REVIEW: Beyond Limits by Steve McClure

Beyond Limits, 106 kb
Ever since I started climbing Steve McClure has been a ‘household’ name. His achievements within the discipline of sport climbing are world-renowned and back here in the UK he has single-handedly dragged standards to a new level. It wasn’t until I started to sport climb more myself that I truly grasped the magnitude of his achievements and the greatness of the routes, lines and projects that he has climbed over the years – Mutation, Rainshadow, Northern Lights – plumb-lines on some of Britain’s finest cliffs.

Steve McClure on Rhapsody, E11 at Dumbarton Rock, 182 kb
Steve McClure on Rhapsody, E11 at Dumbarton Rock
© Keith Sharples

Yet in spite of these achievements his writing, which many will be familiar with through his regular column in Climb Magazine, has always been humble, modest, and if anything rather damning of his own ability. However, the big question for me was to whether this style would be transferable to a larger piece such as an autobiography. Furthermore, and this is going to sound quite damning, but a concern of mine when engaging with any climbing literature is that it is going to become too focused on the climbing – how would he fare?

Steve McClure climbing Mecca 8b+, Raven Tor, 148 kb
Steve McClure climbing Mecca 8b+, Raven Tor
© Keith Sharples
Steve McClure climbing Mutation, 9a Raven Tor
© Keith Sharples

Within the first chapter alone it is apparent that Steve isn’t about to spend the next 241 pages recounting the moves of Rainshadow hold-by-hold (thank goodness). Being branded a ‘sport climber’ there is, to those of a more traditional disposition, reason to believe that red-pointing/projecting routes is inherently boring.  Maybe it is, but not in the way that it is dealt with in this book and – most importantly – that is only a very small part of the moments explored and topics raised between the covers. What interested me was the processes, particularly the motivational processes, that Steve went through to get where he is today: throughout the first third of the book you can’t help but wonder how this self declared punter is going to rise to the forefront of British rock climbing.

The subtitle ‘A Life Through Climbing’ accurately describes the focus of the book - life. However, it’s not just life: it’s life’s ups and downs, issues of identity and belonging, who we are, our direction, our purpose… All of us have our highs and lows, all of us face challenges, and to me that was where this book really stood out. "How do you react when stuck in a rut?" , that is a question that is implicitly asked at several key points. I think many of us can look to decisions we have made at such times within our own lives and see their lasting effect stretch on to the present day. In Steve’s case, he was grounded through his inseparable connection with climbing and that is what has got him where he is today. His love for climbing, cemented through his own childhood, doing his first leads on the North York Moors, hitching for hours and hours simply to climb for the fun of it – that is the root of it all. Climbing has given him a lot and provided his life with a certain amount of direction, and this book could be considered something of a tribute to that.

Steve McClure in the desperate slate chimney groove of The Quarryman, 68 kb
Steve McClure in the desperate slate chimney groove of The Quarryman
© Tim Glasby
Steve McClure on Overshadow, 9a+ at Malham Cove
© Keith Sharples

Despite all this talk of philosophy and introspection, Beyond Limits is a pleasantly easy read. The chapters are of a shorter nature, making the pages very turnable. Steve’s voice – which he has very much mastered in written form – is honest, simple and matter of fact. There’s a strong but subtle sense of humour throughout the whole book, which I frequently enjoyed with a wry grin and a chuckle – he’s definitely a Yorkshireman. There are also moments of absolute hilarity, one moment in particular being the incident involving being…well…for want of a better way of putting it…being ‘caught short’ with the Delhi Belly and limited places to go… I won’t ruin the surprise; besides, the full story would probably be publishable (although it has clearly now been published).

Frequently self deprecating and very understated I found myself warm towards Steve's character. His levels of obsession when it comes to climbing don't mellow, but mature as times go by. It was particularly interesting to see the effect that climbing has had on his relationships and - more recently - his family life. Having two children only seems to have focused his drive and, whilst climbing still clearly means the world to him, there is now something more. It is this very human aspect that makes the book readable, irrespective of what type of climber you are or what grade you climb.


An insight into the life of one of Britain's most successful climbers, this is not just for the fanatical sport climbers, but a book to inspire us all. 

To read an extract published on UKClimbing in December 2014 click here, alternatively you can watch the following video interview by Keith Sharples.

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

What Vertebrate Publishing say about Beyond Limits:

Beyond Limits, 106 kb
Beyond Limits is the autobiography of Steve McClure, one of the world’s top rock climbers. From his childhood encounters with the sandstone outcrops of the North York Moors right up to his cutting-edge first ascents such as Overshadow (F9a+) at Malham and Mutation (F9a) at Raven Tor, Steve explores his deep passion for climbing and how it has dictated and shaped his life.

Introduced to climbing by his parents at an early age, Steve quickly progressed as a climber, developing a fascination with movement and technical difficulty. Rapidly reaching a high standard, Steve became torn between the desire to climb increasingly bold routes and his hesitant approach to danger, with a series of close calls forcing him to seriously question his motivations. Searching for a balance between risk and reward, he struggled to find his place as a climber.

Having dropped out of the scene, a chance encounter led to his discovery of sport climbing. Free from fear, Steve plunged headlong into this new style and surged through the grades. Pushing everything else aside, he allowed climbing to take over his life. He reached world-class levels of performance, but once again found himself searching for a balance between risk and reward, yet this time the risk was of losing what is truly important in life. As he searches for what really makes him tick, his climbing comes full circle and returns to where it started – climbing for the love of it.


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