Ok so last weekend didn’t work out. In a fair world, this weekend would do its best to try and compensate. In a fair world, the weather would shower sunshine upon us in way of apology for messing up a perfectly promising day the weekend before. And so it was that the sun did very fairly, shine on us yesterday. Kyle again confirmed, somewhat more hesitantly, that “the weather was expected to remain the same for the whole day”. So off we went in good spirits to the ferryboat and drove straight on. A good sign. We’d arranged to meet our Turkish friend Murat on board. We spotted him in the cafeteria along with his friend and personal translator Ali! Murat is a lovely guy and an excellent climber – Ali too is lovely of course, but doesn’t climb – yet! Murat joined the club a few weeks ago on arriving in Malta for six months of English lessons and is a regular at the Sliema bouldering wall. On board we coincidentally met Andy Warrington and a couple of his own buddies who were off to do their own thing on Gozo. A repeat of “Phoenicia” I later heard. This is a great multipitch trad route on the south side of Dwejra Bay taking a line up the edge of the big white face opposite Fungus Rock. Spectacular and recommended!
On Gozo we headed towards our crag, determined this time to park on something very very hard. Just in case. After winding our way along various bumpy paths and tracks…paths and tracks that in Malta get bumpier with each rainfall, we parked the car on a rocky, hard platform. We stamped our feet on it a few times to make sure it was indeed hard, then took the gear out of the boot and trudged along the muddy track through the fields. I paused to look back and make sure the wheels hadn’t settled into the rock or anything, but all looked ok. We passed the site of the previous week’s fun and games. The pic below says it all.
Murat and Ali were tickled. We remembered … and walked on after capturing our ruts on camera of course. A lot of time and energy was wasted creating them. Bloody hell we were PROUD of them! We walked towards the clifftop which has become a home away from home for us over the past few weeks. If only once, at least ONCE it wouldn’t rain and be cold and windy and miserable. Not much to ask is it? This is Malta! How many times have I, a bit smugly I have to admit, chatted with foreign climbers as we enjoyed our sunny winter weather and told them how simply awful it must be to have to climb in cold wet weather in the UK or France or Germany or just about every other European country I could think of. Were the conditions at this crag weather’s revenge on me for taking it for granted? Moreover, Kyle noticed a tendency recently for rain to start falling just as I start to climb. Spookily, it stops when I stop climbing. A pattern is emerging. The rain gods hate me! Or maybe I’m getting psychotic. At my age anything’s possible.
We arrived at the top of the cliff. Murat and Ali were impressed which was rewarding. It really is a beautiful location whether you like climbing or not. To work. Kyle set up the anchors and we decided on a plan of action. Kyle and I would ab down armed with a Hilti and lots of straws and a baby bottle brush while Murat would follow later placing the resin bolts. I showed the bolts and resin to Murat who remarked that in Turkey the resin was half price! Impossible! I mean, whoever heard of things being more expensive in Malta! Never. No way. Right. Ok so we chucked the ropes down and started to drill the first bolt hole. For the uninitiated drilling a hole while hanging from an abseil rope is a bit like trying to work in space or underwater. To push against something you have to apply counter pressure somehow. Otherwise you just push yourself away from whatever you’re trying to move..or in this case drill. This is where Kyle comes in. He pushes me. I drill. He cleans. Not pretty to watch but it works. I now refer to him as my “bolt monkey”. I’m not sure what it means, and I don’t mean it to be offensive because after all, Kyle too is lovely, but its somehow appropriate.
So down we went. Hole after hole. Tending slowly downwards, trying to judge the best location for each bolt, marking each hole with a blue straw to make it easier for Murat to find. Soon we had a very straight diagonal line of 14 holes up or should I say down, the crag. We had to stop about two bolt holes short of the bottom of the cliff as the battery ran dry. It tends to happen on this cliff and we have a backlog of bottom pitch bolt placements still to do to finish them properly. In the meantime Murat also abbed down and took some pics – he must have been impressed by our skill and mastery of the drill of course. He then repeated “A Bit too Far” whilst self belaying and went off to play till we finished the drilling.
Eventually all the holes were holed and we climbed back to the top of the cliff. Dusty, weary, thirsty. As I munched on Kyle’s Kinder Sorpresa Murat geared up and was soon abbing down the line, no doubt admiring the quality of the expertly drilled holes as he went.
He moved quickly and soon all the bolts were in place. He self-belayed back up the line of the new route. Then, as I watched from the platform opposite the clouds that had been darkening the horizon moved in and soon the rain came spitting down. Kyle who is a fast learner, put on his raincoat and so did I. The rain didn’t last long but it gifted us with a view that simply made the day. From where I stood I could see Murat climbing methodically up the face on my right, the majestic sweep of the cliff below him. 60m beneath me waves crashed against the base of the cliff sending spray high into the air. And then over the sea – a complete arc of a rainbow appeared as through all this the sun gamely went on shining. We all looked and admired and took pics. Pure magic. Life is worth living for moments like these.
Route nr. 3 which I’ve just decided to call “Rainbow Warrior” was now ready to be led on my next visit. It should be fun. The upper slab which is always a couple of grades harder than the pitches below has a couple of very iffy moves on small smears so I hope this one will be at least 6b at the top. It was still only about 2pm so I quickly abbed down the cliff to check out one of the most obvious lines on the crag..a flake that runs up most of the cliff to the left of the previous routes. It turned out to be lots of fun with easy laybacking moves on sharp edges most of the way up. This one will have to be left trad as I don’t think I can bring myself to mess up such a classic trad line! We’ll see. Perhaps I’ll bolt a line just to the right which will protect both the wall as well as anyone doing the layback route.
Back at the top of the cliff we decided to show Murat the best sports climbing that Gozo has to offer. So we went to Mgarr ix-Xini. Murat smiled happily as we walked along the promontory and down the steps into the valley. His English is still a bit limited but the word “Niiiice” was heard many times! Murat is a very respectable climber. He warmed up on “Breakers Point: a 6c route making it look very easy indeed, then proceeded to tick off Ezy Ryder 7a and another route which I can’t remember! Nooo problem!
Time to catch the ferryboat back to Malta. A great day. Lots done and lots still to do that will lure us back to Gozo very soon.