Steve McClure talks about Nightmayer - the film
- Wednesday 1st April 2020
The eagerly awaited film of Steve McClure on-sighting Nightmayer had its public premiere last night on the Petzl-Official Facebook page. Not surprisingly, Steve’s ascent of Nightmayer - one of the hardest trad routes ever on-sighted - was one of the ‘stand-out’ trad ascents from 2019.
For Steve, Nightmayer was the ultimate challenge at the Cromlech; the route he’d steered away from, never really knowing whether he’d ever try it let alone go for it on-sight. Just after Steve Mayer’s first ascent in the early 90’s Grant Farquhar made an audacious on-sight attempt; perhaps not surprising it was an attempt that came up short! The second ascent – from Tim Emmett - didn’t come until the late 90’s. Tim, like all the successful ascensionists since, worked the route on a top-rope before getting on the sharp-end to make his successful ascent.
During the North Wales BMC International meet in 2011 Nico Favresse also threw his cap into the ring. Nico was however reasonably well brief and had previously abbed down the line to check the holds and gear placements out. All went well on Nico flash attempt hit he the headwall where he faltered, fell and stripped some gear and took a massive whipper to finish not far above the ground! Nick Bullock captured the full glory of Nico elevator-shaft plummet; it’s not a short fall – very much the opposite in fact! Click here for Nick Bullock’s account of that attempt and here for Nick’s video of Nico’s fall.
Fast forward to 2019 when Steve McClure entered the fray. Having completed Rainman, his long-term F9b project at Malham in 2017, Steve turned to trad for his excitement in 2019. Dispatching the GreatNess Wall (E10 7a) at Nesscliffe Steve’s attention shifted to the shear walls of the Cromlech; specifically Nightmayer. The word was that the Cromlech was dry; Tom Livingstone was around and available to give Steve a catch – it was game on!
As we all now know, Steve tied-in and successfully on-sighted Nightmayer. Steve has no shortage of ‘stand-out’ ascents to his name; now he had another – one of the hardest, if not the hardest, traditional route ever on-sighted anywhere! Previously he’d on-sighted two other E8’s; Point Blank, Pembroke and Dawes Rides a Shovelhead, Lake District but Nightmayer was a different level.
The key ingredient in this story was the on-sight element and kicking off the on-line Q&A session George Sanderson got straight into the main question…
George Sanderson: Great effort would have loved to have seen it! the ‘onsight’ seems to mean different things to different people eg some people think if a route’s chalked it’s not on-sight, if someone said take 2 purple cams they’re crucial it’s not on-sight. I think that if you’ve had no beta (especially useful beta) then that’s basically the ‘onsight’ but what did you know about Nightmayer apart from it’s hard and bold before you set off?
What rack did you take? If you’ve no idea on the gear then surely a set or two of wires, cams and micros, the skyhook or two? As far as I’m concerned if you’ve not talked through the moves with anyone, watched videos or abbed the line then you’ve ticked the boxes but you’ll know personally whether or not you feel like you've earnt it. I’d certainly want some idea of what to expect gear-wise if I was planning to go ground up on a route like this! I know style is such a personal thing, I’m just interested to hear your take on it. Cheers!
Steve McClure: OK - so this is probably the biggest question and deserves an answer. The purity of an onsight varies with different people. A totally pure one is I guess no chalk, no knowledge, no grade idea etc. But a more 'grey' onsight has chalk, maybe quickdraws in place on sport, a guidebook description etc. Most people are happy with that, and to be fair, it's probably OK and more fun when you know the grade and a brief description. For this route I knew the guide book description, that a 'small wire protected the upper section', and also that there was a skyhook somewhere. SO I did have knowledge of a skyhook, no idea where I got that from, I think it was general knowledge from years ago that everyone knew. But I'd have taken one anyway. Other than that, no abseil, no practice, no description from anyone. There was chalk, I'd have failed without it! But I'm happy with my slightly grey onsight!
George Sanderson: Nah there’s no doubt you did it in good style. Congratulations for not taking the elevator drop whipper like Nico did ? thanks for taking the time to answer! Hopefully, we’ll all be out again before too long.
Steve McClure: Funnily enough I had seen the Nico film. It doesn't show anything about the climbing. However, I didn't realise that he actually rips out the gear. I only noticed this after I'd done it, with a very close watch of the film. If I'd known he had ripped the gear, from way below the hard bit, that would have really spooked me, to know it can easily pop out. I assumed he got none in and bailed before getting too committed. To fall off the crux and rip the gear would be a close one...
Drilling down into the on-sight theme a bit deeper Jeremy Parker asked why Steve had chosen Nightmayer?
Jeremy Parker: there are plenty of E8s out there but very few of them have been onsighted. Is there something about this route that makes it particularly suitable for that?
Steve McClure: totally, it's not death! (or should not be). Its more HARD than BOLD (still bold!). There are not many of these around - wish there were more. It's also very technical, you can think it out. It's not like the on-off grit routes that are not bad when wired but impossible first go
And what about the encouragement from an enthusiastic belayer – Tom Livingstone in this case?
Patrick Rainbird: how do you feel about verbal encouragement when you're climbing? Indifferent? Annoying? Helpful?
Steve McClure: I usually don't hear it, but sometimes it filters through. On a route like this, it does really help. You KNOW your belayer is totally with you, watching and ready. That is so important, you need everything in your favour. With no voices from below I am still totally with it though, totally focused. That’s what makes climbing so good!
Widening the questioning out Ollie Barker asked Steve how long the warm fussy feeling of success lasts after doing a route like Nightmayer…
Ollie Barker: when you’ve climbed something this beautiful how long before you’re already thinking about the next project?
Steve McClure: That’s a great question. Some amazing routes fade so fast, even before you hit the ground you are looking for the next. but a few stay with you for a long time, either because you invested lots (like a long redpoint proj) or if the lead was super intense. With this route it was SO intense I kind of lived off the experience for months!
And inevitably, what’s next for Steve; Adam Phoenix asked if Big Bang might be the choice?
Adam Phoenic: would you ever give Big Bang LPT another go?
Steve McClure: for sure. I've tried it I think twice, maybe 5 years apart, so hardly a good effort. The thing that kept me off was distance, conditions, and other big projects to do. Up to now I've ALWAYS had a big thing to occupy my mind and time. To be fair, it's a hard route! It talkes big commitment as well as full set of climbing strengths. Fair play to all who have done it, and that's not many
Adam Phoenix: Thanks Steve. What advice would you recommend for climbing limestone in a set of skills? I have tried lots but it always feels impossible no matter what the grade.
Steve McClure: Limestone is really about fingers and 'strength' as opposed to power, especially for lead climbing. Holds are often small and non-uniform. Rock like Grit is more powerful, with boulder problems often slappy to big sloping holds. Limestone is about holding positions and reaching out of them. The main things you need for Limestone climbing are strong fingers, good accurate footwork and lots of Power Endurance!
Katerina Petkova pushed deeper into the unrepeated trad climbs of the UK – what about Echo Wall she asked?
Katerina Petkova: Do you think Echo Wall will ever be repeated?
Steve McClure: I'd like to think so.... I've been trying to get there for ages! I went a few years back but it was too wet, and a few seasons it didn't come into condition (I've been chatting to Dave). I'd fully planned to go this year in May/June.... Oh well. Full respect to Dave, not just for doing the route which is hard and dangerous, but pushing on when getting conditions right is a massive waiting game, not to mention a massive walk-in every time (its not roadside!). But anyway, if I don't get to do it, I reckon the likes of Jim Pope are on it!
Flem Ucius wanted to know what - after all these years of climbing - drives Steve on as well as what was still on his bucket list?
Flem Ucius: Why do you climb?
Steve McClure: For me climbing is a total vehicle to being outside. That's the main thing, the outdoors. so it could be walking, cycling, etc. But the movement is also amazing. I don't do it to keep fit though
Flem Ucius: Is there something you still dream to accomplish?
Steve McClure: I've got a list of things I want to do, mainly trad stuff now, a bit more adventure. The sport stuff I've done a lot of but I'm keen for some of the longer big stuff, multi-pitch
Following the on-line Q&A last night Climber have been in touch with Steve and he's shared a few more thoughts on the subjects raised in the Q&A.
Firstly, his take on the gear he took: “Gear choice is crucial with on-sighting. And more so when considering you may be at your ‘sport limit’, where you’d only have a few quickdraws at most. So I spent a while on this. It’s a complex wall that can take all kinds of stuff, from number 3 cams to tiny brassheads; draped slings and skyhooks. Before leaving the ground I figured The House of God would have minimal gear(bolder than Lord) but could take anything. Also, the girdle ledge was likely to have all kinds of bits spaced around and I’d have time to place a lot. So I took a full rack, but just in singles. Except for small wires!! Setting off into the meat of the route – above the girdle ledge - was more important. This is where weight will count, and with every hard route we do, we need to assess what we carry. Knowing ‘a small wire protects’ and there is a skyhook somewhere should have slimmed it down to a single set of wires, say sizes 1-5 and a few brassheads, plus a skyhook. However, I went for a set of 1-5 on one side of my harness, and 1-6 on the other with brassheads. I figured if I dropped a set….. and having them on the correct rack side may be important. Plus I took 4 draws, 2 on each side. Stupidly I took a few small cams too, not sure what I was thinking there. Gear choice is important. It’s a balance. Some take everything as it helps with feeling prepared, others take minimal – ‘fast and light’. But a bit of sound thinking goes a long way to avoiding that huge skirt of hex’s.”
And then his insight as to his choice of route: “I also chose Nightmayer for other reasons. First of all I love the place, I’ve been there a lot and really like the vibe. I must have camped at the boulders 100’s of times right from my young teens. I love the routes on the Cromlech. They totally suit my style, not just in climbing (technical, fingery, foot intensive, not burly), but also in gear finding (complex, fiddly, hard to work out…. I’m an engineer and love this!). But manly I chose to go for it as it was the right level of challenge! This is the crunch really. We look for the right challenge, pushing closer to the edge will give the biggest rewards. Like a red-point, if it takes a day then you were always gonna succeed, if it takes years then the outcome was in doubt, you had to work for it. With Nightmayer I knew I could head-point it. It would have been lovely. I could have convinced myself that I should just get it done, because the years roll by and I might miss it entirely (use this year as an example!). But I also know myself as a climber, and in a nutshell, I knew Nightmayer was pretty much the perfect trad route I’d ever get to go for. I’m pleased with my climbing effort, but I’m really much more impressed with myself for identifying that the route was just right, and not shying away from it.”
Finally, what about encouragement whilst on the route itself then: “Tom Livingstone was belaying, and this helped. He’s utterly solid, so experienced. I absolutely knew he had my back. So this part of the equation was forgotten. I even knew he’d probably help if I fell, by taking in slack or stepping back. He was part of my team of two. But I also knew he wanted me to succeed, genuinely. You can almost feel it through the rope. It gives extra strength. A few encouraging words every now and again are just a reminder – go for it – I’m right there!”
Petzl has since uploaded the Nightmayer video to YouTube so you can click here to watch it (again).