Steve McClure's extraordinary journey through the vertical landscapes of rock climbing has culminated in a truly remarkable milestone - conquering a staggering 1000 climbs graded 8a or harder. BMC's Claire Maxted gets Steve's reflections on this monumental achievement, as he takes us on a retrospective journey spanning 28 years.
How did the 1000 8a and above climbs come about?
Well, its started at #1, and eventually reached #1000! Way back I’d never have dreamed I’d climb that many. Probably at about 8a (and above) #900 I realised it would be nice to reach 1000! But I didn’t race to get there, just carried on as normal. Though I think maybe as I got close, I opted for 8a’s rather than 8c’s knowing an 8c might take a while, but I might get three or even four 8a’s in a day. It seemed like a cool target to get this year.
How long has it taken start to finish?
It’s taken 28 years! My first 8a was in 1995. That route was 'Zeke The Freak', which is actually 8b. It's worth noting that many climbers have climbed more 8a’s than 1000, and in a considerably shorter period of time. I was never rushing to 1000, or even aiming to ‘tick’ 8a’s. My 28 years of climbing 8a’s has also involved a lot of other climbing; trad, boulder, comp, DWS, big walling. I could probably have managed 1000 faster, but I would not change a thing.
How did you build up to your first 8a?
I took a very long time to get my first 8a. I barely clipped a bolt until I was 23 in 1993. I was a total traditional climber. Sport climbing was happening, in the magazines, it just felt a different world; too hard and radical! A friend took me to Rubicon Wall in The Peak, and after doing some trad, I had a go at a 7c+ sport route ('Let The Tribe Increase'). I failed to flash it. As expected, it was way harder than I was capable of. But then redpointed it an hour later. That blew me away!! To climb some thing THAT hard! I’d never really done any redpointing. But the real excitement was I knew I could go harder, I knew I could climb 8a, and 8a was absolutely reserved for the magazine stars!
Ironically, it took me a while longer to get my first 8a route - two years! I was still hugely psyched for trad, and also, not very good at the redpoint style, usually preferring to onsight things like classic 7b and 7b+ routes. I tried a few 8a’s but didn’t stick with them as they seemed so hard. I’d yet to learn how practice and refinement makes such a difference, and yet to really feel that buzz of climbing something really hard, being in the zone and moving perfectly!
Which 8a did you find the hardest or sketchiest?
Ironically the 8a which took me the longest was the one that I have undoubtably done the most; 'Raindogs' at Malham Cove. It was one of the first I tried, it looked easy from the floor and I went for the onsight, hitting the ground on rope-stretch as I fell off by the 2nd bolt! It took me another three more days to get the redpoint. It was my 49th 8a in October 1998, just a few days after I’d climbed Mutation (9a+). Little did I know that 'Raindogs' would become the start of my hardest route ever!
So, what was your 1000th 8a climb?
'Let The Tribe Increase'! It could have been many routes, but as I approached 1000, I planned it. This route had been upgraded from 7c+ to 8a since I first climbed it way back in 1993. Back then, my ascent had been the absolute start of it all, the moment I got into sport climbing. It was absolutely pivotal. It seemed like the perfect 8a to round off the journey. And the day was perfect, with my friend Mike who’d belayed my way back in 1993 back in the UK for a rare visit (he’s lived in the States for 20 years). It was just like old times. A really special experience. We caught it on film for BMC TV...
WATCH: Steve McClure's 1000th 8a on BMC TV
What have you learned about yourself and during this challenge?
It was only as I approached 1000 I figured I would actually reach that number. That got me looking back, remembering routes, places, people. What stuck out was the variation in climbing. Ironically many of the most memorable ‘8a’s’ were actually trad routes. The trad style has been core to my climbing forever. Climbing is more than just the climbing, it’s the package; getting out there in nature. It does not need to be hard.
What is next for you in 2024 and beyond?
Well, not another 1000 8a’s I’m sure. Someone suggested 1111 was actually the real number to aim for, so that’s a target! But I’d like to try something hard again, its been a while since I got stuck into a 9a or similar. I’m not getting younger, but reckon there is life in the old dog yet…
An extended interview with Steve will appear in the Spring 2024 Issue of Summit, landing on members doorsteps around 12 March.
WATCH: Why join the BMC? | Rock Climbing legend Steve McClure tells us why he values the BMC