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The Walk of Life

Perched on the rugged cliffs of Devon, UK, “Walk of Life” is a testament to the daring and precision of traditional climbing. First ascended by James Pearson in 2008, this route offers a relentless challenge with its intricate sequences and bold moves, initially graded as one of the hardest trad climbs in the world.




United Kingdom


E9 6c



First Ascent

James Pearson

Date of FA


The Walk of Life

Ascent Log

ClimberSuggested GradeDate of AscentNotes
James PearsonE12 7a29th Sept 2008Proposed a grade of E12. Planet Mountain
Dave MacLeod E9 6cJan 2009Downgraded it to an E9 6c. Climbing Magazine
Dave BirkettE9 6c2010Planet Mountain
Charlie WoodburnE9 6c25th Nov 2010Instagram Post
Ali KennedyE9 6c17th Sep 2017Gripped Magazine
James McHaffieE9 6cMay 2018
Angus KilleE9 6c31st Aug 2021Instagram Post
Anna HazlettE9 6cJune 2022First female ascent. Instagram Post
Tom RandallE9 6c5th Feb 2022UKC Article
Calum MuskettE9 6c5th Feb 2023UKC Article

Climb Profile

The Route

Walk of Life” is etched into the sheer cliffs of Dyer’s Lookout in Devon, offering climbers a formidable challenge over its extensive 50-meter length. The route is defined by its predominantly slate rock, which demands precise and confident footwork from climbers due to its often smooth and less-featured surfaces.

Dave Birkett Walk of Life climb
Dave Birkett repeating The Walk of Life ©Andy Mitchell

The climb is characterized by varied climbing styles, incorporating delicate slab movements that transition into more aggressive and technical sequences. One of the most defining features of “Walk of Life” is its lack of substantial holds, requiring climbers to rely heavily on smearing techniques and finding friction on the slate’s subtle features.

It starts off with 10 meters of climbing with no protection. The first piece of protection is a small nut, enough to ‘hang your coat off it’ but it gives you a sense of relief having at least something in to protect you. 

The route’s crux is a notorious section towards the upper part of the climb, where the protection becomes sparse and the moves reach their most technical and committing. By the end of it, your toes hurt, your feet hurt, your calves hurt and you’re physically and mentally drained.

James Pearson on Walk of Life

First Ascent

28th Sept 2008: James Pearson

Pearson’s journey to this first ascent was long and involved. He had been contemplating and working on the route for about four years, during which he made significant modifications to the existing climb known as “Dyer Straits.” Pearson removed all the old, unreliable protection pegs from the route, opting instead for a cleaner, more direct approach that adhered to contemporary ethical standards in trad climbing. This direct start, which Pearson himself developed, became the route’s physical crux.

James Pearson on Walk of Life
James Pearson on Walk of Life © Dave Simmonite

The psychological challenge of the climb was immense. Pearson described the ascent as being as mentally demanding as it was physically, if not more so. The tidal nature of the climb added another layer of complexity, restricting the climbing to specific times of the day and requiring impeccable timing and conditions for a safe attempt. 

Pearson’s successful ascent, which was captured in a gripping 45-minute effort, was described by him as the most challenging climb he had tackled to date, pushing the limits of what was considered possible in trad climbing at that time.

James proposed a grade of E12 7a, making it the first E12 grade in the world.

Second Ascent

Jan 2009: Dave McLeod

Dave McLeod repeated the Walk of Life a year after James’ first ascent. He and his wife Claire, took a trip down to Devon from Scotland to check out what had been dubbed ‘the hardest trad route in the world’. 

Dave worked quick, getting all the moves on his first top rope attempt. By the third day he was able to link all the moves together and by the fourth he sent it clean.

Climber Dave McLeod on Walk of Life
Dave on Walk of Life

Dave McLeod is one of the UK’s most experienced trad climbers, if not in the world. He has a very honest approach when it comes to grading and doesn’t hold back. Yes he downgraded Walk of Life to an E9 6c, but he did that out of experience, not to undermine James’ first ascent.

First Female Ascent

June 2022: Anna Hazlett

You may know her as Anna Hazelnutt on YouTube, but this climbing influencer has done some rad trad over the past few years, one of them being the Walk of Life. 

Anna Hazelnutt climbing Walk of Life
Anna becomes the first female to climb the route © Alastair Lee/Posing Productions

The Walk of Life was Anna’s second E9 and with that she also became the first female to climb the route. Being the slab queen, this was right up her alley and took her about a week to send the route.

She spent the first few days trying all the moves on top rope and on her final day she sent it clean. She was on the wall for about an hour.

The E12 Controversy

The British E grading system is very controversial. It has divided the country, families and burnt many bridges, but yet, no one really knows exactly what it means. 

James thought he had just climbed the hardest trad route he had ever done. And to be honest, it was, for him at least. This was completely not his style and after years of work and some scary falls, to him, it felt harder than any trad he’d ever done. James said in his blog,

‘’E12 7a is the point on the scale that I feel best reflects my experience, and what a crazy thing that is to say. Using two very inflexible numbers to try to sum up my thoughts and feelings at the final point of a 4 year journey seems ridiculous, and really takes something magical away from the route. There are so many things about The Walk Of Life that are special to me without even thinking about the grade, and any of these special parts explain the experience infinitely better than those 2 numbers ever could.’’

When Dave McLeod tried the route, he didn’t think it was harder than Rhapsody E11 and is still to this day of the opinion that no one has climbed E12. In terms of the Walk of Life, he had this to say:

‘’In my opinion, The Walk of Life is solid E9 6c. Why is it not harder? Well, basically it’s just nowhere near hard enough to be E10, never mind E12.

The Walk is definitely not as hard as the benchmark E9 from way back in 1992, If Six Was Nine. It’s about the same difficulty and character to my own route Holdfast in Glen Nevis, but much easier than To Hell and Back and a couple of grades easier than Rhapsody to lead.”

For young James, this was a huge blow in the face. After this, many of his first ascents were repeated and downgraded, with the climbing community calling him an overgrader. This affected James’ mental health so badly, he left the UK to begin a new life in France. 

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Meet Angel, a former desk-jockey turned global wanderer. After catching a severe case of the climbing (and travel) bug, she's now a world traveller, living the dirtbag dream. Highballs? Too mainstream for her taste. She's all about the thrills of lowballs, where the real action happens. Nowadays, you'll find her in Thailand, either precariously balanced on a granite slab or trading stories with Nemo and his buddies underwater!

Bon Voyage

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