James Pearson's Unique Experience
4.0 minute read
James Pearson proves his mastery once again on Ça Chauffe (9a) in Seynes, France. But as he has discovered over his decades in climbing, each route presents a unique experience, and everyone has their own crux. Completing a route is always a matter of finding the joy and motivation to continue trying, no matter how obscure your struggle is.
This is precisely what I found when I stepped onto the route. After the initial (6c) pitch, I put my hands on what I discovered to be a 40-meter, full endurance (8b) on tuffas. This pitch is varied, technical, and pumpy. After working the moves, I knew right away I was lucky to have chosen such a beautiful route; this single pitch at any crag would be a must-do, 5-star. As I took in the rope with a smile, I could hear my second’s agreement as he worked the moves with exclamations of delight! The (7b) pitch is a long stunning colonnette, and then there are the two magnificent (8a)’s on tuffas. The easier traverse and top pitch might not deserve too much celebration, but they allow you to link between four incredible pitches.
Working on Une Jolie and figuring out every detail, I couldn’t help but remember my adventure on the Voie Petit (500m, 8b max) back in 2016. At altitude, above a glacier, and on granite, these two routes have little in common, but my process was just the same. Negotiating with my fear 300 meters up a new wall is always an intimidating position, especially my fear of failing. I had to refocus on the pleasure and enjoy it. After all, I was abandoning my kid for a full day, so I had better make it a worthwhile success.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by James Pearson
Photo by Raphaël Fourau
Video by Once Upon A Climb
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
Here is what Pearson has to say about the experience:
"Despite being a longer route, Ça Chauffe is pretty bouldery, and, at least on paper, it should have suited my climbing style well. The most challenging section is 12 moves on tiny edges, followed by a decent rest and a beautiful 8b to the top. After climbing through the crux on my second day of red-points, I figured it would go down pretty quick; after all, everyone else who climbed the route got to the chains as soon as they passed the crux. There was just one little problem– I couldn't do one of the moves in the 8b! The move is a long stretch from a high, bunched heel hook into a bad two-finger pocket. No matter what I tried or how I moved, I couldn't find a way to feel in control, and I'd fall more often than not, even when isolating the move.
I fell on this move on my first visit to the upper wall, which seemed acceptable considering how little it agreed with me, but then I fell again and again and again. Usually, by fall five or six in any route I'm trying, I would become frustrated, but the fact that I could make the crux and not this move seemed just so ridiculous that it helped me stay positive. I started to see it as a bit of an experiment, wondering what might happen and who might crack first–the route or me.
Winter turned to spring, and cool, cloudy days at Seynes became a distant memory. Luckily, all my "training" in the crux section had got my fingers and toes in good shape, and I could climb the route regularly, in conditions that even a month before had seemed impossible. I began to joke with Caro that the crux was actually up above, which contrarily still never felt any easier!
With time, perseverance, lots more falls–and even more hand cream–eventually, one day, I didn't fall! I don't know what changed on that go or if anything actually made the difference. Sometimes you just have to keep banging on the drum, and eventually, you'll make a tune, or at least you might start calling it music. This route was an excellent reminder about just how crazy climbing can be and how everybody is different."
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.