James Pearson is something of a veteran in rock climbing film circles these days. Having featured in several productions over the years, but usually as part of an ensemble alongside people like Hazel Findlay. In Redemption however, James gets the stage to himself in a production which sets out to record an extraordinarily difficult period in his career. A period within which his reputation as one of our leading trad climbers was called into question and his achievements were dissected and undermined by that most viperous of climbing constituencies..the UKC forum!
Redemption begins with James setting out his stall on his local Peak crags. A section which uses footage of the young tyro repeating, and then very quickly establishing his own top end routes on the short, unforgiving edges within his local orbit. Setting himself the task of repeating Neil Bentley’s 2000 test piece- Equilibrium:(E10-7a)- footage taken at the time shows the bold James setting out above a blanket of snow and a hushed expectant audience. The brooding menace of his perilous situation is brought home by the contemporary commentary which reveals just how ‘outside the zone’ he was as he set off, and just how close to potential disaster he came as he hovered between the rock and a hard place. We watch with bated breath while James describes the dream like sequence where he watched as his thumb and finger began to peel from the tiny hold just as he psyched himself up to make the crucial crux move.
With Equilibrium in the bag, he sets out to establish his own hard test pieces in the area and within a short space of time, has routes like Burbage South’s The Promise (E10-7a) and Cratcliffe’s oft eyed but never led The Groove (E10-7b) on his CV. However, it is a difficult and dangerous ascent on a friable Culm sea cliffs on the Devon coast that acts as the spark which eventually ignites controversy. After eventually bagging what becomes Walk of Life, James, believing it to surpass routes like The Promise and Equilibrium in difficulty, grades it E12-7a. A unique grading which would bracket it amongst the hardest climbs in the world. Footage taken at the time show him taking some big falls onto dubious gear. Most of which appears to rip out!
Within a short period, James’s state of the art routes begin to attract the attention of fellow top end activists. Notably, a team of visiting American rock jocks who repeat his Peak routes quickly and without fuss before proffering their own opinion that routes like The Promise are actually no more than E8. To make matters worse, the venerable Dave Macleod arrives in the south-west whilst recovering from injury, repeats Walk of Life and gently suggests that the route is more like a straight E9-6c. Enter the Trolls! Actually, Dave Mac does admit in the film that he knew that his comments would unleash the forum hounds upon James and it’s something he felt uncomfortable about, but he felt he just had to put the record straight. Adding that James had nothing to feel bad about as he is ‘an amazing climber’ who has done some incredible things.
James on Culm's Walk of Life
Not that that JP’s achievements would dissipate the outpouring of scorn from the more vituperative ethics Nazis who patrol the climbing forums. A variation of ‘Yes...but what's he done on grit?’ very quickly became ‘Yes..but what’s he done on Rhapsody!’. (Rhapsody is Dave Macleod’s awesome Scottish E11 on Dumbarton Rock). Not surprisingly in the circumstances, James took this tidal wave of criticism to heart and took off to pastures new; living in Austria for a while and just taking in new locations and getting into sport climbing. A style which he felt brought on and complimented his solidly trad background.
It was while cruising around the continent that he met a mademoiselle who would become very much part of his life. In fact he liked her so much he married her! In this case, the beautiful and talented Caroline Ciavaldini. No slouch she on the rock face. Rare talent which can be seen in the Hot Aches 2012 film Odyssey.
Back in the UK and imbued with a new steely resolve and confidence, James seeks redemption on Rhapsody. A route which appears to have surpassed The Indian Face as the holy grail of rock routes for all budding rock Gods. Not surprisingly, the film climaxes with James strung out on Dumbarton rock with the master himself, turning up to see if the pretender from the south can gravitate from apprentice to sorcerer!
Redemption-The James Pearson Story is everything you would expect from a Hot Aches movie by now. From the filming to the creative editing. Its sharp, focused and absorbing throughout.
Rating on the Krabometer