Steve Mac v?s Big Brother

© Keith Sharples
"Grades - how we love 'em!

What grade is this new route? How important is it to get it right?

I'm not qualified to really say for sure. Others like Graham, Sharma, Andrada, Paxi and Ramon would have a much better idea, their track record of hard routes is greater. All the hard routes I've done are my own, and they are compared to confirmed 8c+ routes, but that doesn't mean they are 9a. This new route felt way harder than my '9's' but that doesn't make it 9a+, perhaps I was doing it wrong, it might be 8c+, but then maybe I was doing it perfectly and it's even harder.....

It seems important to stick a number on things these days. If you don't, everyone else will anyway. I suggest it could be 9a+, an estimate based on effort and experience. But then how important is it to get it right? Not important at all! What's important is honestly suggesting a level. If it gets down graded so what? If it gets up graded, so what again? What counts is it's a great route that tested me right to my limit. Had it been 9b or 8c the journey from start to finish would have been no more or less rewarding."

Steve McClure commenting about his route, Overshadow, 9a+ at Malham Cove, North Yorkshire, England, that he climbed on Monday (28th May) 2007.

Steve McClure on Overshadow, 9a+, Malham Cove, North Yorkshire
UKC Articles, Jul 2007
© Keith Sharples

Overshadow Press Coverage
© Keith Sharples

Nearly a month ago, 'bat hanging' Steve McClure hit the national press; the event, as you all know, was his ascent of Overshadow 9a+, his latest and hardest super-route, at Malham Cove. For once, a domestic climbing event got significant national press column inches.

A colleague of mine, who has forgotten more about the press business than I'll ever know, seemed positively enthusiastic when I reeled off the list of papers that had carried the story. Despite his enthusiasm, I was a bit hacked off that some of the other big papers haven't also drunk from the McClure font. My colleague (strongly) contested that coverage in five nationals, supported by two on-line editions, was in fact, something of a scoop. To be fair, that was exactly what the press agency had said when I'd spoken to them. When you get the same message from a completely different source, you have to start to believe.

I ought to confess right now that the idea of going for national coverage was mine and not Steve's. If it has offended you then your beef is with me. My defence is simple. Steve is one heck of a climber and he'd just done what history is likely to recognise as the UK's hardest sport route to date. In fact I'm sure that Overshadow stands head and shoulders alongside the mega routes of the world's top ten. In my humble opinion therefore I felt that both the route and Steve should get maximum coverage. I wanted the story to go to as wide an audience as possible, to the benefit of both Steve and our sport. It would of course be entirely disingenuous if I should pretend, for even a second, that I didn't also enjoy the resultant exposure for my photographs. There might even be a few quid involved as well, but none of us will be driving new BMW's as a result I can assure you! So there you have it, my confession and my drivers.

Back to the coverage. Reaching for his calculator my press mate started hammering the keys in a frenzy. “I make that about 8 million opportunities to see.”

“Good one,” he qualified.
I smiled the smile of the ignorant man. “OK,” I said after what seemed like an age; “what the flippin' heck are you taking about?”
He explained, “Take the circulation of each newspaper, multiply it by two and you have the opportunities to see or OTS.”
So that was it.
He continued, “don't forget either, the Online editions give you OTV.”
“Opportunities to view,” I offered?
A thumbs-up confirmed that I'd correctly guessed the acronym.
“B*ll*cks,” I said, “sounds like pseudo marketing babble.”

We could discuss the merits of the OTS and OTV if we were so driven, but with close on about ten million OTS/V, we were on a roll. In recent memory, I can't think of many such domestic climbing events that had got such column space. (Press aficionados will, of course, correct me here) Then there's the climbing websites like and print mags to add. Now climbing isn't the biggest sport in the world as we all know, and without dissing our sport, even with the best will in the world we aren't going to muster anywhere like the OTS/V figures that the nationals had generated.

Whatever the figures, whatever the coverage, I thought it was great to see domestic climbing getting press. Last year of course we were treated to Leo Holding and Tim Emmett racing Lord Clarkson of Top Gear in the Verdon. Leo and Tim were dynoing and cranking like lunes; “it's climbing but not like we know it Jim!” For their part in the coverage of Steve's new route, the national press had zeroed-in on Steve the 'bat hanger.'There was obviously much more to Steve's route than that, but as News Ed, Mick Ryan said, pitch the story about a one-hundred foot long route with crimps the size of a Macdo chip and I'll wager that the OTS/V would be flat-lining somewhere around zilch!

For the record the circulation figures of selective dailies are: Daily Mirror (1,719,000), Daily Telegraph (907,000), The Times (679,000), Daily Record (471,000) and The Metro (100,000).

More than a few folk (climbers, sponsored climbers and companies) have rung me for a chat since Steve appeared in the papers. To a one they all have one question; “how did you pull that off?”
I say, “take one of the hardest climbs in the country, take one of the best climbers in the country, take a few snaps, zip them over to an agency and hope like hell that Big Brother is having a quiet day!"

There is of course a bit more to it than that but these are the essential ingredients. News being news, you have to move fast. Just three days after Steve nailed the first ascent we were back to get the photos. The weather didn't exactly help; it was pissing it down when we arrived at The Cove. Friends at the crag (Pete Chadwick, Steve Dunning and Nigel Smart - thanks guys) belayed Steve whilst I, hanging off a 100m static (thanks SlackJaw) spun in space and wrestled with jumars, quickdraws and what felt like a ton of camera gear, got on with the business of image capture. I shot 9GB of images on the day, i.e. about 400 individual images shooting in both RAW and low quality JPEG on my Nikon D2x. That's about 11 films worth in old money. Back home, it took a couple of hours to review the images and another couple of hours tweaking the low resolution JPEGs, along with some mid-night oil, before I could email two dozen images to the agency to choose from. That, of course, is the real beauty of shooting digital; 'shoot-it, then use-it' straight off!

Another essential ingredient was, of course, the pitch. So what angle to push? Steve had hung off his toes most of the winter down at the Foundry training for the 'bat hang' on Overshadow just as he trained every other conceivable aspect that he thought would give him the edge. The 'bat hang' angle was a means to an end, to Steve on the route and to the story for the press. A 'News Release' and several phone calls were the final pieces of the jigsaw. It was all down to others then, we had done our bit.

So what was the outcome? Well bat hanging and OTS/V aside, climbing got press. How bad can that be?

There will be those amongst us that don't want climbing turned into a media circus; there will those amongst us that thirst for more coverage and obviously there will be those amongst us that don't care either way! The best thing about climbing is that everyone is free to enjoy their own climbing in their own way. The quiet, remote ascent that goes un-noticed, un-recorded and is to all intents and purposes unremarkable, or else the high profile ascent of Overshadow with an attendant film crew against a backdrop of a crag-full of sport climbers. Not that Steve is looking for that kind 'following' on a regular basis, if at all. As an aside, it was awesome though when everyone at Malham stopped what they were doing and watched as Steve nailed his project. The cheer that when up from the Cat Walk audience when Steve clipped the lower-off was spontaneous and totally genuine. And SlackJaw were there to get the whole thing on film - well HDV actually. Nice one Rich and Ben – bring on the film ASAP!

Finally, a 'big up' to Steve; suck it in man, you desired the exposure and cred. On June 4th 2007, a week to the day after his epoch ascent, you took on Big Brother in the press and won. The day before or the day after it might have been a different story. That it seems, is the Press Biz!


Keith Sharples
© Mick Ryan
Keith is an invited speaker, talking about climbing photography, at Cliffhanger, the forthcoming outdoor pursuit-fest (see in Sheffield on 14-15th July. He'll be presenting 'P' is for (climbing) Photography, a whistle-stop blast through the pain and pleasure that is climbing photography. As well as talking about his vision of climbing photography, reviewing his camera gear (all pro-spec Nikon cameras/lens, Scandisk digital film, and Lowe Pro bags) and giving an overview of 'how to get into the right position' using Petzl rope-access gear/techniques with a studio full of camera kit hanging off your neck! Keith is also exhibiting Home and Away, a collection of his favourite climbing and scenic images from the UK, Europe and Beyond in the Film marquee at Cliffhanger.

Keith is also running a FREE PhotoWorkshop at Cliffhanger for eight lucky budding photographers. Three will be drawn from the hat at the end of Keith's presentation at Cliffhanger, three from the on-line competition being run here on UKC and at as well as and two from competitions to be run in The Star and The Telegraph. To enter the FREE competition NOW, click HERE for your chance to get one of the PhotoWorkshop places. As they say in all the best comps; “no purchase is necessary, terms and conditions apply!”

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6 Jul, 2007
I think Big Brother was having a quiet day, not a "quite day".
6 Jul, 2007
And can something really stand "head and shoulders alongside" something else?! Ah pedantry! How we love to nitpick. ;-)
6 Jul, 2007
I must join the pedants. I cannot stand idly by and let "lunes" instead of "loons" go unmarked. Good article though.
7 Jul, 2007
The press coverage is cool, but I would suggest it only received that press attention because there were pictures of him hanging from his feet!
11 Jul, 2007
So the guy puts on the hardest sport route ever in the UK, in your words, quite a historical events: The guy speaks about his experience, 192 words. The other one who seems to get horny just at the mention of OTS and other OTV speaks,...1374 words!! Now, when getting a story to the press gets more attention than the story it-self, that is very sad... (now I realise I may get a link to the actual story in my face quite soon...)
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