Climber and Urbex Legend Stepping Lightly : Exclusive Interview

Stepping Lightly on his climb up Blackpool Tower, August 2009.
Stepping Lightly on his climb up Blackpool Tower, August 2009.

In August this year, climber and urbex legend “Stepping Lightly” hit the headlines in the national press following his covert ascent of Blackpool Tower. Stepping Lightly has climbed many structures including one of Battersea Power Station’s iconic chimneys, Willington Power Station cooling towers and the famous Angel of the North in Gateshead. He also likes bridge climbing and has climbed the Forth Rail Bridge, and the Humber and Severn Bridges.

But its not just climbing structures…
Stepping Lightly is also into urban exploration: exploring things like abandoned military installations or disused hospital buildings, as well as underground exploration of culverts and sewers hidden beneath our cities. Under the streets of Manchester, for example, there are many interesting things to see, including old air raid shelters, photos of which can be seen on the Manchester Evening News website.

What is the best way to climb structures and what is the attraction of exploring sewers?…Stepping Lightly tells us in this exclusive interview…

Stepping Lightly Interview What made you decide to climb man-made structures, and how did you get started?
Stepping Lightly: I suppose it was because I started rock climbing at 12 and although my father (who is also a climber) did take me to the crags. During the week I use to climb rail embankments, small bridges and buildings because I had no means of getting to real rock.
As I got older I loved rock but I’d developed an underlining passion for climbing man made structures. What have been the most challenging structures that you have climbed, and why?
Stepping Lightly: Blackpool tower so far because there are so many factors to take into account, weather, fitness, works in progress, random people (who all have phones), security, police, choice of partner and danger…
Angel of the North was like tufa climbing with huge rock ups very pumpy.
Battersea chimney was easy but hard to get to.
Willington power station cooling tower was fine once I’d made the right tool for the holes.
Forth Rail bridge was ace: just me, the wind, the bridge and the sea…

Stepping Lightly on top of the Angel of the North.
Stepping Lightly on top of the Angel of the North. What are the main differences in techniques between rock climbing and climbing structures?
Stepping Lightly: The main one is fear of being spotted, on the crag that’s fine but if you are a couple of hundred foot up on a building and someone sees you its trouble sometimes with a capital T!
So we develop the stealth technique…
I do try to free climb everything first but am not bothered if I have to aid a section if it is going to stop me achieving my goal. And because no damage has to be done we sometimes cannot use the easiest route. What is your biggest weakness?
Stepping Lightly: Funding as I would like to get more European and Stateside stuff done…
Physical weakness, because I climb, m.t.b., kayak, slack-line, skydive, fell-run and urbex I’m usually sporting some kind of injury, so what ever is injured at the time is my weakness. What has been your worst injury (if any) from climbing or urban exploration and how did it happen?
Stepping Lightly: My worst injury was at work a building collapsed and I had to jump 3 stories, I broke my leg in 6 places. My worst climbing injury was the same leg, I fell and bust tendons ligaments and couple of bones. Urbex wise I have been very lucky, a few near misses but just a deep cut in my arm off a rusty fence and a bolt in my hand slipping on a mossy roof. What are the most challenging climbs that you are planning for the future?
Stepping Lightly: It would be nice to rhyme off a list but the Internet is huge and read by all walks so if you don’t mind I will keep that to myself for now… What are the most important aspects of planning your climbs and route selection?
Stepping Lightly: If it can be done with limited danger to me and no danger to other people and cause no damage to the structure, after that its just exposure time limitation, not spending too much time in an area that will cause unwanted attention and getting the feature shots. What inspired you to get into urban exploration, such as exploring drains and culverts?
Stepping Lightly: Its a strange story that, I was about 7 and my Dad had took me into Ellis Brighams in Manchester when it was in the corn exchange, my Dad was chatting away and I asked to use their loo, it was out of order so he pointed me to one 2 stories down in the basement and told me to keep right and I would find it. As I tried to find my way back I walked out into an underground street, being 7 it was not a place to dwell so I hurried back up stairs.
So for the last few years I’ve been trying to find a way to see that again, whilst doing that I’ve found some other truly amazing sights… Have you ever been cautioned or arrested for climbing structures or for urban exploration?
Stepping Lightly: Yes a couple of times both on chimneys. One was just a friendly can you come down and leave. The other was a police chopper, anti-terror police and very angry security! I’m still waiting for it to be on Police Camera Action or something like that. We did ask for footage but no luck! What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Stepping Lightly: I have a fifi hook I use as a grid lifter and doubles up as a fence climbing aid, 10 slings that I use for everything, slings are king in Urbex, a 30m length of 8mm that is light and easy packable and my little rucksack with 10 pockets, so I know what is where even I the pitch black. Any people you would like to thank?
Stepping Lightly: Yes all the people I’ve met doing this, some of which have become my best friends, names are irrelevant as they know who they are. Anything else you would like to say?
Stepping Lightly: Choose clothes appropriately, if you are in the city don’t go camo or SAS, just blend.
If you are tackling something mega take extra in case, most of my wardrobe is outdoor gear, its just so hard wearing and reliable. Thank you Stepping Lightly for taking the time to answer our questions.

If anyone has any suggestions of structures which Stepping Lightly could climb or potential places for some urban exploration, click on the comments link below and make a suggestion!

Urbex, exploring the urban environment can lead to the discovery of abandoned tunnels. Source: Flickr by Paulio Geordio.
Urbex, exploring the urban environment can lead to the discovery of abandoned tunnels. Source: Flickr by Paulio Geordio.

Climbing structures and urban exploration (urbex) are potentially dangerous activities. Since they involve trespassing they could also land you in trouble with the police, therefore we cannot condone them. It should also be noted that Stepping Lightly always ensures that he does not cause any damage whatsoever when climbing structures or taking part in urbex.

Take only photos,
leave only footprints.

Simon Cornwell of urbex|uk

More information about urban exploration, including safety tips, can be found at Forbidden Places.

If you go climbing anywhere it is important to have suitable climbing equipment and to know how to use it. There are plenty of safe places to go climbing, for example the BMC provide a list of indoor climbing walls.


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