Steve McClure returned from a week-long New Year trip to Chulilla with an impressive list of routes above 8a - including an 8b+ onsight with Take Okame. The numbers added up to 12 grade 8 routes as well as a few 7c+/8a's.
Despite having focussed on trad and multipitch climbing in recent years - with ascents up to E10 7a/8b+ with Choronzon - Steve decided to check out Chulilla after hearing reports of its unique, technical style of sport routes. The experience lived up to expectation for Steve, as he told UKC:
"Often sport climbing can be quite a transient experience; the actual ascent, with amazing movement on perfect rock, is usually brilliant, but the memory quickly fades. Trad climbing is different, with routes being more of a journey and the memory burning deep. However, the sport climbing at Chulilla was something special."
A different kettle of fish to the 'new-school' preference for steep and pumpy climbs, Steve enjoyed the puzzling sequences and long routes which tested the mind as well as the forearms:
"The climbing really is amazing for the movement-based technician; not so steep, tiny footholds, lots of options and routes are long too, often 45 or 50 metres, so you are in the zone forever. The routes at Chulilla are amongst the best I’ve ever done, and some of the fights I endured are still clear in my mind way after the actual ascent."
Having not been on a sport trip for nearly a year and a half, Steve claimed that he was "just out to play", but his determination got the better of him:
"No thought of performance; the trip was more about all the ingredients: a beautiful place, great team of mates, nice accommodation, good food, sunshine, and some good climbing mixed in. I’d have been happy with a bunch of 7b’s. But once I got involved in the climbing I couldn’t help myself with so many routes to go at. Something I noted about how to get up these kind of routes though; what strength is required? Stamina, power, finger strength, flexibility? They all come in handy, but it’s all about the fight: tenacity! I fought so hard on some climbs, snatching success when I was well beaten, when I should probably have shouted ‘take’, but hung in until the bitter end, another option appearing at the last second or a smidgen of recovery in exploding forearms. Not sure how you train for that!"
"The only drawback was days were too short for the length of the climbs! We were only managing 4 routes a day, and there is so much to do! I climbed well for me, with a nice bunch of 8’s, though in terms of news it’s not worth really recording compared to the efforts of the new generation, though maybe not so bad for the 45 year-old dads team."
Steve is believed to be one of only two British climbers to have onsighted 8b+; Tom Bolger onsighted L Mens 8b+ at Montsant in 2011. Steve's first 8b+ onsight came in 2002 with Indian Summer at Kilnsey, followed by an impressive flash of the epic tufa route Tom et Je Ris 8b+ in the Verdon Gorge in 2013.