Steve McClure: 5 things I wish I'd known about sport climbing when I started

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 15/03/2016
Who's the champ? Steve takes on Alex Megos. Photo: Alex Messenger.

When I started rock climbing I was just a kid and sport climbing wasn't even invented. I developed as a trad climber at the same time as sport climbing began to grow but I wasn’t interested. It didn’t seem like real climbing, and it seemed only for the elite: the super-climber. How wrong I was.

1 Sport climbing IS real climbing

I thought it was cheating at first; not the real deal. Many people still have this view and I think it's narrow-minded. Sport climbing is different, but it's part of climbing just like bouldering, indoor climbing, DWS and mountaineering are. Having so many different sides to our climbing makes it much richer.

2 Sport climbing will help massively with trad climbing performance

Sport climbing allows us to climb to our limits. Risk is much reduced, that’s the point, and this allows us to explore our physical limits and understand them. We know how long we can hang on for, and how hard we can pull, and how well our shoes stick on tiny edges. When trad climbing, most people always operate well inside their limits.

Imagine you are driving down a motorway when the petrol warning light pops on. It's no stress if you know you have 30 miles left in there, and you just passed a sign saying ‘services 15 miles’. You don’t bat an eyelid, just carry on concentrating on the driving. But if you don’t know your car ... how much is left? Panic! It's just the same on a trad route once those forearms start to get pumped - if you don't know your limits.

3 Multi-pitch sport climbing is amazing

When I started out, I thought it was all single pitch. Images in the mags showed honed dudes cranking on tiny edges on short, hard horrors. But there are a huge number of multi-pitch options, too, which cover huge distances, allowing you to get way up there with the minimum of fuss. Some of my most memorable experiences have been in this style.

Unfortunately we don’t have many in the UK, but in France, Spain, Croatia, Thailand and even South Africa there are some amazing multi-pitch sport climbing experiences to be had. 

4 Sport climbing is not only for top climbers

The climbing news paints a picture of top athletes and big numbers. It's intimidating. At first I thought I’d turn up at a sport crag and look ridiculous, but that wasn't the case. There are all levels of climbers at UK sport cliffs, all enjoying the routes in different ways.

For example, Malham Cove may be considered the premiere sport crag in the UK with many cutting-edge test-pieces and regular attendance by the stars, but there are many climbers who operate in the low 7s there too. That is the beauty of the sport: it’s all relative. A 7a climber going for his redpoint next to another climber going for their first 9a is having a similar experience. It’s the same thing: smaller holds maybe, but everyone is doing the same sport. It's not elitist at all.

5 Not all UK sport climbs are high grade

In some areas the sport climbing is certainly hard, but not everywhere. In the past, in the UK, sport climbing developed where there weren't any trad gear placements, which meant the routes were typically E5 and above, leading to mid-F7 routes or higher. Now that sport climbing has become more accepted in the UK, there are thousands of lower-level sport routes to be found all over the country. Sport climbing in the UK is now open to everyone.

Steve McClure climbs Britain's hardest climb - Rainman 9b. Watch on BMC TV:

WATCH Steve McClure make the second ascent of Choronzon, Pembroke's hardest trad route on BMC TV:

WATCH The UK's best sport climber meets the UK's best-known hard sport route, Hubble on BMC TV:


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