Steve McClure Interview
Steve McClure will be coaching out with me in Turkey later this year on our coaching holiday>>. He is certainly the UK's leading sport climber by far, pushing onsight (8b+) and redpoint levels up there with the world's best. He is responsible for the country's hardest rock climb - Overshadow at Malham Cove 9a+ using his trademark bat-hang from his toes. With around 30 years of climbing behind him he covered a fair amount of ground including new routing in Greenland, classic Yosemite cracks, Thailand and probably most of Europe. Aside from his climbing, his unasuming and easy-going nature puts anyone at ease. I thought I'd ask him a few questions...
Describe yourself in 3 words.
On the go
Describe your perfect route.
Impossible to answer – so many different things encompass climbing depending if you want a physical challenge, a mental one, a nice day out, multipitch etc. Hotel Supramonte in Sardinia was a pretty cool route! And the Harding slot on Astroman Yosemite. I could go on for a long time..
Have you done it yet?
No, not the perfect one, but I will.
What’s the biggest thing that has made a difference to your climbing performance?
Discovering sport climbing. Not the actual ‘bolts’ themselves, but the way you can attack a route when in safety, with complete focus on the climbing. This translates back into traditional climbing too. Before I ever went sport climbing I was always concentrating on protection and danger with little focus on the climbing unless it was well within my comfort zone.
You come from a trad background but now predominantly focus on sport climbing. Can you see yourself applying your onsight or redpoint skills back to trad e.g. the long awaited onsight of Strawberries at Tremadog or Rhapsody E11 at Dumbarton?
I already have done plenty of trad where the sport climbing skills, particularly the focus, made a big difference. I’ll never be a big trad climber, as in big numbers, as they require a degree of risk I don’t think I can justify. However, safe, hard trad interests me more than anything, it’s just that there is not so many of them around. Strawberries – yes, I just need to go and try, Rhapsody, its on the list for this spring..
You always seem incredibly busy, what with routesetting, DIY, writing, your family and of course climbing. How do you fit it all in? Are you good at planning? How do you keep yourself climbing consistently at such a high level?
I fit it all in by probably doing everything at a mediocre level. I wish I could do less things better, which is basically climbing and family. I think I am good at planning but bad at turning stuff down. Fortunately I have been climbing so long that I think my base level is high enough to take time off without too much drop in performance
Why do you think you are so good at climbing?
Tenacity, and that’s it!!
Where do you train?
The Foundry, Sheffield
Do you think you’ve reached your potential yet?
No, and I don’t think I ever will physically, I don’t have the mental push to work out to reach that physical limit. So you could say I have reached my potential physically and mentally. However I think I can climb harder, and I will..
The weather over in the UK is so unreliable and you must have done almost all the sport climbs over here. Would you ever move over to somewhere like Spain?
I thought of moving fairly seriously a few years ago, but basically the UK has a lot to offer. Moving away purely for climbing is probably short sighted, as in a year or so everything locally will be done and then I’ll be back where I started, having to travel to climb. I really love the climate abroad, but here in England is where all my mates are, and that counts for a lot, if not everything.
Do any of the foreign wads you know have any interest or intention of coming to the UK to try some of your routes or in fact any of our sport routes?
Sharma and Graham always seem keen, and then they remember the weather…
What do you enjoy about coaching? Are there moments that stick in your mind?
Seeing improvements in people’s climbing makes everything worthwhile. Also seeing people get more out of their climbing, or viewing it in a different way in order to enjoy it more. If I can do that as a coach I am happy.
In Kalymnos an amazing woman called Frances worked on a 6c that she thought was too hard for her, she found the focus and tenacity to climb right to her max and then despite all odds, redpointed the route at the last possible chance. She fought so hard and dragged every drop of energy out. It was the most incredible climbing performance I have ever seen. Anywhere. By anybody. To think I’d helped her up that made me very happy.
Which climbers inspire you?
Johnny Dawes. He’s in tune with the rock and can move so fluidly. Johnny is like an artist, he sees the rock in a different way to most people. Talking with him he changes the way you look at things and puts into words the feelings we get when climbing. The volume of new routes he did and the mark he left on British climbing is immense.
Jerry Moffat was always my climbing hero though, he did everything and was the best at them all. He was driven to be the best and did whatever it took, training, travel, complete dedication.
What’s your best quote from another climber?
“I went for the crux, the motion startling me like a car unexpectedly in gear in a crowded parking lot. I swarm through the roundness of the bulge to a crank on a brittle spike for a cluster of three crystals on the right; each finger crucial and separate like the keys for a piano chord…..” Johnny Dawes describing his ascent of Indian Face, the first E9 in the UK and one of the most important ascents in British climbing history. He has a way of putting into words what we can only feel but never describe.
Could you imagine your life without climbing?
I could do it, but I could not have a life without the outdoors. I am not planning on giving up though..
What tips would you give to someone starting out climbing now to get the best out of the sport?
Make sure that climbing is about enjoyment, surround yourselves with friends in great places. Find out what you want from the sport: do you want to be fit, enjoy the movement or be in the outdoors? Make sure this is the important element. For example if being really fit is key and you love the gym style life then a rainy Sunday in the peaks on easy slabs wearing a waterproof with freezing hands is gonna be no fun and never hold your attention. Likewise if you just love being outdoors don’t get too hung up on training and performance.