UK's Hardest Sport Route On Bank Holiday Monday (28th May) Steve McClure, 36, of Sheffield redpointed a new route at Malham Cove, a route that is perhaps the UK's hardest sport route and will no doubt emerge, due to Steve's track record and credibility amongst the world's top climbers, as one of the hardest sport routes in the world, along with Chris Sharma's Realisation 9a+, at Ceuse, France and Ramón Julián's La Rambla Direct 9a+ at Siurana, Spain.
Malham was crowded on Monday, as it has been all year, according to Steve, who reckons that sport climbing maybe making a bit of a comeback after all the attention on bouldering. His new route extends Overnite Sensation a short 8a+ that starts off Malham's Catwalk ledge and finishes when things get steep. Overnite was first climbed by Paul 'Percy' Ingham back in 1988. An extension into the steep roof and above, had been bolted back in the day, but had to wait 19 years for its realisation.
You can see Steve on the route, taken a few weeks ago, with the approximate line of the route HERE
Steve said that it is harder than his other three top end sport routes Mutation 9a at Raven Tor, Northern Lights 9a at Kilnsey Crag and Rainshadow 9a at Malham Cove. He said,
"It felt like an 8a+ followed by an 8c+." Steve mentioned V12 or Font 8a+ for a bouldering grade for the crux sequence.
Steve has spent 15 days this year trying the route, another 12 or so last year, and a few days in 2005, around 30 days in total, although he said he "spent a lot of time not being able to do the moves, just staring blankly at the holds". To put that time investement into context, Steve spent half that time, 15 days, to redpoint Northern Lights at Kilnsey and 22 days to complete Rainshadow at Malham.
Steve, back in Sheffield and nursing a cold, sounded very happy indeed when we spoke to him this morning although he was still deliberating over a grade and a name.
What does it take to climb a route like this?
Steve replied, "Commitment, above all motivation, a little bit of luck and genetics."
Steve has been making the drive up to Malham from Sheffield three times a week, big days out, usually returning home at 11pm. He spent most of last winter training at the expense of climbing outside and was a bit sad that he hasn't been out on his beloved gritstone much. His two main belayers were Rab Carrington and Keith Sharples, both no slouches when it comes to redpointing hard routes: Rab with his mate Al Austin have both just redpointed their first 8a at Malham, New Age Traveler, just a few months before their 60th birthdays, and Keith is near to redpointing Malham's Austrian Oak 8b. One of Keith's next assignments is take photos of Steve on his new route, thankfully with the redpoint pressure off. Steve also had to sacrifice work (and income) to enable him to succeed on this route. Steve said he wanted to thank Rab and Keith for their "Big support."
Yesterday Malham was crowded and Andy F, who was there, said on the UKClimbing.com forums,
"The Catwalk was silent during the redpoint and then everyone gave a very British round of applause when he clipped the belay."
As well as his 9a's and stamina-power boulder problems of a similar difficulty Steve has onsighted more than 100 routes graded F8a or harder within 12 months, climbed over 500 sport routes at 8a and above, has onsighted 8b+, established a ground-up deep water solo 8b+, climbed 8c+ very fast and climbed E9 trad. Although he wouldn't admit it, he is up there with the best rock climbers in the world.
There are several contenders for sport routes that are above 9a, but only two, Realisation and La Rambla Direct have widespread creditability amongst the International community of top sport climbers to share the crown with Steve's new route. Others are embroiled in controversy or they are remote from the circuit. Chilam-Balam near Málaga, Spain was claimed at 9b+ by Bernabé Fernández, but some international climbers that have been on this route, believe that possibly it has not been climbed. Fred Rouhling's Akira has been given 9b also, but many think that a bouldering grade is more appropriate for this very hard cave climb that is bouldered to lip and then has a roped finally.
There is a proposed 9a+ in the UK, John Gaskin's Violent New Breed. This is a short 'boulder' type route at Giggleswick in North Yorkshire. Maybe Steve's route will take joint honours with this route as the UK's hardest sport route, unless someone repeats both and gives an opinion.
Unfortunately it is doubtful if Steve's route, or his other 9a's will get repeats off other top climbers, mainly due to the time you have to invest in such routes combined with the UK's notorious bad weather which puts a lot of climbers off from visiting. Steve said that all we can do is to go and repeat their routes and then compare with the UK's hardest to get some concensus on grades.
Steve finished the day at Malham by "warming-down" on The Groove 8a+ before driving home and getting a good nights kip.
What's next for Steve?
Maybe the extension to Steve Dunning's Northern Exposure at Kilnsey.
Steve McClure is sponsored by Petzl, Five Ten, Beal and Fat Face.