Steve McClure – Beyond Limits – Vertebrate Publishing

vpbeyondlimits_ofc485pxSteve McClure has been one of the UK’s outstanding climbing talents for years and his pre-eminence in sport climbing is undeniable. Now the talented blighter’s gone and written a damn good book too. So, family man, talented climber, writer, annoying git.

To read Beyond Limits is to immerse yourself in a welter of flash-pumps, flags, first ascents and flailing falls, because this is unapologetically a climber’s book, largely free of tiresome explanations about the basics of climbing. Cleverly however, McClure has managed to have his cake and eat it because, in this case, pandering to the cognoscenti hasn’t disqualified armchair climbers from enjoying Beyond Limits. McClure’s examination of his climbing life is a painfully honest examination of the compromises, injuries, soul searching and sheer hard work involved in becoming a world class athlete, rendering it accessible and riveting.

As with many offspring of climbing families, McClure moved quickly through the grades, leading hard extremes in his teens. What I found fascinating in the first third of the book was his lengthy struggle to find his niche in the climbing world. In spite of evidence to the contrary, he wasn’t interested in risk per se, leading serious routes only when happy that he was well within himself. He cogently questions the macho rationale underpinning bold climbing and decides it’s not for him.

It is during a long trip abroad that he undergoes a personal crisis that forces him to focus on what he wants to do with his climbing life. More interested in raves than run-outs, watching a relationship whither away and searching desperately for some kind of purpose, he pitches up more or less by chance at one of Thailand’s many beautiful beach-side cliffs. It is here that the sport-climbing bug really bites.

But McClure doesn’t display the innate confidence so common amongst the climbing elite. His is a long battle to prove to himself that he is worthy of the accolades that inevitably come his way. Thanks to some monastically frugal living and the dole, he has the time to build on his natural tenacity, strength and technique to the point where he is not only repeating the hardest routes but adding his own.

Self-effacement is very much part of McClure’s charm. I remember his sheer delight when Czech phenomenon Adam Ondra climbed McClure’s magnum opus, Overshadow, confirming it as 9a+ and suggesting it was hard for the grade. It’s as though McClure has always struggled to accept that he is genuinely world class. I’d venture to suggest that the rest of us were never in any doubt that McClure is the real deal.

McClure’s honest assessment of his attributes and flaws makes this as rigorous an examination of the climbers psyche as I’ve seen. He examines the self-doubt that follows a first ascent – is it really that good or hard? He is brutally frank about the fear that hamstrings his efforts for so many years and his unwillingness to concede his own talent. The other stabilising factors that make him the climber he is are a supportive partner, kids and his obvious passion for his beloved home in Sheffield. Piece by piece, we see McClure mature into a man happy in his own skin, confident in his own abilities and capable of dealing with the vicissitudes of a climbers life, the injuries, loss of form and motivation. It is an inspiring tale.

Finally, we see a man in mid-journey, with much more yet to give. Who knows where life will take Steve McClure, but while climbing will be a big part of it, we can assume it won’t be the full picture. This is a fine book, frank, funny and full of fascinating insights.

More information here