With ascents of F9a sport routes and loads of hard sport and trad onsighting, Steve McClure is not your average climber. He's an athlete, a man who trains his body hard and pushes himself physically as far as he can go.
Or something like that.
In 2010 Steve's name has popped up in the UKC news with several amazing ascents of course, but I got the impression that he felt the year hadn't gone 100% his way. I got in touch with Steve and we discussed his climbing and his focus over the past year.
Jack: You said that 2010 started with some time off over Christmas and then back in to the training again in January and February ready for the spring?
Steve: Exactly. Yes, some planned time out. The psyched sensible athlete cross trains their time-out and gets fit by running and does some stretchy stuff, whereas I planned mine carefully to coincide with Christmas and worked hard on my mince pie eating and became awesome only at watching telly.
Then January came and it was time to adopt a serious training plan! However, I am not a lover of training, but I have a solid theory that helps. In the most basic terms, when we attempt to gain strength, we need to exhaust and break down muscle to force adaptation and growth, and this recovery process only occurs whilst resting. So the more resting the better seems like the theory to follow.
So I planned a lot of nothing. But looking back I could see that all my carefully scheduled periods of doing absolutely nothing between training were instantly taken up with multiple days of route setting at gyms all around the country. 12 hours a day of jugging up and down ropes carrying massive bags of resin climbing holds does wonders for the fitness and the Christmas excess reduction scheme.
In the end I was probably fitter than normal. The joys of work...
Jack: And with your hard won fitness you headed on a trip in February?
Steve: Yes, I went on a trip to Misja Pec in Slovenia; a world class cliff, one of the top five. But it was cold, 3 degrees and snowing, and even taking off a down jacket was hardcore. So much for somewhere warmer! But the rock was dry, and no one complained about sweaty hands!
Onsighting was a finger-numbing experience, trying to figure out the moves on route taking too long; even my brain froze. Red-pointing seemed like a soft option, resting on the rope every minute or so to warm up and figure out the route in lots of small sections.
Jack: So you went redpointing then I guess?!
Steve: It was a mixture, I managed a few 8b's on the flash but it was tough. Redpointing was easier, and I rarely redpoint abroad, the longest I've spent is 2 days on a route. Tomas Mrazek opened a climb called 'Xaxid Hostel', 9a+. The first 20 metres are 8c+/9a to a lower-off. Then the extension blasts another 20m to the final reachy bulge. I had a quick look at that.
Jack: I heard you were very close, can you give us the gory details?
Steve: Pretty close. Last day of our six day trip and I'm warming my hands by the fire, unwilling to leave its comfort. But I've invested three chilly days in this route now and I'm psyched. I feel fit and strong, but this is a pressure free effort, the final bulge is not just wet, but frozen; two key holds glazed in ice. I joyfully pass the 20m marker, a marker also for my current form, and then press on, knowing it is hopeless, though gaining hope with every metre, until the inevitable ping off backwards with sopping hands from the final move of a 45metre route!
Jack: You must have been gutted!
Steve: Not really, I gave up being gutted a while back.I gave it everything and went home happy. Climbing is not just about getting to the top!
Jack: So Spring had sprung in the UK. And you went back to a favourite stomping ground - Malham?
Steve: I tried a new line. It was desperate, three days in and I couldn't do some of the moves. These moves were a long way up, after absolutely no rest where fatigue will be maxed out.
The fourth day passed and the moves fell into place, surprisingly, though helped by fantastic conditions.
The route takes an existing 9a, climbing it through its crux to where it moves left. It's probably 8c to here or worse. From that point I go straight up into the moves I have only just managed, a 21 move section brutally continuous: so far I can't see where I can clip! It has to be 8c in its own right, maybe harder. Crimps as small as any I'd dare pull on near the ground and undercuts that pull unhealthily at my biceps form the path. I'm looking for the line between possible and not, so far this looks like it could be in the right place. I thought I'd found it before but looking at this, maybe a new line can be drawn! Time will tell!
Steve: I'd heard a lot about the tiny Scottish island of Pabay. I'd been meaning to go for ages and this year it fell into place. The plan was to go for lots of quality onsighting, lots of volume. That's what we did, but as soon as I mentioned to people where I was going they all assumed I had an agenda!
This island is where The Great Arch lives. I knew it hadn't been climbed without falls, and that it had been attempted over many days, so I abseiled down to the lip of the arch roof figuring if climbing legends Lynn Hill and Cubby couldn't do it, there was no chance of me onsighting it. I was right! Rubbish and dirty holds on the lip that were out of view would have had me off, but there was little else to see from my position, so I bailed as fast as I could and kind of forgot about it.
Jack: So you climbed the Great Arch, made the second ascent, but took a fall on the last pitch. That's a great effort, and I take it you were pretty happy with that?!
Steve: Absolutely - I went to Pabay in search of adventure, and for sure that's what I got!
Jack: So after Pabay it was too warm to go back on your Malham project. What did you do instead?
Steve: Years ago I briefly tried a totally brilliant traverse in Cheedale. Hard and long, the word was about 8c+ or harder. But I stopped trying because, as you might have noticed, it rained a lot in the summers. Last spring I accidentally found myself on it. Paul Smitton got the first ascent (though you hardly go up), and that prompted me to get involved, get the second ascent, and then tidy up the line where it escapes and add a much harder and purer version. It was a great little love affair. However, I was pushing myself a lot, day on day off for a few weeks of very fingery climbing, every hold is a crimp pretty much, for like 140 moves!!
(See the UKC News Report on Steve's Boulder Traverse)
It should have been obvious really, the inevitable and completely obvious meltdown. Anyone could have spotted it. 'Time-out' was screaming to be called but I didn't hear it, or didn't want to hear. But now it made its point. A busted finger ligament and floppy shoulder meant game over for a while. I tried to push on at first but noticed for once that it wasn't helping, so dropped the performance thing completely and cracked on with extra route setting work, coaching and trad climbing. It felt like a waste, to get so far and to blow it. Reluctantly I saw myself slide...
Normally summer is a bad time for hard sport climbing, too hot and sweaty. It should be a good time to take a break. And now I was, enforced maybe, though I felt some freedom to take on extra work and interesting challenges. I was in Denmark twice and Norway twice, long stints of coaching and route setting. I met some great people and visited some great places and experienced a lot of stuff that I probably would never have managed without an injury. Don't get me wrong, I was not happy about it, but the glass was just looking half full!
I was in the Ardeche in September, a family holiday with rock around. But my injuries were still there so I bagged the climbing and played in the river, which is probably more fun anyway!
Jack: And then October came and you jetted off on the Petzl Rock Trip to Mexico?
Steve: Right. The trip was spread over 10 days in two venues. The first near the town of Taxco was a massive cave, the biggest I've ever seen, an awe inspiring natural feature covered in tufas and stalactites. Some of the routes are like climbing trees with horizontal stalactites, their growth blown outwards by thousands of years of winds. This is the domain of the endurance climber and the sneaky rest finding climber. This is where I climb best and I managed to get the only flash of the 8b 'Ultimate Route' despite doing sod all for ages.
Three days later we were over at the climbing area of Jilotepec, trading sweaty nights, comfy beds, mosquitoes and tarantulas for sub zero temperatures, duvet jackets and tents. We also swapped ultra complex limestone for technical conglomerate. Temperatures were Baltic, like minus 5 degrees at night, but they have to be to even attempt to hang the tiny holds. Most of the routes are vertical face, super tech with multiple footholds and intermediates, but the steeper stuff is there, with 40 metre routes blasting up the monstrous main wall. For a day I had the hardest route in Mexico with a redpoint of the project 'Cruz Diablo' before Mike and Gerome sent a different route, 'Las Chicas' on their last day at the same 8c+ level.
The truly great thing about the Petzl rock trips is that they are about a gathering of climbers going climbing. The whole philosophy keeps true to the roots of why most of us started, and continue to love the sport. But Petzl rock trips are not just about the climbing, they are far bigger than that. And this year was the biggest yet, with visits to Aztec Pyramids, saunas, town visits, traditional dances, fantastic food, slide shows and presentations, all topped with the best party ever with the techno banging out to the hundreds of crazy Mexicans all dancing till really really late! For me this was the best rock trip ever, but not just because it was so damn good, but because it felt like I was back in the game, my passion flooding back in and I was becoming one with the movement again. Injuries had knocked my drive sideways, but maybe I needed it, a break and a re-focus!
Jack: And then winter - more trips away?
Steve: We'd planned a family trip to Gran Canaria, some winter warmth amid the growing darkness of Sheffield, and we arrived just as the snows hit hard with the most the UK has seen for years! Perfect. A relaxed trip with beaches, sandcastles, ice cream and the odd walk was the plan, but somehow my boots found their way into my bag...
Jack: So, now you've got Christmas out of the way again and it's rapidly turning in to Spring 2011 - what are your plans for the coming season?
Take it as it comes of course! January turned out busy, I was route setting in London four times and with plenty of other bits going on I barely had a day off, but I fought bitterly to keep a 6 day block free to go to Spain. What happens this spring depends on injuries recovering. I think it's looking good. My finger is feeling a little sore right now though, but I can't complain as I redpointed an 8c+ yesterday!!
Jack: Thanks Steve. Great to talk to you and best of luck for 2011 and I hope the injuries heal fast.
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