"Time was ticking very fast and I was in a pumpy position facing a fall onto a sky-hook. If it fell off... I searched for a panic slap option." Steve McClure talks about doing something few have done, onsighting E8. Steve also offers his thoughts on climbing dangerous routes as a dad.
Sustained technical climbing, poor protection, run-outs and a high crux - what made you want to onsight this route?
Nightmayer has a crucial set of ingredients that made it the perfect choice to go for it, albeit on the limit. The route is on Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass. It's an amazing-looking route, in an amazing place, amongst some of the best routes in the country, if not the world. I love it up there. The climbing suits me: the type of holds and the sustained nature, usually without bouldery cruxes...
"It put me off! He falls miles, gets close to the ground. If anything watching this video was total anti-help!"
The grade felt right; that is, the sport grade, F8a. I've onsighted a lot of F8a's but they are never easy - I've fallen off a lot. But at that level there was a good chance. The crucial ingredient, though, was that it was not, theoretically, a really dangerous route. I knew people had fallen off it and not hurt themselves. I've never been into life-threatening routes. I'm pretty calculated.
How did watching the video of Nico Favresse make you feel about trying this route?
I probably saw that ages ago, and it put me off! He falls miles, gets close to the ground and isn't anywhere near the top of the crag. Nico is a great climber and this was a flash effort after abseil inspection with loads of beta and gear knowledge. If anything watching this was total anti-help! Actually I watched this again just the other day, and noticed that he has gear in which rips out. It must be the same as I had. If I'd known there was a chance it could rip I may have been far more scared up there!
WATCH: Nico Favresse takes a whipper on Nightmayer:
Talk us through the crux?
I can barely remember the crux, I was totally in the zone. And to be fair, I don't want to blow it for others who want the onsight. It's a really good challenge. There are not many like this, so involved, such a journey, and potentially not life threatening.
Any sketchy moments?
Mid-crux I was sure I was off. Some of the moves were out of balance and the holds not good enough. It wasn't that type of climbing where you feel secure and maybe monitor the pump, this was hard and sketchy and I felt absolutely on the edge a number of times. The very last section too was baffling. I was right up there, only maybe eight inches below the top but just could not move, my body position was all wrong and I could not generate any movement or momentum.
"These few seconds were amazing, and I guess this was THE experience for me, just a few seconds!"
Time was ticking very fast. I was in a pumpy position facing a fall onto a sky-hook. If it fell off... I searched for a panic slap option, found one, then somehow decided I needed to figure it out properly. I had just enough time to work out what was wrong, hunt for an answer and see it, then execute it at the final moment. These few seconds were amazing, and I guess this was THE experience for me, just a few seconds!
Talk us through the mental journey up the wall?
Mentally I was in a good place for this route. Perhaps too good. In fact, it worked in my favour. I'd underestimated how hard and how run-out it would be. If I'd known how close I would come to falling, maybe I'd have been well psyched out! But I was sure the bottom half would be OK, I'd convinced myself it would be totally fine, and was actually really looking forward to that. And so I'd kind of pushed the top part, clearly the hard part, into the back of my mind, to be pondered over later...
"If I'd known how close I would come to falling, maybe I'd have been well psyched out!"
Once I was below the real difficulties I was still confident. I'd seen it as F7c+ somewhere, and decided that's what it was going to be, and probably not hard at the grade since it was trad, maybe even F7c, the kind of grade I really should be fine on. This was despite the fact that everyone thinks it's solid F8a. It was a surprise to find it was actually really hard, and that I was absolutely going for it, 100% commitment. But once I'd set off there was no backing out, no bolt to grab!
Thoughts on skyhooks?
Very useful! On certain rock types they work surprisingly well. Obviously they are never gonna be bomber, and need a bit of skill to make sure they don't fall off. On the Cromlech, on bold routes like Lord and Right Wall, and on many other mountain crags, they are a bit of kit that I'd always carry. They can be lowered from fairly securely if things go pear-shaped and you find you've had enough!
Few people have onsighted E8 - what makes you want to do this?
The grade and number of people that have climbed this level is irrelevant completely. I'm just the same as tons of other climbers, out there looking for the right challenge that is going to give me that buzz. In terms of grade, this one is a hard one I think. I'm no expert, but the gear is fiddly. Some is hard to find and I missed stuff that everyone uses on headpoint. Physically it's tough, too. It won't be downgraded!
"I think of 'traditional' climbing as onsighting, particularly up in the mountains of Britain where it's like a journey of route-finding, pro-hunting and gear management"
Thoughts on onsighting v headpointing?
Totally different. Both are considered traditional climbing, but I'm not sure. Headpointing is often more like sport climbing as the unknown is removed. I think of 'traditional' climbing as onsighting, particularly up there in the mountains of Britain where it's like a journey of route-finding, pro-hunting and gear management. I've done a fair bit of headpointing, too, and it's like an even better version of sport climbing (as long as it's got enough gear!)
It seems that you’re on a bit of a trad mission lately?
Not really. I've just done two routes that made some news. Every year I do plenty. It's a style I love. But I'm not likely to climb much that is cutting edge, as many of the cutting edge trad routes are really dangerous. People only care about cutting edge stuff. Both the routes I did this year I've fancied for ages as they fitted what I was after - hard - but not death! It just took a while for conditions and everything else to fall into place. I got lucky for sure.
Thoughts on climbing dangerous routes as a dad?
Not sensible! But dangerous routes are never really sensible! Trad climbing is about weighing up risk and deciding if its worth it. My risk level is pretty low to be honest, like really low! But I may have pushed the boat out a bit more than I expected on Nightmayer!
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