Ahead of our inaugural Boulduary campaign, we spoke to British climbing extraordinaire Steve McClure for this thoughts on all things bouldering
Ironically, Steve McClure doesn’t consider himself very good at bouldering – we’re sure this isn’t true, as McClure’s climbing record is impressive to say the least. Having conquered routes across the world, he tackled the UK’s hardest sport route last year as part of a project titled Rainman, which as yet remains a traverse climbed only by McClure. All of which meant that when we were spitballing ideas for our inaugural Boulduary, his name kept popping up as the guy to speak to. So, as we lace up our climbing shoes and clip on our chalk bags, McClure chats through all things bouldering, climbing and living a life more adventurous.
I went bouldering on Sunday at a place called Anston Stones. It’s a limestone place with craggy buttresses – I found myself drawn to this awesome long traverse of the crag, so went and tackled that before taking on an even longer one in reverse. The bouldering routes were made of about six moves while the longer one was 40 moves or more, which is what I’m drawn to. So I’m definitely a route climber at heart, but I do a fair bit of indoor bouldering these days, mainly thanks to the weather.
The difference between bouldering and climbing, in a nutshell, is a basically that bouldering is climbing without the use of equipment other than a chalk bag and a pair of shoes. It’s super simple, time-friendly and very social, though you don’t need anyone else to climb with if you don’t want to. The amount of times I’ve been bouldering out in the Peak District on a Saturday morning just because it’s so easy to do is incredible.
Very little of my climbing is focused on being a better climber. It’s just about me going climbing – when I’m bouldering, it’s not because I think it’s going to aid my wall climbing, it’s just because it’s my hobby. I’m going back out to Anston Stones today to try this long traverse that I spotted the other day and it’s not because I think it’ll make me a better sport climber, it’s because I thought, “oh, that looks cool”. Most of my climbing is done on the basis of just having fun.
Rainman was the longest time I’ve spent on one route by quite a long way. It was a huge investment and a really interesting journey that I went on. Basically, I’d climbed most of the hard routes in the UK and we’ve almost run out of virgin rock in this country, but I found this brilliant line that I knew straight away was going to push me and potentially would be too difficult. It’s at Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales – what made it really special was that I’d found something right at my limits because if it had been much harder then I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
I spent 128 days trying to climb this one route, which is far, far in excess of any route I’d ever tried before. I spent a long time working out the sequences and there were times where I’d break a handhold so I’d need to find a way round, then change my route. I learnt a lot about the process of climbing and how important the technical side of it is – you can’t just pull yourself up. I did have to get stronger though!
Everybody should be exposed to adventure. I think it’s important to put yourself in situations that you’re not familiar with, to test yourself physically and mentally. If you always stay within your comfort zone then you never expand as a human being. It doesn’t necessarily have to be adventure sports – you just need to push yourself. It could be delivering a talk to 100 people or writing an article, so long as it challenges you. It’s all about challenge.
What the media portrays as danger is often rubbish. The stuff that I do with my kids, and do by myself as well, has got very, very little danger around it – it might look dangerous but that just depends on your perception of danger. I mean, crossing the road is dangerous. Me top-roping my kids at Stanage Edge is not dangerous at all, and us going to the local bouldering wall is not dangerous at all. I don’t see it as danger – I see it as exposing them to fun things that are going to benefit them in later life.
Interview edited for brevity and clarity.