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Q&A: How Fatherhood Helped This Man Send One of the World’s Hardest Trad Climbs

U.K. climber James Pearson has sent one of the hardest trad lines in the world. And his secret to success? Becoming a father.

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Nothing attracts attention quite like a bit of mystery.

James Pearson had already built a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s best trad climbers when he sent the hardest line of his career in February. But so far, he’s refused to give a specific rating for the route’s difficulty.

The route, which he named Bon Voyage, follows a diagonal line of pockets on a sheer, sandy face near Annot, France. As with so many career bests among athletes, Pearson pulled off the send after recovering from a serious injury — not to mention becoming a father. While Pearson views the route as likely the hardest of his career, he hasn’t given it a grade, preferring (for the moment) to let it exist as “a hard trad climb.”

GearJunkie briefly caught up with Pearson on Wednesday as he strolled through a park in Wales with his wife, children, and parents. As his 2-year-old daughter, Zoellie, sat comfortably on his shoulders, Pearson discussed juggling fatherhood with climbing. That’s also the main theme of a new Wild Country documentary featuring Pearson, which you can watch above.

GJ: So my first thought after watching the Wild Country documentary is this: If I want to climb harder, should I have kids? 

Pearson: I think that’s the message that we want to share with everybody! But it might not be 100% true. In a strange way, it worked for me. You just need to have children as cool as the ones I got, I think. It taught me to be less egocentric. I was putting too much pressure on myself, and when you’re forced to let go of that idea of perceived control, things kind of line up for you. You learn there are bigger things in life to stress about than a climb. That’s the real message. Sometimes we’re overthinking too much.

My wife actually summarized this really well to me. She once told me that pretty much every person competing in the World Cup is going to be training like an animal. What separates people is how much you can give on the day of the competition. I think a lot of people, including myself, overlook that. I don’t want the message to be, “Forget training,” and work only on your mental game. You need both aspects to make this work really, really well. 

GJ: As a journalist who writes about climbing all the time, sending a hard route and refusing to grade it seems like a smart PR move. Because climbing is visually interesting to non-climbers, but they generally don’t care about these arcane grading systems. As climbing becomes more mainstream, do you think the technical difficulty of routes will matter more, or less?

Pearson: It would be nice to say less. I’d love for people to be focused more on the aesthetics of a climb. The stories are always about how small the holds are, and never just, ‘Look at this beautiful climb.’ But actually, I think climbing is attractive because it’s pretty easy to understand. In tennis, as one example, it’s more difficult to measure progress. But going from V4 to V5 seems easier to understand. So I’m going to be a bit of a cynic and say the sport is just going to change more of these mainstream folks into grade-obsessed climbers!

GJ: What are your current goals? 

Pearson: I always have dreams. But what’s changing is that I’ve arrived at this moment where I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done. There are plenty of other things in life that are pretty entertaining, like these little ones. I’m training for the first time ever with Lattice now, and that’s pretty good for keeping me in shape. My wife just did an E9, and I did an E10. We’re both still in pretty good shape. And that was just with a couple of days free from the kids to climb!

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