INTERVIEW: Steve McClure on Rainman 9b

by Natalie Berry - UKC 05/Jun/2017
This news story has been read 19,661 times

As reported earlier, Steve McClure finally ticked his long-term super project at Malham Cove to establish the UK's first 9b, which he has appropriately named Rainman. The line starts up Raindogs 8a, negotiates the crux of Rainshadow 9a, then leads up Batman 9a/+ before finishing up Bat Route 8c and also incorporates some new ground. The line's working title was The Easy Easy - a play on 'La Dura Dura' 9b+.

photo
Steve McClure passes the crux on the successful redpoint attempt
© Ian Dunn

Rainman replaces Steve's previous longer-term project at Malham Cove, Overshadow 9a+ - which he climbed in 2007 and was later confirmed by Adam Ondra at 'hard 9a+' - as the hardest sport route in the UK. Steve invested roughly 42 days into Overshadow over a period of four years, whilst Rainman required over 100 sessions spanning ten seasons since 2010. With this ascent, Steve became the first British climber to achieve the grade of 9b.

We sent Steve some questions now that he's had time to catch his breath...

'They take a part of your life, and they will be with you forever. I'll look back on my life and I'll see the big redpoints, I think I'll be pretty pleased.'


When did you first consider linking these routes together to form 'The Easy Easy' project?

I think it was back in 2010 I abbed down what I always figured was THE line of the crag, right up the middle, the blankest, hardest, most pure. I'd noted it on my first visit many years ago, before I'd even climbed Raindogs. The line was basically the straight version of Rainshadow (which logically moves left after the crux into better holds). I bolted it and played on it. Maybe 10-12 metres of hard climbing, perhaps 8c+ in its own right, crimpy and technical, lots of options but all small. It took me a while to figure it out.

After a few seasons I was fully involved, it was obviously just SO good. Just so intense, a complete sprint of total difficulty. A single good hold would ruin it, and desperate right to the end, with an all-out lunge to a sent-from-God sloper, which only works with a miraculous thumb catch. It was a joy to try and felt like a gift.

But it was too hard for me to link from Rainshadow. To the junction it's 8c+, the rest in-between is poor. It was out of my league. So I opted for a Silver Medal and went for the obvious 'training' route, of linking this new section from Batroute rather than Rainshadow. It actually makes sense when you look at it. Batroute is 8b to the junction, with a very good knee-bar rest, so the new section was attacked feeling 'relatively' fresh. But it still took a whole season! It felt a big notch up on Rainshadow. I gave it 9a/+. It was a filler-in really, a stepping stone. I guess now it's not really a route. It came first, but is demoted to a link!

Describe the line briefly. How many moves roughly - do you know?

It's 8a into Font 8A into 8c+; or 8c+ into 8c+; or 8c+ into Font 7C+ into Font 7C+, whichever you prefer, all with the top 8a bit of Batroute chucked in. The new bit is 22 hand moves.

You fell off multiple times on the last hard move. How do you find the motivation to keep giving 100% when you hit a stopper point like that?

It was tough. Harder than I thought it would be. I've been here before, a lot of times, but somehow this felt different. I fell off the top of Northern Lights ten times over five days, The crux swing of Mutation maybe twenty times, Overshadow a lot of times. But I think with those routes I felt I had time. They'd not been right on the limit. I guess I knew I'd do them, it was just a question of when. With Rainman I felt like a window had opened that perhaps I'd never get back, years roll away from you. I'm 46. Was this the chance? I didn't even expect the chance to ever arrive. It caught me by surprise and I could hardly believe it was happening. The season slipped through my fingers as continuous great conditions tumbled into high humidity and soaring temperatures. I fell from the last move, but then fell from a move after that I never thought I'd drop! Then another four times I fell from the 'old' last move. It was mentally straining knowing I had to be 100% to get up there to be in that zone of success or failure. A zone which is maybe only five moves long, that's where it will be decided, but to get there required full commitment.

The resting, the warm up, the prep. Then Raindogs, climbed smoothly and then a bridged rest at the top of Raindogs, shaking arms and mentally getting it together. Raindogs is 8a, it's never easy! The Font 8A crux bulge weighs on the mind. I dropped that many times, and if you drop it you are nowhere, and you've burned a go. You get three goes a day, if you are lucky! Through that and it's into a poor kneebar. I'm guessing some people may not even bother with it. Again a short while to prepare, then you're into 8c+, it has to be perfect and at last we're in that zone where you'll find out what happens.

'Route names are hard. Sometimes they're the crux.'

You mention it took you longer than Overshadow and that you broke the 100 day barrier! Did you approach this route differently to routes you've done in the past? (either in tactics, training, diet etc?)

Only Overshadow took 'work' everything else I knew would go with whatever random stuff I was doing. There had never been any structure, little training even. Overshadow took a bit of knuckling down, some fingerboarding. For Rainman there was a lot more. Structured training, specificity, but to be honest I think I'd have moved that way anyway. It's the in thing these days! And as my family life has become more busy (2nd child arrived in 2012) it made sense to prioritise more focused training sessions over lots of days out climbing whatever I fancied.

photo
Steve McClure on Batman 9a/+ - an intermediary project that shared this move
© Tim Glasby

I also watched what went into my body, not trying to loose weight, no calorie counting, but I ditched wheat for a few months when it counted which felt better overall. Alcohol abandoned too. It makes a difference. April and May this year and last I've felt great. But funnily enough, it seems not great enough to carry on! I'm scoffing a pizza now with a beer.

On the day you ticked it you fell off and thought you'd botched your chances. You then walked up to the top of Malham to compose yourself and did it next go. This is similar to what Ben Moon did before doing Rainshadow (UKC interview). Is there some sort of magic power that you feed off up there? (there's a Harry Potter joke in there somewhere!) Why do you do this and what goes through your head when you go off on a wander before a redpoint?

It was just random. I've not walked over the top on a climbing day before. But this day was different. First of all I was pretty gutted after my first go. Conditions were really good, but the crag had been in the sun a while. Paranoid the wind would drop, because it does often, I rushed in a go, but the rock was warm. I fumbled the last move again and felt I should have had it, but that I'd blown it. First go is usually the best. I should have waited. The forecast for the coming days is awful (you may have noticed). The crag could be wet; no one would be coming. It was over. I'd screwed it up when it was handed to me on a plate simply because I was impatient! It was 5pm. I figured I had just two goes in me. My partner Simon Lee figured the same on his route, so we had hours to kill. He had a kip! I went for a walk. It was utterly beautiful, like totally stunning. The sort of air clarity that makes your heart fly. I just sat and breathed it in. But to be fair, I still didn't fancy my chances. Maybe that was it, pressure off!

You documented your redpoint attempts heavily on Facebook and Twitter. Did this help you in some way, as a sort of cathartic release by sharing your frustrations? I guess you wouldn't have had this opportunity many years ago on other top end projects.

Ha yes. That's a thing...Me and any newfangled stuff. I'm hardly down with the kids. But a while back someone suggested an 'athlete page'. Easy to set up, I wondered if I'd use it, but it's really useful, I see it as a way to talk to lots of my friends at once; people who I have not seen for years, people I maybe only met once, and often they reply. I guess there will be many I don't know, but it feels genuine. I'd struggle to use it to big myself up. This journey in particular has been an eye opener, with so many people saying they really appreciated the posts. Social Media, it's here to stay, and it has some great uses. But I'm still not great at it. I figure if you have something that you think people genuinely want to hear, like I figured my friends out there would really want to know what I was up to, then it's a good thing. It's when people feel the need to put stuff on, anything, just because that's what people do to be in the game. What you had for breakfast, what colour your pants are, do people care.would you care…no. So don't bother.

Rainman seemed like the obvious name... but why not The Hard Hard?

Route names are hard. Sometimes they're the crux. I like short names, because if you choose a long name it gets shortened anyway. One word, two max. Rainman is the obvious name, and it's a good one. Sure, it's not 'Revelations', 'Equinox', or 'Evolution', but it makes sense. I'd originally called it The Easy Easy, just as the Dura Dura 9b+ was being done in Oliana, Spain (The Hard Hard), because this was likely to be a path in comparison.

You mention the 'scene' at Malham having helped you. Do you prefer to have an audience and friends around, rather than a quiet crag?

I like it quiet, but not deserted! I'm certainly not an audience kind of guy, but good crag banter really adds to the day. This year in particular has been very quiet, but always a few sound people there. The crag is something very unique and special, I think it draws in like minded people. Everyone there is on the same wavelength. We all are involved in the same game, we all know someone is out there fighting to the limit on something they have been trying for ages. When I lowered down to see everyone, Jordan, Ian Dunn, Big Al, Rich Waterton and so many more, it felt like a bonding experience.

But it has to be said, I owe a lot to the Sheffield team this year: Paul Reeve, Simon Lee, Zippy, Rab, Keith. Without these guys, particularly Paul and Simon, I really don't think I'd have done it.

Once you do something like this that's taken so long, do you feel a bit disappointed in some way that it's over, or restless perhaps?

Give me a chance! This is new, I don't know. Though I didn't exactly spend my whole life on the project, just a month or two max per year, it was always there, tickling in the background. Last year while on holiday with the kids in France near the coast; its 35 degrees and I'm doing a fingerboard session on a chopped down Beastmaker hanging from a tree. Why? Because there is this route, I won't be on it for 3 months, but when I do I need to be good enough for it. Will I now fizzle out? I don't think so. I think I 'need' the workout, the feeling. I was just giving it an excuse.

photo
Steve McClure on Batman 9a/+
© Tim Glasby

You are also an outstanding onsight climber. Which do you prefer: redpointing or onsighting? Which gives you more satisfaction? I suppose you could consider it in the short and long term?

Well that's a question. I love onsight climbing, and ironically I think I'm better at it. I think I like it more. However, the two styles are just so different. With a redpoint a relationship is formed. But for me I divide my two preferences into either onsight, or the long-term, those really big jobs, 20 days or more. They take a part of your life, and they will be with you forever. I'll look back on my life and I'll see the big redpoints, I think I'll be pretty pleased.

Who do you think could be contenders for a second/third ascent? British or otherwise...

Ondra, Megos. These two are the guys, because they love it here. They get it. They will probably crush it. It would be nice to see. Will Bosi from the UK, maybe Jim Pope. These guys are ready!

'After Rainshadow I said that would be my limit, then Overshadow I said I'd never go harder. Now I'm saying it again…'

Is there room for any more super links at Malham?

Yep, but not many! I've certainly grabbed the best!

Are you still - in your own words - 'weak' ? ;)

Yes, relatively of course. Ask me to lift a bag of cement and you'll laugh and on various strength tests I come up badly. Apparently, with my finger strength I should be climbing 8c. I'm not making that up, it's based on real data compared to a lot of people. Time to get my act together...

People notice that you wear exclusively 3/4 length trousers. Are they the key to climbing hard? Why not shorts or trousers?

Actually it does vary! I've got some Marmot trousers that weigh nothing but seem totally indestructible, I wore them all through the colder weather. Shorts are a disaster, my knees get bashed to bits, but my legs are too skinny to be allowed out.

Give us one tip for improving redpointing - maybe the biggest thing you learned along the way with Rainman?

It's easy to convince yourself that it's not going down, and then you've made yourself another hurdle. Once it feels like you could have done it, once you've been up there close, then it will happen...believe it.

What's your next goal? (9b+ before 50?)

I'll never climb 9b+! But after Rainshadow I said that would be my limit, then Overshadow I said I'd never go harder. Now I'm saying it again…

Steve is sponsored by: Five Ten, Rockcity, Marmot, Petzl and is a BMC Ambassador.

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