Last week, Steve McClure set himself the goal of completing the Yorkshire 'Triple Crown' in a day: to climb the three classic 8a+s The Groove at Malham Cove, Urgent Action (aka Under the Thumb) at Kilnsey and Supercool at Gordale. If this weren't hard enough, Steve also cycled between each route! He sent in the following account of the challenge.
The UK's three best sport routes, on the UK's three best sport cliffs. All 8a+. Quite a challenge. I guess I earned my crown a while back, but when I heard Andy Mitchell had climbed all three in a day, moving between them under his own steam (he ran!), I began to think this was the 'real' triple crown.
I guess the ultimate crown is all three onsighted in a day moving between them under your own steam. But that's not likely for many people. Second best could be all three onsighted or flashed in a lifetime, but I blew that on The Groove (the other two I got). But the 'in a day crown' still remained.
The great thing about climbing is that we find challenges on so many levels; regardless of personal standard we can all be playing the same game. Many people reckoned I'd find it a path, if you do a simple conversion: 9a+ climber on 8a+ routes = 8a+ climber on 7a+ routes, which would seem rather simple, but it's absolutely not like that and 8a+ is hard! I figured I would struggle. If I worked them to death maybe it would be OK, but I aimed for just a day of prep and then to go for it. I opted for a cycle transport, as a foot injury meant running wasn't possible. You make your own rules in this funny game after all! To add a little extra, the BMC were keen to film it for BMCTV, just to capture my fun!
So I turned up at Kilnsey on Tuesday, in 25 degrees full sun, with no memory of Urgent Action whatsoever, only knowing a crucial hold had just snapped off! After a relaxed warm up I worked it, then went for a redpoint, which fell first go. OK, so good prep there, I know I can do that one! Next job, the bike ride to Gordale. Looked simple on the map, but I began to wonder if my map was 100 years old. Halfway in, sunstroked and dehydrated, after 40 mins of off-road slogging I realised I wasn't where I thought I was. But still, what a ride, through beautiful Yorkshire scenery. If only this was the usual route to the crag!
Gordale crag was its usual incredible self. But at way after 3pm it felt a bit late. Prep lesson number 1: be faster! Supercool on my working go felt desperate, so many moves to remember, and sure enough on my first redpoint effort I forgot one, a crucial one after the crux, that had me spinning down the face. Next go, now in the full sun, it went by the skin of my teeth, and took basically all the skin off my fingers, not to mention all of my energy!
This was the prep day, and now I'd prepped both routes so far, though clearly this was not very good prep at all, and it was looking likely that in terms of preparing for Thursday my strategy was completely wrong; a bit like preparing for a bouldering competition by doing a full day of weight training just before starting. However, I now had two in the bag, and had to at least look at The Groove otherwise my prep day would have been a waste leaving one route still unknown. So why not go for it? Well, there were many reasons, not least of which would have been the route had baked in the sun all day and felt like a hot radiator. But of course, I had to try, didn't I? Double or quit. If it went I wore the crown, if it didn't I'd probably blown it completely for Thursday. Slithering I battled on, closer and closer, I was beginning to get hopeful, just a few metres to go…and then suddenly my arms just died. Where I'd normally recover there was nothing. At the famous 'horizontal break' I peeled off. It was over. And I was so tired it felt over for ever!
Back Thursday. Honestly? I didn't fancy my chances. Aching, wobbly legs, skin trashed. One rest day was not enough. Normally it would have been, but to have dug so deep into reserves takes a bit of climbing out of! Kilnsey again; Groundhog day, though this time armed with Keith Sharples as belayer, still suffering with a cold and not keen to climb. On Tuesday I'd had a normal day's climbing with my partner taking lots of time. Today we were leaving Kilnsey only 45 minutes after we'd arrived, Urgent Action in the bag. Better conditions, but confidence was not high, it felt desperate! My arms were like lead. And then the bike ride, a different route, longer but more simple I'd figured, but into the wind all the way with the odd shower thrown in. Not quite Tuesday's ideal weather.
At last I arrived at Gordale, which was apparently in a different season, being absolutely Baltic, 15 degrees and gale force winds had me shivering and teeth chattering all the way up. OK, the tiny edges felt better, but I'm not sure which way I preferred it. Still, number 2 in the bag, and we ran (I hobbled) away to the clearing skies to warm up.
Back to Malham. The same story: baking in the sun, body crumbling around me, and with a certain route to do. It felt all too familiar. Except this time it was my last chance. This was no prep day. If I didn't do it I'd have to wait till September at best, if I could even muster up the psyche to go for it all again. And I knew without doubt it was a one shot effort. I didn't even have enough energy to work the moves, just had to hope I could remember them all. And again, the half-height rest, that place where everyone recovers, I was barely hanging on: leg intensive, my legs were shot! Prematurely I was setting off, sprinting as the pump poured in. At the same spot as Tuesday I felt the same; basically my tank didn't have enough fuel in…but this time conditions were just that bit better, I could feel texture and bite. The crux went with little to spare, but the last 15 moves of pumpy climbing was a scrap to the limit, wobbling and shuddering my way up as planned sequences collapsed. Body sagging, holds out of reach, improvising and slapping with an out of time clock chiming the end. Somehow the belay came. What a buzz.
For some reason it didn't seem to matter if I failed or succeeded, if indeed I could have failed, as I'd succeeded in having a two truly incredible days out at three great crags with great friends, plus fantastic bike rides. We pick our own challenge, and then we accept it. What exactly is this challenge? I could have picked 3 8a's to make it easier, 3 8b's to make it harder, could have carried a bag of rocks on my bike, or just gone in the car. I could have prepped it properly, worked it into submission, but it was more fun to push it. If you want to play to the limit, sometimes it will be out of reach. The harder you play the more fun you'll have!