Steve McClure Flashes Impact Day (E8 6c)

© Neil Gresham

Continuing his excellent run of form, Steve McClure has flashed Impact Day (E8 6c) (E8 6c) on Pavey Ark in the Lake District. For Steve, the E8 6c grade falls into the bracket of 'relatively safe but hard' and as such, had been a candidate in his mind for a flash attempt.

Steve clipped into one of the pegs and surveying ahead  © Neil Gresham
Steve clipped into one of the pegs and surveying ahead
© Neil Gresham

The route was first climbed by Dave Birkett and features sustained, bold climbing on crimps and relies heavily on pegs. In 1999, Ben Bransby came heartbreakingly close to onsighting the route and fell near the top. In more recent times, Hazel Findlay decked out on the route, luckily walking away with cuts, bruises, and whiplash. For Steve, a lot of things had to fall into place to set off on a flash attempt:

'It's not just like turning up at a roadside sport crag. I knew I'd eventually make it there but there is only so much you can push for it to happen, then it's about being up for it when the stars align. As for the style; onsight, flash, headpoint… I'm looking for what is going to give me the most fulfilling challenge; I want to be pushed as close to my limit as possible. But I'm realistic about danger and risk, and for this route I needed to know a little about the bottom, just to know how the holds were. Good chance I would have onsighted it, though maybe not. I'm absolutely happy with my style. To work it and headpoint it would also have been great, though I'd have been taking the easy route really.'

The gear on the route is low down and the moves above are long. A fall from these would involve clattering down ledges and tumbling down the crag. Neil Gresham, Charlie Woodburn, and Adrian Nehams were at the crag and warned Steve about the start. He watched whilst the trio worked the moves, noting the long move where there only appeared to be one foothold:

'I knew I'd have to come up with something else, but convinced myself that I'd find a way or back off.'

Others have come close, but this was the first flash of the route.  © Neil Gresham
Others have come close, but this was the first flash of the route.
© Neil Gresham

Steve recounts his experience in full below:

'Glancing upwards the top of the crag beckoned, only a few metres above. White chalk patches on dark rock showed the way; from years of experience, I could tell there was enough. I just needed to keep it together. A quick shake on a pair of edges then upwards with a steady flow on positive crimps. Small feet but all in the right place. I even stole a moment to feel the bite of the cool rock into my skin and how lucky I was to have been in the right place at the right time. Small edge with the left, mono with the right, then a looooong reach with the left to the top…but it wasn't quite the top. 'Go again' I heard from Charlie. But there was no 'go again' for me, my feet were already on the highest holds and my body at full stretch. I dropped down and re-assessed, then moved back up and tried reaching with the other hand. Nope, down again, and back to the first method, which remained stubbornly wrong. "It's not gonna work", well, it might, but quite probably not, too risky, but perhaps that IS the way? I sagged again, a sudden realisation that things were quickly going south. And everything had been going so well; the hard start, the crimpy wall, the cruxy boulder problem. I'd taken in the run-outs and climbed well. Maybe I'd dropped my guard. Now there was maybe 15 seconds before my arms filled solid and my fingers began to uncurl, that horrible moment when you go from being capable of moves, to just hanging on; pinned to the wall waiting now for the inevitable, cursing your missed opportunity and knowing that you should have just gone for it. I could hear it in the voices of Charlie and Neil, at first all positive and full of excitement; "Go again and you've done it…. Go on, you're in", now as they watched my elbows rise I could hear the tension in their voices tinged with the realisation that 'Oh shit, he's blown it!'

'The clock was running, last chance. Left or right? I chose right. Right or wrong? This surely wasn't the approved sequence.  I needed another foothold to get the height and scanned where it needed to be, searching for anything, and then expanding my search wider and wider to the fringes of usability. And there it was, a tiny nubbin, unchalked and unbrushed and unused, but just enough to make the move. As I pulled into the slab I heard the relief in Neil's voice; "he's done it," but it barely registered as I clawed at the rock, searching the surface for enough to keep me on, my entire vision focused down onto a 1-foot square patch of lumpy rhyolite that surely must have something. "No no no no no no no…" Right arm fading I began toppling backward, like an avalanche just beginning its downward journey, ever so slowly at first but picking up pace. Then like voices underwater I could hear "out right mate, out right, out right" and as I reached the point of no return, I finally spot it and my fingers lassoed the chicken head. And then another for the other hand, good holds but barely in my exhausted state. Even then, knowing that surely I had enough to finish, it still seemed a massive effort to finally stand in safety. Now that was close, and that euphoric feeling of just getting something by the skin of your teeth washed over me. But strangely it remained slightly tinged in the knowledge that I'd kind of fallen apart at the final hurdle. Unlike other routes I've done recently where I kept my shape right to the limit, this one had me turning to jelly on the finishing line and I couldn't help but think I'd been handed this one with a decent chunk of luck!

'But where was the 'luck'? And was that final move the crux? Rewind back a few days, sitting in a very wet Sheffield, and desperate to climb with a few days free from work. The forecast was good for The Lakes and awful for The Peak, an unusual state, and so missing the mountains I headed up alone, just to do whatever. Neil informed me the crags would be wet so I hammered myself on a 7-hour mountain bike ride over the summits. For the next day, the plan became Neil, Charlie and Adrian would be at Pavey, working the top of Impact Day, and various projects on whatever was dry. Intent on climbing, desperate for that beautiful movement over mountain rock, I joined them with my trusty self-belay device and top-roped up on Astra (E2 5c), Fallen Angel (E4 6a) and others I'd done many years before. Then I got the shout, "it's dry mate, you should give it a crack". And with that, I could feel the inevitable stacking up. This was a big route, a hard route, with a famously hard and dangerous start, especially for the short. My legs were tired, my shoulder sore, and my middle finger tweaky. I'd not done much onsighting, my head was not ready….But I already knew there was no option other than to try. The route was dry and clean, chalked from Adrian's working, they knew the gear and were happy to belay, and spot, and I trust these guys; they are motivating and on the same wavelength. Conditions were great. Basically, it was now or never, literally! And this is the real 'luck', that everything fell into place right there at that moment. But they say you make your own luck and that much I really believe. I might have got a tad lucky as I clawed at the holds at the top but the crux of routes like these is making it happen, to put yourself in the place and to take it on when chance comes your way.

'Lucky or not, what I do know is I owe the team for this one, Adrian Nelhams, Charlie Woodburn and Neil Gresham. When you are climbing it's you versus the rock, but sometimes there is a lot more to it. It may be your fingers on the crimps, but there is a guy on the other end of the rope that you trust, and a vibe that is willing you to succeed. Cheers guys.'

Steve has been ticking off many hard trad routes recently. Earlier in the month, he bagged ascents of The Final Round (E9 6c) (E9 6c) at Dovedale, which he thought weighed in at E8 and Do You Know Where Your Children Are? (E8 6c) (E8 6c) at Huntsman's Leap in Pembroke. When people think of Steve, they usually think of his sport climbing prowess which has been extremely well documented for a couple of decades, but he's consistently been one of the UK's top trad climbers. Steve told us:

'I'm really motivated at the moment, a lot of people are after the last year. There is a desire to be out in the wild open spaces, taking in the views and the fresh air. But I've always been motivated by trad climbing. I began as a trad climber, right from a young age.

'Both sport and trad are amazing, but I right now I have this desire to be up in the mountains or on the sea cliffs. We forget sometimes that The UK really has so much to offer.'

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Steve McClure is one of the best rock climbers in the world, having climbed the hardest sport route in the UK at 9b, numerous new routes at the grade of 9a and onsighted many at 8b+. Despite being better known for his...

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24 May, 2021

Doubly impressive after all the poor weather over the last few weeks, I'm going to have to re think my excuses!

25 May, 2021

That's a good read. We all recognise that last move feeling, even if not at that grade or with such a long fall attached.

25 May, 2021

It is good- I don't seem to see so many accounts of climbs that really get you into the protagonist's head these days. And yes, that's one of the things about rock climbing that's always appealed to me, the way we can all relate to each other's experience despite our different levels.

25 May, 2021

Great read, impressive ascent. Realising when an opportunity presents itself and seizing it!

25 May, 2021

Good analysis from Steve. A fine effort!

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