The longest roof climb in the world – and its on Gozo

The Underworld.  A name that to me evokes thoughts of  hobbits, Gandalf, Lycans and weird demons and beasts.  Or of the mafia, drugs, beatings in dark alleyways  and bankers.  Whatever images the name brings to mind, they’re not comforting ones  – and neither is the Underworld a comfortable place to be.  Not at first anyway.  The first time you abseil 60m down the overhanging walls to the platform at the dark gaping mouth of the cave you  feel a sense of foreboding, as if  about to enter Mordor armed with nothing to defend yourself but a rope and some puny quickdraws. And some chalk. Hardly enough to slay the demons that might emerge at any moment from the dark tunnel that penetrates deep into the sea cliff.

Inside the Underworld

Yet its a magical place.  The sea is clear, offering beautiful blues and greens for the belayer and his companions to enjoy as he pays out the rope to the luckless hobbit fighting his way up one of the routes.  All around the cliffs are steep and high and often bathed in golden sunlight.  A boat occasionally chugs by, the fishermen or yachtsmen oblivious to the battles taking place just metres away, above their heads, as strenuous moves are made on steep rock.  Sighs of relief as quickdraws are clipped, curses as a hard move  ends in a fall and the frustration of swinging uselessly at the end of the rope, energy drained away and sucked in by the rock’s intensity.

Decending into the Underworld

A dragon lives here.  Its 55m long and winds its way from deep inside the bowels of the cave along the underside of the roof,  pausing at a ledge before continuing its upside down journey, emerging breathless and wasted into the sunlight and steep cliff face above.  Its called “King of Kings”, goes at about F8b (at least) and was led on Easter Sunday by Nadur’s own prodigal son Stevie Haston.   It will soon feature in the world’s climbing press, for it is probably the longest roof climb in the world.  He’s worked at it day after day over many weeks, at first visualising it, then cleaning it, bolting it, leading it.  Creating his masterpiece.  Is it so good?  He’s called it world class. We don’t really know yet.  It certainly looks totally amazing.  Its still unrepeated although I understand Jeffrey (who else?) is working on it, and making progress.    I encountered the “dragon” briefly the other day.  Stevie led me up the first part of  “Sarcophagus” a 7a route that takes the right side of the cave to gain the ledge on “King of Kings”.

The pumpy "Sarcophagus" F7a

I managed the easier moves up the overhanging wall before pumping out on the 7a traverse section, forearms screaming, trying to follow Stevie’s advice to “toe and heel” (jam) my foot over my ears into a gap at the back of the ledge. Not a pretty sight. It didn’t happen.  So I aided across (after a valiant battle of course) and hung in my harness next to him in the middle of the cave roof taking in my surroundings.  It felt like I’d been swallowed by the dragon.   A black roof above my head and greenish overhanging rock walls on either side.  Lonely abandoned quickdraws hung there like tiny nooses waiting to strangle their next victim.  Below me the rocky platform. And hanging in his harness next to me, Stevie.

The "King of Kings" hanging belay stance

He explained how he’d “created” the ledge by removing excess blocks which at one point had fallen on his leg and pinned him to the rock shelf.  Quite a bit of sh*t around too.  Pigeons and sparrows like this place.  So we hung there for a while chatting about the route and then prepared as he was going to climb the bucketed wall over my head behind me to link up with yet another route taking the overhanging wall on the outside of the cave which was now burning in the hot Mediterranean sun.   Belay sorted, I was on my own again as he grunted his way past me and headed for the light, upside down, occasionally shouting “slack!” or “take in!” as he clipped the ‘draws.  As he got further away, out of sight, his shouts started to sound exactly the same so belaying became a matter of guesswork.   He soon reached the other route which had an abseil rope dangling in place.  It was hot there, very hot and he started to race up the rope using my shunt and prussik loops, leaving a trail of sweat on the rock and complaints in the air.  I had decided not to follow this pitch.  I was trying to be realistic and didn’t fancy hanging in mid-air in the middle of the cave with no way of getting back onto the rock – with the sea below me!  So I dismantled the belay and abbed off the bolt and thread back down to the safety of the platform.  I then led “Styx and Stowners” but thats another story 😉

Exiting the Underworld




5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim says:

    I’d like to go to Mordor and climb it too. Someday!

    1. Sure! next time we’re in Gozo 🙂

  2. earl says:

    dammit we should be ashamed of not knowing such a place!!! wow

    btw simon, those are novel writing skills u have there hehe

    1. Thanks Earl…club trip to check out this place is coming up soon..

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