James Pearson Nails Second Ascent of Hardest Trad Route

Climbing
James Pearson on Tribe. Photo: Carolyn Ciavaldini

By Seiji Ishii

On October 21, British climber James Pearson made the second ascent of Tribe, arguably the world’s hardest trad climb.

Located in Cadarese, Italy, Tribe was first climbed by Jacopo Larcher in spring 2019, after years of unsuccessful attempts. The ever-humble yet incredibly established Larcher declined to assign a grade, but it was thought that his line might earn up to a 5.15a.

“I’ve known about Tribe…for about 10 years,” said James Pearson. “I’ve walked past it many times on the way to the crag and wondered whether it was possible to climb or protect. But although it takes only about two minutes to set up a static rope, I never bothered to actually look at the thing. I guess deep down, I thought it probably was impossible.”

But in a relatively short time compared to Larcher, and despite constantly challenging conditions, Pearson grabbed the second ascent of the nearly 30m line on Wednesday.

“Everything was really, really wet [when I arrived],” he said. “For the first couple of days, I got an hour to an hour and a half at the end of each day to try the route, once the seepage from above had dried enough.”

Despite the conditions, Pearson managed most of the moves “by the skin of my teeth”. Eventually, he started to believe that success was possible. As his wife and fellow climber Carolyn Ciavaldini assisted, he continued working on the route for over two weeks. He managed to clip the final anchors just ahead of imminent rains.

“I climbed the route on my seventh lead attempt,” he said. “I’d fallen pretty close to the top numerous times before that. The fickle nature of the final boulder problem often spat me off.”

With lots of rain in the forecast, he had almost given up hope. “[That’s] probably exactly what I needed to take all the pressure off and just concentrate on climbing,” said Pearson.

Like Larcher, Pearson modestly didn’t assign a grade after his ascent. He merely stated that the route forced him to make the hardest moves of his life.

“I can’t say I’ve checked out every single trad route in the world, but I have been on quite a few of them,” he said. “For me, Tribe is by far the hardest series of moves I have ever done on a trad route.”

It surprised Pearson that the line was even possible on gear. “It’s rare to find a piece of rock compact enough to make a series of sustained, hard movements, but with just enough decent gear placements,” he said.

With sport climbing and bouldering stealing most rock climbing headlines, particularly with their debut at the next Olympics, it is noteworthy that the local climbing community never ceded the route to bolting.

“Tribe would be an awesome sport route, and one I’m sure people would be queueing up to try,” said Pearson, who is sponsored by The North Face, La Sportiva and others. “What really makes it special, however, is that no one needed to place bolts to climb it safely. Mother Nature gave us everything that we need: an amazing line, a cool series of holds and gear placements right where you need them.”

Pearson blogs about his landmark ascent here.

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