Photo credit Gabriele Canu
Steve McClure, 49 years old, one of the most accomplished climbers in the UK and one of the stronger climbers in the world, has decided to have a week in Finale, to test its famous rock and (in)famous grades.
Steve has climbed for his entire life, testing himself first on trad climbing and then taking his experience at the highest levels of sport climbing. He was the first one to ascend a route graded 9a+ in the UK and he also gave Britain its first 9b when he completed his project Rainman.
But there’s more beyond the climber, Steve is also a route setter, a writer and a coach. And being a coach is one of the reasons why he came to Finale.
But let’s hear the entire story directly from him.
Photo credit @Gabriele Canu
Photo credit @Gabriele Canu
Hi Steve! Thanks for being here with us. What does bring you in Finale Ligure?

Basically what happened was this: I was originally planning to have a climbing trip with my friends here in this area, and then I got in touch with Cain Olsen (a local alpine guide n.d.A). He said that the Alpine Guides would have a meeting and he was wondering if I could join them and maybe do some coaching work with them, coaching the guides on how to deal with their clients and help them. It was exactly the same time in which I was planning my trip, so I would have come anyway, perfect!

Mountain guides obviously do a hard job, their skills and experience surpass mine, however they were willing to learn my methods. They look on how I structure my time, questions I ask the clients, how I give feedback, both verbally and written… They’re also climbers so we did some personal coaching on rock climbing too.

Your entire life revolves around climbing, for you it’s not only a sport but also a job as route setter, coach, writer… After more than 40 years of climbing, has your motivation changed? 

I’m very lucky to have this life, not because it’s easy but because it’s what I like and I can choose when to work. If I had a normal job it would be very difficult.

My motivation changes all the time, sometimes the impulse is to explore, other times it’s just climb hard… Right now I’m more motivated by adventure. Not like mountain adventure, but I’m interested in climbs that are new to me, I’m still interested in them being hard but maybe in places that feel a little more adventurous, not like parking the car take one step and find a very steep overhang with tiny holds… I’ve done a lot of that, and now I’m more interested like in walkperhaps walking along the side of a mountain, to find something hard but in an interesting place.

You dedicated a lot of time on pure sport climbing, reaching the highest level in this discipline, but you started as a trad climber. Do you still look for hard routes in trad style or not?

Most people think that I mainly sport climb but probably half of my climbing is traditional climbing.

This happens because the climbs that I do that people hear of are usually the hard sport climbing.

I like to do all kinds of climbing; sport, trad, DWS, boulder, big walls… I have not done a lot of big walling but I love it, I’ve been in places like Greenland and Norway but I haven’t done a lot, and certainly nothing super hard. For the big walls I’m not really interested in the top levels and big redpoint efforts, I’d rather go an just climb, move well, I don’t want to spend time in practicing, I don’t want to redpoint the route, I just want to enjoy the climb and have a nice time.

Do you feel the competition with other professional climbers?

No, not at all, I don’t mind if people climb much more better than me, or worse. With me the competition is always against the rock. I did some indoor competition but it was not my thing, I like to be outside and decide my day.

You said you’ve never been here before. After a week what are your impressions about the place and the climbing style?

I wanted to visit Finale for a long time. It has been on my list for many years, however when my children where born I had two or maybe three weeks per year when I could be away climbing and there are so many places to go in the world. So it didn’t happen. It takes time but finally here I am.

First thing, it’s a beautiful place. That’s really important to me, when I go climbing I like to have scenery, big views, relaxing places and here you have all those things and that’s good. I think Italians in general are more careful about on how their town looks, everything feels nice and well cared.
Finale feels like a real part of Italy, where you have the mountains, the small villages, narrow roads, the old castles, all of the architecture is completely unique and so different from what we have back home. The views in the background… they’re just amazing

Photo credit @Gabriele Canu

About the climbing… well, the quality of the rock is exceptional.

It definitely feels unique, with this small holds there are really nice to climb on, the moves… great stone! Because of this uniqueness it means that as a visiting climber you’re not familiar with the way the rock is formed and how to “read” it, you have to learn how to climb it. So, first visit, it feels quite difficult!

There’s also a lot of variation, today we went to a crag that felt more familiar to me, the right kind of level, another place instead felt hard!

Finale has long history of climbing, it has a reputation as one of the places that people know well in the world. When you talk to people about climbing areas in the world, Finale has been one of the destinations for a long time.

It needs to be visited by climbers, itis like Ceuse in France, Yosemite in the US, Kalymnos in Greece just to name some. These are places which people know of, the reputation of a good quality climbing and beautiful landscapes.

I’m already thinking of coming back in March!

Photo credit @Gabriele Canu

The beauty of these places that you named, Finale included, brings a lot of people to visit them. A great affluence has an impact on the surrounding environment, what is you opinion about that?

That’s a tricky question! You could ask that about anything, a nice beach for example.
It’s difficult to answer, isn’t it? We don’t want to keep things quiet, because as well as the problem that climbers could bring they also bring things to the area, they’re staying in the hotels, the buy pizza, beer, they keep the shops open, they provide work for people.
Probably two things are important: one is not to focus only on a small number of cliffs, there are hundreds of cliffs here, thousands of routes. People need to know that there is good climbing in many places, not only in just one place. If the load is spread there will be minimal impact.
Second, the education of climbers. Maybe to tell them to act out of commons sense, but also the guide books can help them to act in a responsible way.
Climbers are generally nice people and they will listen. If someone says this cliff is not allowed, generally they would understand that. But if nobody says that they would do what they think is the best.
More communication will be useful.

How does Finale compare to the climbing in The UK

In the UK we have a lot of different styles in a small place, this makes it quite special. We have sport and traditional climbing, deep water soloing, climb in the mountains, bouldering… we have limestone, sandstone, granite, grit, all closed together. We also have very very good quality traditional climbing that not many European countries have. It does rain in the UK, but not as much as people think! As a late spring and summer venue it’s actually really good! But for winter, I know I’d certainly rather be here!!