Steve McClure tells CLIMBER the inside story behind his second ascent of Choronzon
- Sunday 9th August 2020 at 12.21pm
July 15th, 2015
Following our previous white-hot news story that Steve McClure had just done the second ascent of Pembroke’s hard trad route, Choronzon, CLIMBER can now bring readers the insider story behind Steve’s incredible repeat.
Firstly however, lets just back-up a bit and run-down the facts behind the first ascent itself. Having repeated many of Pembroke’s hardest routes, Muy Caliente (E9/10) included, dark-horse Neil Mawson – frequently referred to in hushed terms as Awesome Mawson – set about to find a new route on the Pembrokeshire coastline that was harder than anything that already existed. Neil described his quest: “My aim when I went looking for this route in 2011 was to find a difficult challenge on traditional gear and I certainly got that!” Keep in mind that Neil was already an extremely accomplished sport climber as well as having a great trad-climbing record – especially in Pembroke - so he was well versed with hard, bold climbing and big numbers.
Neil Mawson on the first ascent of Choronzon E10. Screen grab: Ben Pritchard
Having found a suitable line Neil opened his campaign which, as a Sheffield-based climber, was a considerable undertaking in itself faced as he was with a 5-6hour drive before he could even set foot on the cliff. Slowly, Neil’s project came together but his trips, often solo ventures, were frequently thwarted by bad weather. Finally, in September of last year Neil topped his route having tested the monster falls in the process. Messaging James “Caff” McHaffie having done the first ascent Neil said; ““Hi Caff. Did it today! Amazing conditions. E10 8b+, name Choronzon. It’s a mythical demon that lives in the abyss of one’s mind. It tries to reinforce the negative thoughts going through ones mind.”
Whether Mawson was subconsciously hoping to tempt Caff – himself an incredible all-round climber – into taking on the challenge is pure conjecture. What is certain however, is that the list of possible contenders to repeat Choronzon wouldn’t be especially long. As it was, it was Neil’s frequent sport-climbing buddy, Steve McClure, that stepped up to the mark when he pitched his hat into the ring last week. Driving down from Sheffield with stalwart partner Rab Carrington, Steve arrived in Pembroke on Friday last to be greeted by persistent rain – the kind that seeps into everything. Clearly, not the best of starts!
Amazingly Saturday morning was dry and Steve abbed down Choronzon to check-out the holds and the gear placements. Following a few easier routes elsewhere with Rab, Steve returned and tied-in to a top rope for a dogging session after which he managed to top-rope it in a oner. Day 1 over, the rain returned Saturday night – again not the best of scenarios!
Steve top-roping Choronzon. Screen grab: Ben Pritchard
Sunday morning was wet and so was Choronzon. Steve and Rab did some easier routes again and then came back mid-afternoon. Steve takes up the story; “I added down again and it was wet through. I started toweling the holds dry one by one as I abbed down but I kept thinking as I arrived at the next wet hold that I was wasting my time”. Steve told CLIMBER that the circumstances were not dissimilar to his last visit a number of years ago when he top-roped Muy Caliente really quickly but was then thwarted by bad (then stifling hot) conditions which prevented a headpoint attempt. Steve again; “I was determined not to leave empty-handed again so pushed on drying. I asked myself if I’d have a go if it was a sport route and I decided I would. At that point I knew I had to give it a go as well!”
Steve describes the starting section of Choronzon for us. “The first 25 feet or so to the gear felt ok. It’s then hard crimpy 7c+/8a to the next gear at about 55 foot. The last section of this run-out is not only tricky but it’s in the death zone. The crucial move at the end of this run-out is off a good jug and it’s only about 5b so you shouldn’t fall off but it would be ground-fall so it was quite high-pressure – especially in those conditions.”
Steve on the second ascent of Choronzon - with his shoe laces characteristically not laced-up! Screen grab: Ben Pritchard
Steve again describes the situation at this crucial mid-height stage; “The foot holds are pretty poor at that point and the gear is fiddly to get in. Individually, the pieces are so-so and certainly you won’t trust any one of the pieces on their own. Collectively though I figured that they’d hold ok so I locked into sport climbing mode and went for it!” An engineer by training, Steve has an analytical/logical brain which he uses to tremendous effect. Evaluating each piece of gear and giving it a score out of five – with five being equivalent to a bolt – Steve is able to commit to trad climbing in a way that many find difficult. Not only is he a very experienced climber and ridiculously strong, but his technical knowledge about gear is right up there as well – not least because of his work through Lyon Equipment with companies like Petzl and Beal. Incidentally, Steve used the same approach to evaluate the monster run-out at the top of Rhapsody as well.
Steve described the crux section above the mid-height gear. “It’s an extended bouldery section that’s about Font 7b+ in its own right. I got a small wire in the middle of this section that Neil chose not to place – it’s good but it’s small. After the wire there another 15 foot or so of hard climbing but to be honest that was all pretty wet and I was concerned that a foot would just pop off.”
Steve on the second ascent of Choronzon. Screen grab: Ben Pritchard
Perhaps surprisingly Steve described the bit that he was closest to falling off wasn’t the crucial section at all. “I was closest to falling off was on a 2a move to a monster bucket just before a good rest after which the climbing eases off considerably. It was so wet and I was getting pretty pumped by that stage.”
And that, as they say, was that – the second ascent in two days of the hardest trad route in Pembroke in less than ideal conditions! Steve again; “I really fluked-it big time. I’d topped out by about 5pm and immediately the conditions deteriorated and then it started raining and it’s not stopped since!”
“It’s a brilliant route and it was great to get it done even if the conditions weren’t 100%” Steve added. “Grade wise, it seems about right at E10 and it felt about F8b/+ as a sport but as it’s a crimpy endurance climbing that’s right up my street!”
Steve’s down in Pembroke for the rest of the week and it’s likely that he’ll have a look at some other hard stuff whilst he down there. Remarkably, considering that he’s had his share of incidents in Pembroke, Steve seem drawn to the coast there. We wait with interest to hear what he manages to tear-down next when – or perhaps that’s if – the weather improves.
CLIMBER would like to thank Steve for sharing his thoughts about Choronzon and to Ben Pritchard for sending through some screen grabs. Ben was down with Steve making a short film and we can’t wait to see that when it leaves the editing suite.