By Stephen Farrugia
Red Wall is an imposing sea-cliff just around the corner from the Blue Grotto. It offers some amazing sports climbing, however the routes there are in the sun for most of the day – a nice warm sun trap in winter, but in summer the heat restricts climbing there to late in the afternoon when temperatures are cooler. The east face of Red Wall, bordering the trad climbing area known as Blue Wall, offers the only shaded sport climbing in the area. Until a few weeks ago there was only one route on this part of Red Wall – Freebird 6b+. Unfortunately, the bolts on Freebird had shown signs of Stress Corrosion Cracking. Our friends at the Malta Rock Climbing Club had previously replaced some of the 304-grade bolts with “Seawater” bolts on the first pitch and 316-grade marine steel at the stances.
However, given the possibility that even the bolts on the upper pitches might still be unsafe due to their proximity to the sea and the low grade of stainless steel used, James Herrera and I took upon ourselves the task of completing the retro-bolting work on Freebird, removing all the old bolts and glueing in 316-grade marine steel bolts on all the pitches. The lower stances now also have a “seawater” grade stainless steel bolt backing up the 316-grade bolt. Such seawater bolts are claimed to retain their integrity for up to 50 years in a highly corrosive marine environment. In all, it took three sessions to get Freebird back in business – two to drill and glue in 8 new bolts, and a final visit to remove the old bolts and hangers, check that the resin had cured correctly and finally lead the route! Of the 15 bolts we removed, at least 5 showed signs of SCC so the effort and expense was certainly not wasted, as anyone taking a fall on those bolts could have seriously injured themselves as the bolts wouldn’t have taken the load.
During these three sessions we couldn’t help but notice that this part of Red Wall offered plenty of untapped potential for some new climbs; so we dutifully returned the next day to scope out a line that would branch out from Freebird. While setting up natural anchors to abseil down we noticed an old chain lower-off with signs of rust on it. Closer inspection revealed no signs of climbing below the chain – no chalk, no rubber marks, and plenty of loose rock and vegetation below. We abbed down to the first stance of Freebird and decided that to make things easier for future climbers, we’d give our new route a different first stance. This would make it possible for two teams of climbers to climb in quick succession, rather than having to crowd around the same belay stance. I started out with the drilling work for the lower part of the route, and James was quick to follow gluing in the bolts.
With most of the first two pitches done we had about an hour of sunlight left, and we were both ruing the moment we said “we’ll never be that late on the route, no need to pack a head torch!” Famous last words! James started up the route with the drill, using natural protection (at one point a knotted sling stuffed into a crack!) to stop himself swinging out into the void – the route is all slightly overhanging until you pass the crux roof. Once James had reached the top it was pretty much twilight, so I gave up on my plan of putting in the bolts, and escaped upwards in the dark.
We returned the next day to finish bolting the final pitch. Both James and I had been eyeing a direct finish to the route, one which took a thin crack directly up from the belay stance at the start of the final pitch,. As soon as we finished the glueing on the original route, we set up natural anchors to check out the new direct line. Once we’d both agreed that this line would be very much worth bolting, we set about drilling holes for the route, but the gluing would have to wait for another session, as we ran out of daylight again (but we did have head torches this time).
In our final bolting session at Red Wall we put in the Marine Grade steel bolts for the first pitch traverse (an extension of the Freebird line) and finished the bolting work on the direct finish to the route; and all with plenty of daylight to spare! We rewarded ourselves for a job well done with some ice-cream from Wied iż-Żurrieq.
The new routes are three pitches long and share the first two pitches. All stances (barring the first one on the platform) feature three bolts (2 Seawater bolts, 1 316-grade on the second stance, and 1 Seawater and 2 316-grade on the third stance). The first pitch is a low level traverse of around 16m and shares the first three bolts with Freebird. This is followed by a 12m climb up a cracked wall and some tufas. Both pitches are graded 6a. Greek Odyssey goes up some tufas and takes a technical traverse left to a cave, exiting the middle of the roof (crux) onto gentler slopes above to the chain lower off, and weighs in at 6b+, around 23m long. Greek Odyssey Direct takes the thin crack directly above the tufas and moves slightly right around a bulge (crux) onto gentler slabs above to a two-bolt lower off. James grades the route at 6c, but this needs confirming, so write in to let us know what you think! The direct route is around 20m long.
James and I strongly recommend that you try the routes as a three-pitch adventure, however if your time is limited you can abseil from the lower-off for Greek Odyssey Direct to the final stance.
Material for these routes (bolts, resin and tools) were provided by the Malta Climbing Club Bolt Fund and James Herrera. If you’d like to contribute to this fund click on the link above!
By Stephen Farrugia