Steve McClure – BMC ambassador and all-round rock wad – has just repeated the hardest trad climb in Pembroke: Choronzon (E10 7a), and also ticked Muy Caliente! (E9/10 6c). We find out the details.
Choronzon on Range East in Pembrokeshire was first climbed by Neil Mawson last year (see video below). This mega route takes a swaggering line up an intimidating overhanging wall. If bolted, it would weigh in at a pumpy 8b+. But it’s not: you have to fiddle your own gear in, giving it the huge trad grade of E10. Time for a few questions.
Why did you decide to try it?
Pembroke was the first place that I was inspired to try climbing, so I’ve always had a thing about it, and I’ve always wanted to climb the hardest route there. I climbed the Big Issue (E9) and Chupacabra (E8), then Neil created Choronzon and said it was the hardest route there. That’s what I call a challenge. Neil also said it was super hard but not super bold. That suited me. I’m not interested in dying. I love placing gear and playing with risk, not death.
What’s the route like?
It’s a strange mixture of intimidating and relaxing. It’s a big, steep wall, but in a beautiful seaside setting. In techy terms, it breaks down into a bold, cruxy 7c+/8a then a shake-out and a cluster of gear. Then it's a nine-move Font 7b+ section to a pumpy gear placement. A few more tricky moves lead to a no-hands rest in a small cave. After that it's around E4/5 to the top.
What style did you climb it in?
I didn’t even try to flash the route; I went for a sport approach. These types of very hard trad/sport routes are hybrids; they’re not trad climbing in the conventional sense of the word. Trad climbing, for me, is when you climb from the bottom to the top, making it as hard for yourself as possible. For these routes, you should stack the odds in your favour and make them as easy as you can!
WATCH: Steve McClure repeat Choronzon on BMC TV
What was your first attempt like?
I abseiled it, checked it out, then did the moves on a top rope. Then I climbed it with rests in between the moves. Had it been a sport route, I’d have redpointed it straight away, but I went for a top rope and climbed it first go. It felt OK. Neil originally said it was probably 8b+ and I’d go with that. I probably should have gone for it then. Conditions were good (well, good for the UK: it was starting to rain). But since I needed a rest and another check of the gear, I decided to come back the next day.
How did day two go?
Of course, it pissed down all night and most of the morning. The whole cliff was wet and water was running out of all the cracks. We waited around and did some other climbing, then came back and abseiled down to check out the gear. It was absolutely soaking. I chalked holds, brushed, dried and casted magic spells to try and get it in condition.
Tell us about the ascent…
I convinced myself that it was OK by getting into a sport mindset. I persuaded myself that the places where I could fall would be OK. So in my mind this turned it into a sport route and even in the wet, I could give it a go. It was a right battle. I fought as hard as I’ve had to fight for ages. I almost fell off the English 2a move right at the top, it was just so slippery.
What style do you prefer? Hard sport or hard trad climbing?
I like both. With this style, I really like that you can just climb without worrying about dying. I like the technical challenge of placing gear, but I’m not interested in death routes.
I’m going to stay down here and cruise around, do some E6s and E7s. Then it’s back and into full child minding mode for the summer, with some training for the autumn season. I would like to have a pop at Muy Caliente (E10 6c) though…
WATCH: Neil Mawson climbing Choronzon BMC TV
UPDATE: Steve has just climbed Muy Caliente! (E9/10 6c) too. Time for a few more questions...
What’s the background to your ascent of Muy Caliente!?
I first tried it four years ago. I abbed in and tried the moves for a couple of hours. I was ready for the headpoint, then went away to do an E3 with a friend and he took absolutely ages on it and it got dark. Yesterday, I got back on it. The conditions and weather were amazing. I abbed it, shunted it, then did it.
Tell us about the climbing?
It’s an absolutely amazing route; a perfect pitch of climbing. It’s a runout 8a at the bottom, then gear (fiddly to place but good), then a crux section of 6-7m and it’s all over.
How did it compare to Choronzon?
It’s similar. But the crux is above very good gear. Choronzon has a harder crux above not so good gear, so the grades are about right.
I’ve only a few days left. I’ve got a couple of E5s and E6s to do down here, get back to some proper trad climbing, not this sporty trad stuff. Before I did Muy Caliente, we did an E1, an E4, and an E5, which was brilliant.
Are you running out of trad routes to try?
The hard bit is finding hard routes that aren’t death. There’s plenty of hard grit routes, but they’re all super-hard moves above spiky landings. I’ve got my eye on the Lakes next.
How about Echo Wall (Dave MacLeod’s super route on Ben Nevis)?
Well, I walked past it last May and thought, “Hell, he’s keen.” It was still covered in snow. I did think about having a look this year, but it’s still got snow on it. Fair play to Dave, it looks mega, but it’s a route for totally driven locals.
Steve McClure is a BMC ambassador.
WATCH: Steve McClure and Neil Mawson climbing in the Verdon on BMC TV
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