We caught up with climbing legend Steve McClure at Sheffield’s popular indoor climbing wall, The Foundry. One of the world’s top climbers, a champion sports climber, a pioneer of hard sports climbing with over 30 first ascents to his name, Steve also lectures, coaches and travels the world to climb routes that have not been repeated by anyone else.
What’s your earliest memory of climbing?
My earliest memory of climbing is probably my earliest memory of anything. My parents would take me out every weekend and at least one evening after school in the spring and summer to climb around Teeside where I grew up. It wasn’t as much about climbing back then as it was about just being outside. I was always the kid who wanted to climb the rock that looked the hardest.
Sheffield has been famous for climbing for a long time. Did your parents ever bring you here in those early years?
Actually they didn’t. I used to read about Sheffield in magazines. I knew it had the biggest variation of climbs of anywhere in the country, that the best climbers lived here and that it was a city that outdoors people flocked to. But it wasn’t until I came to university that I got my first experience on the limestone and gritstone routes that Sheffield is so famous for. I’ve never looked back. In my mind Sheffield is the place to live.
What’s your greatest sporting achievement so far?
My proudest achievement is the first free ascent of Overshadow (9a+) in 2007. It was the year after my daughter was born, which as a lot of people know is generally not the time that you have the reserves to push limits. Locally it’s probably Mutation out on Ravenstor in the Peak District. It’s been suggested by others to be grade 9a+ and so far is unrepeated.
What inspired you to choose the name Mutation for the Ravenstor route?
I try to choose names that will motivate and inspire people. ‘Mutation’ was an extension (or mutation) of Jerry Moffat’s ‘Evolution’ (8c+). A bouldering route I named out in Cheedale was an extension of someone else’s route named ‘Pedigree Chum’ (8c+), so I called my 9a+ first ascent ‘Finest Pedigree’. The person who does the first ascent gets to grade and name it – although the grading is always subject to peer review. (That’s if anyone else can get up them – six of Steve’s first ascents in the Peak have never been repeated.)
You’ve climbed all over the world but you describe Sheffield as the “world’s climbing hub”. Where are your favourite places to climb around the city?
Sheffield has three big indoor climbing walls, which is testament to this growing scene. Indoor climbing seems to fit with people’s lifestyles much more than crag climbing nowadays, but I’d always advocate getting out and spending a day in the Peak. For families, there’s nothing better than Stanage – I must have taken the kids out there 30 times this year. To stretch yourself and train hard, then it’s Ravenstor. But there are thousands of little-known climbing routes around the city just waiting to be explored. It’s all on your doorstep.