Re-defining Limits

At 24 minutes past 8 on the evening of Sunday 4th June Steve McClure finally clipped the chains at the top of his ‘Easy-Easy’ project to create Britain’s hardest sport route. Here Steve reflects on his extraordinary seven year journey to explore the limits of climbing performance


The very first time I visited Malham Cove I stood underneath Raindogs and stared up beyond the finishing chains into the future. A line of immeasurable difficulty, right in the centre of the Cove, soared directly towards the finishing ledge 40 meters above. It crossed the most difficult terrain and the blankest of rock; impossible to comprehend. Twenty years later I tied in ready for an attempt on this line. Twenty years of experience, training, blood, sweat and tears all led up to that moment. It would be the hardest route of my life, by far, should I succeed.

But I didn’t. And I knew I wouldn’t. The route was beyond me. That was back in 2015, already in my fifth year of effort. I was trying the route, but knew my place in its ranking. I’d fallen into the process, accepting failure as part of the deal. My own words hung in my mind; “It’s all about the journey”. Too true, I would learn from this route, get fit, get strong, have fun days out in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I didn’t have to actually complete it. And the words of Dave MacLeod seemed particularly relevant: “If you’re not trying something where you could fail then it isn’t hard. And I almost know in my mind if I’m sure I can do whatever I’m trying, then it probably isn’t hard enough to be really important”.

And Hazel Findlay: “It’s easier to always try routes within your grade because you can protect yourself from failure. But if you want to grow you don’t just have to accept failure, you have to seek it out. Then when you meet ‘failure’ enough you start to call it by another name”. Well, it seemed I had sought it out and met it head on, but hadn’t come up with a better name quite yet.

The ultimate route

Well, my ultimate route anyway. For a start it’s on the greatest sport cliff in the UK; great on a world scale. The rock at Malham is solid and compact, the climbing technical and intricate, the scenery quiet and beautiful. There are few finer places to be, regardless of who you are and what you want to do. And there are few finer places to find your ultimate route. My first visit way back in 1995 was to climb Raindogs, the undisputed classic 8a. I remember thinking Raindogs looked like a piece of cake, with big holds everywhere. And so I set off on what I excitedly thought could be my first 8a on-sight, only to instantly fall off after all the holds had disappeared.

The problem with Malham is most holds are upside down, which explains why everything looks so easy as you peer up at an apparently hold covered wall! After my failed on-sight Raindogs took four days of effort including two close calls where I fell off actually hanging from the belay. Perhaps the only route in the world where the last move is a wild slap to the chain! So I should have spotted a trend, which similar to the DIY rule states; ‘However long you thought it would take should be multiplied by at least three’. I found the style tough, not the classic Peak limestone ‘get a tiny crimp and pull down hard’ style. But slowly it grew on me, how could it not? The routes are brilliant and the concentration of hard routes is about as good as anywhere in the world. In 2003 I got stuck into an unclimbed route above Raindogs. Almost my dream line, this old Mark Leach project escaped left where it got hard, but it was one of the hardest and most amazing climbs I’d ever been on. When I finally clipped the belay after about 21 days of effort I was well and truly in love with the place. I guessed this ascent of Rainshadow (9a), would be my personal high point. But the good thing about climbing, or bad thing depending on which way you’re looking at it, is that the challenges just never end! In 2007, also at Malham, I made the first ascent of Overshadow, at 9a+ the hardest sport route in the UK. Surely that was as hard as I could ever climb. But again I was already looking for the next challenge. In 2010 I bolted a new section of climbing, the direct on Rainshadow. THE line, the line I’d spied years ago, the line of the future.


You can read the full article in Issue 140 of Climb on sale now

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