire to give the cocky upstart a good kicking, and a more prosaic story emerges. Pearson enters the confessional for this excellent film and is refreshingly honest both about his mistakes and the journey he has undergone since that febrile time.

I for one was left feeling somewhat chastened. Since when has youthful exuberance been a crime? Operating at the stratospheric heights of the climbing firmament inevitably means that mistakes will be made, particularly in the arcane world of route grading. Pearson, obviously bruised by his encounter with the petty back-stabbing underbelly of the climbing establishment, left the scene, rediscovered climbing, discovered love and found redemption.

To this viewer, not only is he rehabilitated but I’m left wondering if the real villain in this saga wasn’t a super-talented, cocky young climber but the climbing community whose bile nearly drowned him.


See the SHAFF2015 website here