The renowned trad climber James Pearson has ascended the iconic Parthian Shot, adding a remarkable chapter to the route’s storied history. Situated at Burbage South Edge in the Peak District, the route has endured a series of alterations due to breakages over time, making it one of the most challenging and dangerous trad climbs available.
First opened by John Dunne in 1989, the Parthian Shot became a testament to the courage and skill of climbers willing to face its gritstone surface without the aid of any installed spits, relying solely on a series of nuts and cams for protection. Over the years, the route saw a substantial change in its difficulty and safety after the crucial flake used for protection broke in 2011, following a series of earlier incidents that questioned the reliability of the flake.
Pearson’s ascent was the fifth since the flake broke off and the second ascent this summer, succeeding Jacopo Larcher’s effort. This ascent was particularly notable due to Pearson utilising the traditional side runner located in the nearby Brooks’ Crack (HVS 5a), a strategy that has not been employed in any post-flake break ascents until now. This added an extra layer of difficulty to an already perilous route and enabled Pearson to take a more direct line, honouring the original route taken by John Dunne.
Despite the route bearing scars from its history, including the most recent hold breakage in 2023 that necessitated a dyno from two crimps to reach the flake, Pearson managed to conquer the route, exhibiting both respect for its history and a notable advancement in climbing ethics.
Pearson recounted his long history with Parthian Shot, a route he first eyed in 2005 as a young and less experienced climber. At that time, the route seemed nearly insurmountable to him, with its steep, pumpy nature and dubious-looking protection at the top boulder section dissuading him from attempting an ascent. However, years of honing his skills and developing a robust physical condition prepared him to face the iconic route.
In a departure from previous ascents, Pearson chose to start from a different position, avoiding the Brooks’ Crack and creating a more logical and authentic path to the headwall, solely relying on the precarious wires in the flake for protection. This decision stemmed from a fundamental set of rules he adheres to, including avoiding side runners and pre-placed gear, aiming to match or surpass the ethical standards set by previous climbers.
In a detailed account of his climb, Pearson described the meticulous planning and execution involved, including the strategic placement of gear in the most reliable parts of the flake. Despite the undeniably hollow nature of the flake and the small size of the wires, which raises questions about the potential fallout in case of a big fall, Pearson expressed cautious optimism about the route’s current state, urging future climbers to tread carefully to preserve both the route and their safety.
Grading the route at E10 6c, Pearson acknowledges the extreme level of engagement it demands, inching close to the maximum grade of E11. He emphasized that in trad climbing, the process is equally as important as the outcome, urging climbers to approach it with a genuine appreciation for the craft and a deep respect for the ethics of climbing.
Reflecting on the ascent, Pearson highlighted the joy of overcoming the crux and the upper slab, which allowed him to truly savour the experience. He expressed his contentment in conquering what might be his longest-running gritstone project while adhering to his ethical approach to trad climbing.
Pearson’s return to the UK and his ascent of the Parthian Shot adds a triumphant chapter to his already impressive climbing résumé, while honouring the history and the ethical spirit of trad climbing. This ascent reminds us once again that in the daring world of trad climbing, the journey holds as much significance as the destination, pushing the boundaries while respecting the roots and the integrity of the sport.