A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon



Aug 29, 2017

Pearson, Wright and Hirayama Go Chossaneering in the Faroe Islands

Most climbers have a visceral dislike for “choss,” or loose, dangerous and dirty rock.


Michael Levy

But British climber James Pearson has such an affinity for it, that he recruited a team of two other world-renowned climbers to make the first ascent of one of the world’s tallest sea cliffs, in the Faroe Islands, and what was sure to be one of the chossiest, sketchiest and most bizarre climbs any of them had ever done.

While many cutting-edge climbing expeditions, like those planned by Mike Libecki, trace their beginnings to high-tech satellite imagery or whispered stories of far off places, others have more modest origin stories.

“Sometimes you hear about a cool new place through the grapevine; sometimes you stumble on to random info from people,” British climber James Pearson explains. “But sometimes, you just go on Google and start searching.” And that’s how he first discovered the untold climbing potential in the Faroe Islands. “I was reading some list of the craziest rock formations, and the Faroe Islands popped up for having one of the biggest sea cliffs in the world,” he says.

And best of all, it had never been climbed.

A cairn and the sea in the Faroe Islands. Photo: Cedar Wright.

The Faroe Islands are a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. There are 18 larger islands in the archipelago and heaps of other islets and sea stacks. Over the centuries, the islands developed an agrarian culture unique from mainland Europe. The inhabitants all learn Faroese as their first language growing up. In many ways, it seems a land apart from the the continent it is a part of.

The British troops stationed on the Faroe Islands during World War II called it the “Land of Maybe,” due to the mercurial weather that frequently stalled or delayed plans. The mists and fog that blanket the islands daily make the sea cliffs appear ghostly and phantom-like when they emerge from the clouds.

The largest cliff, Cape Enniberg, plummets 754 meters from its highest point, and that was the one that Pearson wanted to scale. It’s allure for Pearson lay not only in its immensity, but in his own personal penchant for “choss climbing,” as he puts it.

The 754-meter tall Cape Enniberg. Photo: Cedar Wright.

“In the UK trad climbing scene, climbing on crappy, chossy cliffs once or twice a year is just something we do. It’s a fun way to get away, do something different and see beautiful parts of the country. But since moving to France, I’ve done much less of it. The French only climb on the very best rock because they have so much of it.”

Pearson recruited two good friends and fellow The North Face (TNF) sponsored-athletes to join him and Caroline Ciavaldini, his wife and also a TNF athlete. (Ciavaldini had already decided that she wanted no part of Enniberg’s loose blocks, but would participate in the rest of the expedition.)  First up was Yuji Hirayama, the legendary Japanese climber whose resume includes setting the speed record on The Nose with Hans Florine on multiple occasions, and being the first person to onsight an 8c (5.14b). “Yuji was a really obvious choice,” Pearson says. “He’s an incredible climber, but he’s also calm and calculated”―a not-to-be-undervalued quality what with the intrinsic dangers that Enniberg promised.

Next was Cedar Wright, an American choss master and jester in even the most unpleasant of climbing situations. “I figured regardless of what difficulties we might find on the route, if it was dangerous or if it was sketchy or crazy, Cedar would be the guy,” Pearson says.

When they all arrived in the Faroe Islands, they set about recceing Cape Enniberg and espied an obvious direttissima: a central prow splitting two overhanging faces. After unforeseen access issues left their Enniberg assault in limbo for several days, they learned they had gotten the greenlight at 6 pm one night. Their sources indicated a 24-hour weather window, so even though Pearson says they “weren’t sure if it was a great idea,” they geared up, set off sailing for the bottom of the cliff at 8 pm, landed at 9 and started climbing at 10 in the evening.

Racking up at the bottom, Pearson had a moment of doubt: “Some really heavy questions of what we were doing there came into my head. The rock we were going to climb―this kind of basalt―looked like a jenga tower of boulders. I realized how horrendous and dangerous it might be. So I felt awkward putting two close friends in a risky situation like that.”

But Wright and Hirayama were there by their own accord and psyched to get into it. “Them being there kind of pushed me on at the same time,” Pearson says.

Wright drew the first harrowing lead. “Cedar spent an hour climbing up the first kitty-litter pitch with grass tufts every now and again,” Pearson describes. “At one point he was probably 40 meters runout: he definitely would have died if he fell off. He was mantling on these loosely attached grass tufts. We immediately realized it was going to be more serious that we thought.

“When me and Yuji got up to the belay, we all looked at each other like, ‘This is fucked,” Pearson says.

Yuji Hirayama and James Pearson following Cedar Wright on one of the early pitches of Cape Enniberg. Photo: Cedar Wright.

Yuji drew the second pitch, which involved rounding a corner into a gulley of loose blocks. He climbed slowly, shouting descriptions of his progress and the nightmarish rock down to Wright and Pearson. At one point, little pebbles began raining down on Wright’s head, which he and Pearson could only hope didn’t portend larger debris. Finally, Yuji set a belay and brought them up. Pearson says, “Yuji crushed it. There was so much scary stuff on that pitch.”

The next couple hundred meters were more of the same. No less serious, but somewhat quicker, at least. They didn’t encounter any particularly difficult climbing, just lots and lots and lots of choss. “It’s amazing we didn’t injure ourselves,” Pearson says.

James Pearson setting off on a lead mid-way up the cliff of Cape Enniberg. Photo: Cedar Wright.

The second half of the climb turned into a different kind of adventure altogether. 400 meters of soaking-wet, grass-covered slabs, separated by exfoliating rock bands, lay between the guys and the top. They started simul-climbing but abandoned that strategy when they realized how insecure the slimy basalt bands were.

Just as Pearson had counted on happening in such an unsettling situation, Wright took the sharp end and quested off. Pearson remembers him yelling, “Dude, you won’t believe it. I found a path.”

They had stumbled on what Pearson describes as a “poor man’s via ferrata,” a rickety system of old ropes and pieces of wood that had been hammered into the cliffside.

As unexpected as the path was, it didn’t match their surprise in running into a bunch of sheep. “Every bit of usable land in the Faroe Islands is used,” Pearson explains. “They put sheep anywhere they can, and they save the best, hardest-to-get-to places for these special rams that sell for more. These crazy places on top of the cliffs that no other animals can get to except birds, they end up with these jungle-esque plants that are really good for the rams and make their meat taste really good, apparently. So there were fricking sheep up there!”

For six hours, Pearson, Wright and Hirayama zig-zagged their way up the terraced grassy slabs and rock bands. “We’d go left and right, back-and-forth until we could go up a bit. Like a labyrinth. I’ve never done something so weird,” Pearson says. “You couldn’t really call it climbing, but it was still really hard, super physical and super terrifying.”

At one point on the grassy slabs, Cedar Wright was about ten meters from the belay and mantling onto a ledge. Pearson and Hirayaa could see grass falling off. And then they heard Wright shriek. “But we didn’t see him fall off,” Pearson says. “Then we hear him yell, ‘A bird just puked in my face!’ Me and Yuji started cracking up, meanwhile Cedar is yelling ‘It’s not funny.’

“That sort of sums up the whole experience: cold, crazy, funny, stinky, hard and scary,” Pearson says.

15 hours after leaving the base, they finally reached the summit. Caroline Ciavaldini, filmmaker Will Laschelles, a contact from the local tourist office, and some local Faroese met them at the top. Pearson says, “They were all psyched, gave us hugs, thought we were superheroes. They brought up bottles of gin that we all drank.”

From left to right: Yuji Hirayama, Cedar Wright, James Pearson. Photo: Cedar Wright.

Reflecting on Enniberg a month after the climb, Pearson says, “There’s no part of it that would make for a good regular climbing trip. But I loved every minute of it.”

In the remainder of their time in the Faroe Islands, James, Cedar, Yuji and Caroline each put up a new climb, all in the 5.12 range, on a smaller sea cliff of good-quality stone in an area called Floating Lake. “We hoped that by developing routes we could give local climbers something to aim for and get them towards the more adventurous climbs,” Pearson says.

“The Faroe Islands will never be a destination for everyday climbers from around the world, but there are definitely adventures to be had.”

Feeling inspired? Want to have a climbing adventure of your own? Check out The Outdoor Voyage and book your next trip.

James Pearson on the first ascent of one of the routes they put up in the Floating Lake area later in the trip. Photo: Will Laschelles.

Feature Image: Sea stacks in the Faroe Islands. Pearson, Hirayama, Wright and Ciavaldini split into two teams at the end of the trip, climbed two towers, and set up a Tyrolean traverse between them. Photo: Will Laschelles.

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Athletes & Explorers

Apr 21, 2019

Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer: How the World Reacted.

On Friday, the world was forced to come to terms with the passing of three climbing pioneers. Perhaps the biggest loss to the outdoor community in decades, respects were paid from around the world.



The Outdoor Journal

On Friday, news outlets from around the world reported that three world-class mountaineers who were climbing Alberta’s Howse Peak on Tuesday, April 16th were caught up in a large avalanche, that carried them to their likely deaths. Those mountaineers were 28-year-old Austrian David Lama, 36-year-old American Jess Rosskelley, and 35-year-old Hansjörg Auer.

Loved and admired by many, people from all walks of life have paid their respect. A few of those messages that have been shared on social platforms can be found below.

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David lebte für die Berge und seine Leidenschaft für das Klettern und Bergsteigen hat uns als Familie geprägt und begleitet. Er folgte stets seinem Weg und lebte seinen Traum. Das nun Geschehene werden wir als Teil davon akzeptieren.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Wir bedanken uns für die zahlreichen positiven Worte und Gedanken von nah und fern, und bitten um Verständnis, dass es keine weitere Stellungnahme von uns geben wird. Vielmehr bitten wir David mit seiner Lebensfreude, seiner Tatkräftigkeit und mit Blick Richtung seiner geliebten Berge in Erinnerung zu behalten. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Die Familien von Hansjörg und Jess schließen wir in unsere Gedanken ein⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama⁣⠀ ____________________________________⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family. He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ We appreciate the numerous positive words and thoughts from near and far. Please understand that there will be no further comments from our side. We ask you to remember David for his zest for life, his enthusiasm and with a view towards his beloved mountains. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Our thoughts are with Hansjörg’s and Jess‘ family⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama

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I will walk by your side forever.

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We all go to the mountains because there is some innate part of being human that seeks challenge and there is endless challenge to be found in our wild places. I’ve always seen mountains as a blank canvas that lets me be an artist by choosing my unique path when amongst them. It’s freedom in its purest and most simple form. But, like many things in life, what you originally set out to do isn’t always where you end up. It’s the unexpected adventures along the way that create the true magic. There’s so much more to this passion than just the climb or the ski, there are the human connections created along this journey that have been some of the deepest and most profound friendships of my life. There is also tragedy. The mountains are both majestic and fierce. They give so much and they take so much. It is with profound sadness, frustration and even anger that this week we have lost so much passion, kindness, ingenuity and unadulterted talent with the passing of these three human beings. *** My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of David Lama, Hansjörg Auer and Jess Roskelley. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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It hurts to feel the crushing magnitude of losing people you not only really care about, but also that are such iconic figureheads of our community. My heart breaks and I am praying for the direct family members and loved ones involved. Jess was one of the most driven, positive, humble, goofy, and kind friends. He accomplished daunting mountains with a smile and inspiring ability to encourage you to see no limits, too. Despite the magnitude of his accomplishments, he wasn’t “above” anyone. He was a genuine, radical guy and husband to an equally inspiring, kickass woman, @alliroskelley David Lama- who in our direct community doesn’t have a story…? Soft spoken, genuine BADASS. Footsy (@magmidt 😭) It’s been some time since the three of us hung out together but I will never forget how you have always been the number one climber I have looked up to’s career…the childhood prodigy turned all-rounded mountain climbing technician. He was the guy that could probably come back from a long expedition and still fire 5.14’s like he never left the gym. Hansjorg; an Austrian legend, I didn’t know you as personally so well but man, your accomplishments were so damn legendary. It’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around this except for the fact that the mountains are at once beautiful and merciless. These guys knew what they were doing in the mountains. They were straight legends. That’s what is terrifying to me. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your resume is: extremely unlucky circumstances can still happen. 💔.

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🖤💫🙏🏻 no words.

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No sabemos ni como empezar este texto, son momentos tan duros que no nos salen ni las palabras. La pérdida de Hansjorg Auer, David Lama y Jess Roskelly es tan grande que nos hemos quedado vacíos. Son tantos los amigos perdidos en la montaña qué se nos encoge el corazón. Muchos ánimos a las familias y amigos. Conocíamos a Hans desde hace mucho tiempo. Le queríamos y admirabamos mucho, era una gran persona , muy entrañable y fuente de inspiración para muchos de nosotros, con el cual tuvimos la suerte de haber compartido mucho tiempo y aventuras. ¡Siempre estarás con nosotros! Tus latín brothers Eneko & iker. We do not know how to start this text, they are such hard moments that we do not even get the words. The loss of Hansjorg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelly is so hard that we are left empty. There are so many lost friends in the mountains that our hearts shrink. Many encouragement to families and friends. We had known Hans for a long time. We loved and admired him very much, he was a great person, very fond and a source of inspiration for many of us, with whom we were fortunate to have shared a lot of time and adventures. ¡You will always be with us! Your latin brothers. Eneko & iker

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Read Next: Hansjörg Auer: No Turning Back

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