James Pearson Repeats Gritstone Frightener ‘Harder Faster,’ Facing Ground Fall From Top

Alex Honnold has called it ‘too scary to climb.’ And it may be the most objectively dangerous, least-repeated route in the U.K.

In 2000, Charlie Woodburn established “Harder Faster” E9 7a, a notorious gritstone fright-fest. Technically, “Harder Faster” is a variation of the Black Rock formation’s 1986 testpiece, “Gaia” E8.

The difference between “Gaia” and “Harder Faster” is that the former breaks out right near the end whereas “Harder Faster” stays direct. The final sequence uses delicate movement on thin and slopey holds to a final, finicky mantle. One slip would result in an uncontrollable ground fall.

Three years after Woodburn’s first ascent, Aussie teen Toby Benham (later known as Lucky Chance) made the first repeat. It was Christmas Day of 2003. James Pearson, Benham’s dear friend and climbing partner, was on belay.

It would be almost 20 years before “Harder Faster” would meet its third ascensionist in Pearson himself. (Fun fact: “Harder Faster” is the one notable tick missing from Alex Honnold and Kevin Jorgensen’s 2008 U.K. trip — they felt the risk factor was too severe.)

On Dec. 24, 2020, Pearson made a run for it and claimed the route’s third-ever ascent. It was a day shy of 17 years since he’d caught the late Lucky Chance on the same climb.

Watch James Pearson, belayed by wife and fellow crusher Caro Ciavaldini, tick “Harder Faster” E9 7a.

Runtime: 7.25 minutes

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Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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