Beyond Limits by Steve McClure OUT NOW

Beyond Limits: A life through climbing

Beyond Limits is the new autobiography of world-class climber Steve McClure. With eye-poppingly hard ascents like Overshadow (F9a+) and Mutation (F9a) under his belt, Steve's talent and tenacity are well documented. But how did Steve become one of Britain’s top climbers? And how has this impacted on things like family, friends and work? Beyond Limits is Steve's story of pushing passion and obsession to the limits while searching for the elusive balance between reward and risk.

In this extract from the book Steve shares some travelling tales from his earlier adventures:

As usual my dad dropped me off on his way to work, saving me the first 10 miles of country roads. He pulled over into a lay-by at the start of the busy Teesside Parkway and left the engine running. Stepping out into the drizzle I dragged out my bag, dropping it into the wet grass, then leaning across the passenger seat we shook hands as we always did, a gesture we seemed to have adopted, formal for most people but having a much greater depth between father and son. He looked into my eyes. ‘Take care son.’

‘Yeah, of course. I’ll be back home in about ten days. I’ll try and phone.’

‘Yes, keep in touch. Your mum worries … ’

He pushed a small parcel into my hand. ‘Some food for the journey.’

‘Thanks, see you later.’

Hitching was the mode of transport. I’d like to think that I was quite a good hitcher, as I seemed to get a lot of lifts in double quick time. Standing in the spread-out queues of hitchhikers on the M1 slip roads, I’d often get singled out and picked up after only minutes of waiting. It’s a crazy thought, that. There would have been maybe ten people at every service station around the country all looking for a ride. Thousands of people every day. Hitchers were an integral part of the transport system in the eighties and early nineties. Now hitchers are looked on with fear and those that you do see have probably broken down, missed the bus or run out of steam on a long walk.

Steve on Mutation (F9a), 119 kb
Steve on Mutation (F9a)
© Vertebrate Publishing / Keith Sharples
I’d usually be alone, because two scruffs with massive rucksacks immediately slashed your chances and, for a start, lorries only have one extra seat. The key to it was to somehow show you were a nice person with a purpose to your travel. That way it cleared the dossy scrounger badge immediately. The ‘hanging rope’ was probably the best method, guaranteeing an immediate bond between you and any driver with even the slightest interest in anything climbing related. Standing with a thumb out, the huge rucksack would be dumped in front of you, upright with your rope strapped under the lid, the colour carefully chosen to be as bright as possible. Colour was the number one consideration when buying a rope for the hitcher, placed well above safety and even price, because hitching was the way to go for saving money. Totally free, I can’t even guess the amount I must have saved on transport. Hitching made travel possible. It wasn’t just about getting from A to B – I met some really cool people, thousands of them. 

Hitching may have had no cost financially, but it wasn’t all plain sailing, or everyone would’ve been doing it. Regularly stuck on some random middle-of-nowhere road there was plenty of time to catch up on my diary and fill in the details. 

September 1987

Rain on my face woke me at 8.30 and I lay there awhile but people were beginning to see me and I felt like a tramp. First lift was with a piss-head, dirty lorry driver in a crap truck who talked sexist rubbish but took me to a good spot. Next an executive stopped and took me into the centre of town. After some scran the next lift was off a forty-year-old boffin type who already had another hitcher in the car who was a seventy-five-year-old bookshop owner. They waffled on and made me feel stupid. The driver took the book guy all the way home and we went in for a cuppa and a look around his library, but it was going to be a long stay so I bailed. Back on the road a total lad picked me up, but he was knackered, I couldn’t believe how tired he was and he kept falling asleep – he even asked if I could drive for him (I couldn’t drive back then). Eventually it became insane and he was swerving all over the M6 at 75 miles an hour. I had my hand on the wheel most of the time and at last escaped at Penrith. I wonder if he died straight after setting off again. Five seconds later a doctor picked me up and explained the best drugs to take to die and how much alcohol was needed. Apparently a bottle of vodka is enough on its own for most people. He dropped me at Scotch Corner, a bastard place from where to hitch and I waited half an hour in the pissing rain until a Welsh guy stopped who was a painting seller. He dropped me in a crap spot that needed a two-mile hike to fix in the rain before getting picked up by a Norwegian weirdo hippie type playing amazing music. Next lift was with a climber who had done loads of cool things like Resurrection and Left Wall. They left me at a motorway roundabout, so no stopping. There was no way I was ever going to get a lift especially as it was dark now so I had to walk four miles in the gutter to a service station which nearly killed me. By the time I made it I was starving but it was shut and I had no food. I found a sketchy bivvy under a bridge but didn’t sleep much as there were lots of people walking by, but since it was pouring down and windy it would have to do …

Text adapted from chapter eight of Beyond Limits.

Beyond Limits was published on 14 November and was featured in UKC's round-up of the best climbing books of 2014Signed copies of the book can be bought direct from Vertebrate Publishing.

Watch the author video interview ...

Keith Sharples in conversation with Steve McClure from Vertebrate Publishing on Vimeo.


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