James Pearson climbs Prisoners of the Sun, E10 7aInterview

© David Simmonite / Once Upon A Climb

James Pearson has made the third ascent of Prisoners of the Sun (E10 7a), at Painted Wall, Rhoscolyn.

James Pearson on Prisoners of the Sun, E10 7a  © David Simmonite / Once Upon A Climb
James Pearson on Prisoners of the Sun, E10 7a
© David Simmonite / Once Upon A Climb

The route was first climbed by James Taylor in June 2021, before Jim Pope made the second ascent in September that year. The route has minimal gear and some long run outs, with the most difficult and dangerous section being straight off the ground.

James has climbed somewhere in the region of ten routes at E10 or harder, of which three have been first ascents. Earlier this year, we reported on James' FA of his hardest trad route to date, the as-yet-ungraded Bon Voyage (9a). The route, which is yet to be repeated, inspired a number of ascents of his other well known Annot route, Le Voyage (8b+), which shares the same start.

We got in touch with James - who also made a rapid repeat of Olwen (E9 6c) - to find out more.

Congratulations on your ascents of Prisoners of the Sun and Olwen! How long have these routes at Painted Wall been on your radar?

Thanks a lot. I remember reading about Prisoners when James made the first ascent, and I'd made a mental note that Olwen could be a good contender for a flash attempt one day, but hadn't really planned a specific trip to go and try either of them.

It just so happened that we were relatively close by on a family holiday this summer, and with a couple of spare days - thanks to my mum and sister kindly offering to look after the children - they seemed like a great challenge that both Caro and I could enjoy.

Talk us through your ascent of Prisoners of the Sun, it sounds like the lower wall is the scariest part, despite the fact that there's a relatively run out top section!

The lower wall is definitely the important part of the route. It's where you find the hardest moves but, inconveniently, it also has very little in the way of protection.

The upper wall, however, is not to be underestimated. There are couple of tricky, sequences, and a few crucial and hard to place pieces of protection that make for quite a pumpy little outing.

Although you can technically fall off the upper wall without any serious consequences (it is safe, provided you've taken the time to place the micro cams well). You really don't want to, because it means you will have to climb the scary lower wall again.

Apparently James Taylor was forced to climb this section three times! I'm very impressed at how he found the courage to keep on going back. 

James Taylor graded the route E10 7a when he made the first ascent, whilst Jim Pope described what he felt was 'an E8 6c experience' when he made the first repeat. How does your own experience on the route fit in with these assessments?

I know better than most how certain routes can feel like the living end to some, and a relative walk in the park to others. There are so many things at play when working on first ascents that the best any of us can do is offer an honest opinion.

Different bodies, skill sets, and past experiences are just a few of the elements that can massively influence the feel of a route, and after reading about James' journey to make the first ascent I can totally see why he proposed E10 - because that's what it felt like to him. I can also understand why Jim said he'd had an 'E8' experience, as based on the time it took him, compared to other routes he'd done, that's what it felt like to him. Neither of them are 'right' or 'wrong' because they are subjective opinions.  

Perhaps James got sucked into a 'bad' sequence from trying it alone, or there was a move that just didn't suit him? Perhaps Jim didn't realise just how in shape he was after a fairly successful world championships?  The 'truth' - for want of a better word - is probably somewhere in the middle, but at the end of the day I try to look past all of this and just climb things that are cool.

However, I would just like to point out - for the sake of the legs of any future ascensionists - that jumping off the bottom wall and landing on the grassy ledge seems like a really bad idea to me!

I hear you put in a decent flash attempt on Olwen, before eventually getting it second go. How do you go about inspecting/analysing routes before flash attempts? Any useful tactics you can tell us about?

The best tactic for picking routes for a flash attempt is to pick a route that suits being flashed! That might sound really stupid, but you're gonna have a much better chance of success if you pick a route with simple and basic holds and moves, as opposed to one that forces you to contort yourself into strange positions and play the piano on every single hold. 

Unfortunately for me, there aren't that many E9's that I consider safe enough to be flashable, so I have to take whatever I can get. Olwen is actually a little more complicated than I would have hoped for, and I ended up making some errors right at the bottom of the route that really tired me out, almost before I'd even begun. I felt like I was constantly playing catch up with myself, barely scraping through a sequence and fighting to recover in the rests, knowing I was way more pumped than I should've been.

Still, it is these kind of fights that you remember for a long time, because you really have to dig deep, mentally and physically, just to keep on going. Considering how tired I was, I surprised myself by doing the last really hard move, and for a split second I thought I might have pulled one out the bag… but then my feet cut and I remembered just how flipping pumped I was. I couldn't get back into a controlled position and fell a second or two later, but I'm pretty sure that even if I had been able to find a good foothold, I would've dropped the next move because there is a awkward little twist to get your hands onto the actual good holds.

An hour or so later, I felt recovered enough to give it another try. I climbed a lot quicker (I wouldn't say better) than on my flash attempt, and arrived at the final rest feeling a little bit fresher than before. It was still a really big fight and I was close to falling on the very last move, but held it together and climbed the really chossy top out!

What it is about climbing that gives you the most joy at the moment?

New places, hidden gems, big run-outs and short walk-ins.

What's next for you?

We've still got ten days in the UK before we head back to France and there are a few other routes we'd like to look at. Who knows if the weather gods and the baby gods will smile upon us, but we've got no shortage of ideas.

Check out this video from Wild Country, where James talks about finding balance between climbing and fatherhood:

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James has gone from climbing near his family home in the Peak District of England to exploring walls and mountains in exotic locations around the globe everywhere from Tazmania to Thailand. His first venture into rock...

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