Friday, 23 January 2009

The Walk of Life

This may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but I don’t really have too much to say about this route that has not already been said.  When I read Dave’s blog report on his repeat a few weeks ago, the thing that shocked me most was not his proposed downgrade (I actually found this amusingly predictable due to the current bout of downgrade fever), but how quickly he had repeated it.  I remember all too well how that route made me feel and the things I had to go through to get it done; so to get it done in only 4 days is absolutely amazing, but I guess that’s the sort of things we should expect from a truly world class athlete like Dave.

From comments I have heard from friends, it seems like a few people out in cyberspace still think my proposed grade came out of thin air, with nothing to base it on.  In response to this, I guess I need to repeat what I said at the time of ascent – I graded this route based on my feelings, and my past experiences, which included trying Rhapsody.  All of this information can be found in detail in some of my previous posts including this one but in case you don’t have the time to trawl through the archives, here is a small section describing my initial foray Rhapsody:

On my first attempt at Rhapsody (on a toprope), I flashed the first half of the headwall, falling due to an incorrect foot placement. I then flashed each individual move to the top.”

I found the moves on Rhapsody to be straightforward, and this was ‘the E11’. I watched other climbers take the fall that they described as “nothing”, comparing it to bigger lobs that they had taken sport climbing.  Accordingly I compared this to my experience on TWOL and graded it with Rhapsody in mind (and I appreciate the two routes are different styles).

After recently returning from 3 weeks of no climbing, my endurance was fairly low.  I was getting tired quickly on longer boulder problems during my training and decided something needed to be done with the obvious answer being a spot of bolt clipping.  I am not a naturally fit climber; endurance is something I have to work hard at and it drops off quickly if I stop, so I was not particularly looking forward to starting back.

To cut a long story short, I managed to on-sight a couple of long 8a’s during my first bolt clipping session of the season, which came as a pleasant surprise.  After returning home and filling my belly, I began to ponder how strange and subjective climbing can be and thought about something else Dave had written in his blog regarding the French grade of TWOL being 8a/8a+ and not being strenuous at all.  This couldn’t be further away from the experience I had.  I didn’t know exactly how hard the climbing was, which was why I chose to not offer a French grade, but I know I found the route very strenuous and had to put a lot of time into getting fit. So much so, that the period when I made the first ascent was one of the fittest of my life. 

How is it possible to find a slabby 8a/+ so tiring when you are fit, yet be able to on-sight a couple of 8a’s when unfit.  This is a question that I really don’t know the answer to this.  What I do know is this - I don’t agree for a moment that The Walk of Life is anywhere near E9 and that’s my honest opinion.


Anonymous said...


Three great posts.

Everything seems much clearer now - especially The Promise and The Groove...

The only thing that I find strange (as do you, apparently) is how long TWOL took for you vs Dave.

Maybe conditions? Must have been much colder when Dave did it. Also, you mention that your endurance is a weak point - maybe endurance / being on his feet is more of a strength for Dave?

And I don't know that onsighting a couple 8a sport routes is an appropriate yardstick. Maybe they were a little soft / your style and TWOL is harder than Dave says / not your style. Adjust each half a grade and the comparison becomes: 7c+/8a vs 8a+. And you can't really compare an overhanging sport route to a long slab.

And slabs are notoriously tough to grade. On the sandbag 13c slab pitch of Lurking Fear (I think) in Yosemite, Yuji said it felt like a 14c sport route to him.

Regardless of how this all shakes out...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with "the masses", as it were. It has been interesting and educational.

Funny - you and Dave both climb routes as hard and scary as anybody, and you both put together well written, informative blog posts. I have even more respect for the both of you than I did before.

Anonymous said...


Why did you kinda dismiss Rhapsody as contrived when The Groove seems equally so? (Truth is, both are beautiful lines)

And I think you really should repeat Rhapsody if you want to use it as a comparison - as you no doubt know, toprope is not the same as sending on the lead.

Anonymous said...

er, meant to say: "dogging on toprope is not the same as sending on the lead"

Run up and repeat Rhapsody and some of the other lengthier big E grade test pieces. Then compare TWOL to those instead of comparing it to The Promise and The Groove.

Anonymous said...

Wise words Anonymous two.

Half top roping the headwall of Rhapsody is no basis to grade another route.

James needs more experience, and to do more sport routes.


Anonymous said...

Seems like when Rhapsody and TWOL were first climbed the percieved danger was much higher than the actual danger experienced by their repeat ascentionists. Dave thought his RP's would rip and he would get flipped headfirst into the rock, whereas repeaters took clean safe lobs onto good gear. And the TWOL doesn't sound like a death route either from dave's comments on the gear. Hence the high grades proposed for their first ascentionists.

Do you still stand by your previously stated grades for these routes in the style you climbed them?
The Promise E10, The Groove E11 and TWOL E12?

Emily said...

I would beg to differ with Anonymous No 2. The Groove (that is the ACTUAL Pearson line and not the variation climbed by Kevin) is not contrived. It climbs the groove until the feature reaches the arete, then climbs the arete. It is not an eliminate, any hold you can reach is in, there is not a specified sequence, which failing to adequately execute, loses you the glory. And yes, it is a beautiful line in a beautiful location.

Anonymous said...

>>>>>>>>>>>>>I would beg to differ with Anonymous No 2

Well you would do. You're shagging him.

Emily said...

Rather childish and vulgar don't you think?

Anonymous said...

RE: "The Groove is contrived"

How is The Groove contrived? From the picture it appears to follow an obvious feature, then when that ends it just continues straight up. By that measure, any "diretissima" or "direct" is a "contrived route" because it doesn't take the easiest way up the wall/face/feature, which is absurd. It's not like The Groove zig-zags its way up the wall looking for the path of most resistance.

Stuart Littlefair said...

"How is it possible to find a slabby 8a/+ so tiring when you are fit, yet be able to on-sight a couple of 8a’s when unfit."

The obvious answer is that you can't stand on your feet ;)

Wad points for going to all these lengths to explain why you gave your routes the grades you did. I don't think that anyone who has met you, or thought about it seriously, could believe you hyped the grades up as an exercise in media hype! Anyway, it must have been tempting to tell everyone to go stuff themselves, so kudos for not doing that.

I think your reasoning about why you thought your grit routes more dangerous than others are pretty sound. Also I agree that some people are over-egging the safety of stuff like the promise. The gear certainly didn't seem "bomber" to me.

One thing to bear in mind though is that there has also been a big discrepancy between your estimate of the physical difficulty of your routes, and that of repeaters (i.e Promise: 8a vs 7b+, Groove Crux: 8a/+ vs 7c/+, TWOL: v. hard vs 8a/+). I don't know about the Groove, but I thought 7b+ was about right for the Promise, and 8a for the top half of TWOL was about right. Is it possible that your perception of the physical difficulty is being affected by having to work out a sequence from scratch?

Matt said...

Re anonymous to Emily


You may not agree with the numbers flying about from your comfy armchair, but grow up or shut up ffs.

Anonymous said...

Hey James,

I am the poster who drew the "scientist analogy" in response to one of your earlier blogs.

I am really glad to see you defending your "methods and results".

I suspect many people have enjoyed reading your blog and Dave's blog about these routes.

Grades will always have a subjective element to them and it is not unreasonable for climbers to disagree. I think true integrity comes when you have the courage to reveal your motives/experiences for grading a route, or conversely, for downgrading a route.

This obviously opens you up to public criticism but it also allows "us" a window into how you have experienced these hard routes, routes that most of us will never be able to climb.

I think both you and Dave deserve credit for writing so candidly about your experiences.

Luc Dubois,


Anonymous said...

On one hand it sucks that you are forced to defend your actions once again, yet on the other it has provided a well thought out read, so thanks James and heep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

James, the last few blog posts have seen you go down in my estimations somewhat.

Your posts always seem to compare yourself against other people. You try to prove how people didn't climb 'your line' (use of pads, gear, line etc).

Perhaps you need to take a reality check, and look at whether the enjoyment aspect of climbing is still important to you.

Oh and here's a bit of free PR advice to Emily - try not to get involved unless you disagree with James. You 'sticking up for him' does not come across well...

Emily said...

PR advice........... get real :-)

Anonymous said...

Now then now then now then.

James Pearson said...

Cripes, ther just aint no pleasing some people!

If I don't post anything - I get shit!

If I post about how I have recently just been enjoying climbing and trying not to worry about the background noise - I get shit!

If I post about my reasoning and try to explain my decisions - I get shit!

Perhaps I do need to take a reality check, although not for my climbing. My reasons for climbing are as crystal as ever, it is my reasons for continuing to post on here that seem murkier by the day.

The one saving grace is the people who seem to find what I have to say interesting and thought provoking, regardless of whether they agree with me or not. So thanks to all the people who commented after appearing to have read all I have to say, some of the points raised have been very interesting.

Anonymous said...

You're right: You'll get shit no matter what you post. But you'll also get positive feedback. It's your choice which you focus on...

Simon Whittle said...

"You're right: You'll get shit no matter what you post. But you'll also get positive feedback. It's your choice which you focus on..."

Even when people don't post crap they end up being condescending!
I've been reading most of these replies with disbelief, especially ones talking about Emily, to qoute someone else 'pathetic' is the word (if not a bit weak)
And the guy offering PR advice to emily you right, how can she stick up for her boyfriend?!? I mean who does she think she is?!? Oh hang on, i meant to say your an idiot.

He's written three interesting and honest posts, if you disagree fine, but you don't have to write it in such a self-righteous way. WHats wrong with you people?? Can't we all just get along!?

Anonymous said...

Forget all the crap. James do you think there is any possible way that one could climb something that one thought was TWOL but in actual fact it was not? (Different sequence, Different holds, some cheeky rests etc.) For example, if you want to repeat rhapsody you need to be really carefull which holds you use, especially at the top, or it won't be an E11!

You know this bit o rock better than anybody else right?

I just find it hard to believe that two top climbers had such different experience.
Take it easy

Fiend said...

Your posts always seem to compare yourself against other people. You try to prove how people didn't climb 'your line' (use of pads, gear, line etc).

Errrr that's because these posts are a general reply to people comparing James's grades to other people's grades.

That's James's grades with his line, use of pads, gear etc, compared to other people's grades with their lines, use of pads, gear etc.

It's not bloody rocket science is it.

Anonymous said...

Great posts, thank you for clearing things up, not that i really care. Yet it s good to see that you re still out there, sticking by your decisions and enjoying climbing as much as we all should.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hey James,

I find your comments to be insightful and add more context to your climbing achievments. Dave Mac and yourself are great examples of climbing excellence... Now here's two points: Rhapsody is probably E10, the fall was dangerous with a fixed balyer and not a dynamic one, and; The Walk of Life (can't really comment haven't been to the cliff)probably has an easier sequence, there's a lot to climb.

Always appreciate well written thouhgts whether I agree or not.
Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Lets start with the bottom line; In my opinion The Walk of Life is solid E9 6c.

Why is it not harder? Well basically it’s just nowhere near hard enough to be E10, never mind E12.

This from Dave MacLeod who has done more E9's and E10's than anyone.

Chris Jones said...

Interesting writing, enjoyed reading it, good to see inside your head a little and find out where you've been coming from with all this. Don't let the critics get you down, you can never please everyone all the time...

Neil said...

Hey James,

Before I "give you shit :)", 1st of all great effort on the routes, I hope you are proud to have climbed them, you should be they mostly look amazing and i would imagine, gave you great experinces which i woudl hope is the main point anyway.

2ndly genuinely getting the grade wrong (if you did) is hardly a crime, I suspect most of us mortals would find grading 1st ascents accurately just as hard (it's just we don't get the chance).

However, i do think you need to be open to idea that you might just have mis-gauged the difficulty of them, TWOL particualrly. I would imagine that Dave knocking it down to E9 reflects simply that he knows long an E9 headpoint takes him / how hard it is for him. I think the fact that he managed it in only 4 days should tell you something obvious, but not that Dave is the best trad climber to ever walk the earth by a mile, able to tick E12 in a week without the specific gear "needed" but instead that maybe the route is not the near impossible moster you thought it was. I guess maybe time and repeats will ultimately tell (for those who care) but I think you would do yourself favours with the folk watching by just admitting you might have been wrong, like I said it's hardly a crime.

Anonymous said...

At the present time there's nothing useful to come out of this discussion. Both James and Dave Mac are certain of their thoughts of the route, neither are 'wrong' in their opinions, and it is only in further repeats that the grade will settle down. I doubt the exact difficulty of many of the hardest routes of the past has become crystal clear in only 6 months following the first ascent - why should that be the case now?


Anonymous said...

Hi James,
please keep your blog going, it's a good read. It would be great to hear a description of your ascent of EOTA, if you decide to write one.
Don't let the minority who make abusive posts get you down, I've noticed Dave MacLeod's blog seems to attract these knuckleheads as well.

Anonymous said...

Dave Mac has downgraded several of the hard trad routes he's repeated. Divided Years and Breathless are on his website as E8- both down from E10 - while Trauma is listed as E8 while it was originally E9. I think he downgraded Blind Vision and Impact Day too. If 6 Was 9 and Caution are the only ones I think he's done that he's not downgraded.
An Irish guy repeated Divided Years recently and thought it E9, so maybe DM is just a very harsh grader? Also, 4 days sounds like a long time for him to spend on an E9!

Anonymous said...

Hello James,

Good work on The Promise, The Groove and The other one, keep enjoying your climbing, forget about the bitching.

Hope you can get on something new and keep it up?

Anonymous said...

Nice work james answering to the criticts with well thought posts. You have definetly cleared things upp a lot.

There's still one thing that's unclear to me? How can I route be E12 7a? The Indian Face E9 6c is concidered to be at the boldest end of the 6c spectrum because a fall from the crux is likely to be fatal.

Same thing with 7a; Equilibrium's E10 7a is concidered to be the benchmark grade of bold or possibly fatal 7a, therefore 7a ranging from safe E7 to bold/fatal E10, just like 6c ranges from safe E6 to bold/fatal E9

If you would have graded TWOL life E10 7a, that would have been understandable. That would have meant TWOL is technichally harder than IF and just as serious, in other words fatal. I can't understand how you have though TWOL being two E-grades more serious than IF when IF allready is at the boldest end of the field? Bare in mind you even took a fall on TWOL and survived without a scratch, so one could argue that it's less serious than IF, E9 7a maybe?

DM made no comment of the seriousness unprotected first bit, but bearing in mind he flashed it on toprope shurely too can't justify E12?

Mats Danielsson

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for an answer, hope you'll find the time to write a couple of lines to clear up the matter.


Anonymous said...

For the benefit of the last poster, grades don't just take into account how serious and technically difficult a climb is, but all the factors, like how sustained or strenuous, for example. Therefore 2 climbs could each have the same technical grade and be unprotected, but one of them might be hard for every single move, whereas the other might just have a short hard boulder problem crux. The Walk of Life is a 50m, continuously steep pitch, and by all accounts sounds pretty sustained.
Also Dave Mac's route To Hell and Back was graded E10 6C.


Eric said...


I have really appreciated the thoughtful explanation you've gone through here. (and don't worry about the flametards lurking in the web, please keep posting!)

As a beginner climber, I mainly rely on grades to help judge what to work on when I go out. That said, even within California, the American technical grades can vary wildly from one crag to another. Sometimes it's because the style is different, or the rock is different. But sometimes it's the personalities involved or merely *when* the area was developed.

Low and mid-grade routes often get the benefit of the doubt in regards to all this fluctuation (and that's without many of the things your E grades take into account).

Unfortunately high-grade routes are going to garner attention, one way or another. And of course people want to know what really constitutes the hardest routes.

Your discussion brings back to light all those little ins and outs that can make something feel so much different to different people. On top of that, climbing is an art of marrying your biophysics to the features of the rock. Two people of equal fitness on paper, but with even small differences of bone lengths and muscle distribution could make the difference of several "psychological grades".

Your climbing is impressive, and your willingness to talk about it is invaluable to those of us with aspirations of improving and trying harder climbs. You're posting here make you a part of the community (real or imagined) and much more than a face in the magazines and climbing vids.

Argento said...

everybody seems to be aware and concerned about their physical fitness and none about their mental one.The brain, too, needs caring and has its ups and downs.
Great (good and bad) things happen within one's mind! A lot of whys would be answered.
Regards and happy climbing,

retiredroc said...

Hey james you're famous so you gotta expect some flak plus you are young and talented, people get jealous sometimes,well, alot really. Fuck the haters!!!!