Freebird bolts upgraded and new routes added to Red Wall

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.

At one of the stances, new bolts in place, old still to be removed.
At one of the stances, new bolts in place, old still to be removed.

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.

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New Routes

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.

Do not mess with this guy,
Do not mess with this guy.

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.

New (?) routes on Red Wall East
New (?) routes on Red Wall East

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

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Guys, great to see the good work you have done on Freebird to complete rebolting the route and congratulations on the new line you called Greed Odyssey Direct. However you have made a mistake in bolting Greek Odyssey – this is a route I identified and led a couple of years ago. The anchor at the top is not “an old chain lower-off with signs of rust on it”. It is the 316 marine steel anchor which I put into the route to make access-to and finishing the route easier. This was led as a trad route and James, you know full well about it from the years we spent climbing together – I was the one who introduced you to Wall of Wonders by leading you up Freebird some years ago. I am surprised you would go ahead and bolt someone else’s line, especially when: the anchor clearly indicated there is a route or project in place and therefore warns respectable climbers away from that line; the anchor is of a type that only I provide on the island, so a climber with honest intentions would first get in touch with me and ask for information about the line, before drilling. It is a poor excuse to vandalise someone else’s route by claiming there were no signs of climbing below the anchor. Since trad routes see so few ascents, they naturally do not have scars of climbing on them. With your reasoning then all trad routes on malta are fair game to be bolted – having a bolting kit does not allow you to act like the proverbial bull in a china store! Malta has excellent routes, both sport and trad and these need to be cherished by the climbing community as part of our unique climbing heritage. James, you are fully aware that you bolted a route of mine and as such, it is an act of vandalism – one of the worst that a climber can do to another climber! Simon, you and i had a long sms discussion about this after i noticed the errant bolts and you were fully in agreement that this behavior goes against the established ethic and cannot be allowed! It is important that newer climbers who have not been exposed to the established ethic be made aware that when a project has been identified and marked, everyone is to stay away from it out of respect for the route’s creator. If we can’t respect each other at the cliffs then we don’t deserve to share this fragile and beautiful vertical environment that we love so much. I realise that you stephen probably had no knowledge of the issue and therefore have no blame. it would be advisable that next time you see a route with an anchor, thread or any other sign on it, please ask first. james, you know the ethics from our years climbing together so your act is all the more…surprising. unfortunately this means i will have to go and remove the bolts from greek odyssey to restore my route to its original trad state, time that could have been used constructively to create another new route. please everyone be aware of the rights of people putting up new routes, respect each other’s space on the cliffs and let’s all enjoy this wonderful sport in a spirit of cooperation and honest fun.

    2nd Comment
    Hi Guys, be careful, the path of Freebird’s second pitch is wrongly marked on this photo and the third red dot is in the wrong place. I can remark the line if you wish. I can also indicate the path of my line Alchemy E3 5c on this photo to avoid further confusion. Cheers, Andrew.

  2. Stephen Farrugia says:

    I’m sorry Andrew, but you are out of order calling James and myself bulls in a china shop – we would not knowingly bolt an existing route that has been led on trad without the first ascensionist’s consent. I stand by my statement that the chain we found showed signs of having been installed a number of years ago, including surface rust. This is very much akin to the case of a tree falling in the woods – if no one’s around to hear it falling, does it still make a sound? If this route has indeed been led on trad gear, but was never announced on any website, forum, guidebook or climbing logbook, then how is anyone expected to know that it is indeed an existing route, rather than an abandoned project (as evidenced by the lack of climbing chalk, rubber & surface rust on the chain)?
    The latest guidebook for the Maltese islands is severely out of date, however that doesn’t mean there are no platforms where new route info may be shared, as is evidenced by several articles (including this one) on the two climbing clubs’ websites and on the Facebook groups of the respective clubs. I find it hard to believe that a route of such calibre would have been completed and successfully led on trad with nary a mention on any local or international climbing message board or website. Based on these facts and Red Wall’s status as a sports climbing crag, James and I assumed that this was an abandoned project. Here perhaps our view was skewed by our eagerness to provide a new, enjoyable route to the climbing community; but certainly not, as you wrongly accuse, as a personal vendetta against you.

    What strikes me as odd is the fact that when you, Andrew, first contacted Simon Alden to ask who had bolted the route, you referred to it as a “trad route I (Andrew) was working on”. In a matter of days this has turned into a route that was lead “a couple of years ago” on trad gear, complete with name and grade. This however is inconsequential to the matter in hand. What seems to have happened here is that James and I have put bolts into one of your lines, be it a finished trad route or a project you are working on.
    In the interest of fomenting the good spirit of climbing (which is after all why we all dangle ourselves off the edges of cliffs, trusting as little as 9mm of nylon with our lives for enjoyment) we’re prepared to erase the hard work, sweat and blood of three afternoons. This way Andrew’s got his trad route back in its original state (minus plenty of loose rock) and he can also put up a nice new sports route for us all to enjoy with the time he would have spent removing the bolts. While the bolt cutting will be done with a heavy heart, if it results in this issue being settled, then so be it.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the slight inaccuracy in the route topo, correction has been made and updated accordingly 🙂

  4. James herrera says:

    Hello Andrew. The article above was written to put on the table our side of events in a very objective way, as we heard that you intended removing the bolts we’d invested so much time, effort and expense into putting in! Unfortunately, instead of consulting us about the matter you replied by accusing us of bolting the routes in the full knowledge that you had a trad project there, which goes against yours and of course our own ethical principles too. This is certainly not the case.

    At the same time I prefer not to react to your insults and false accusations, as I have had those too often from you in the past year via sms, email, phone calls and a letter. I have become immune to them and take them with a pinch of salt. As president of the MRCC, I would have expected you to call or email me directly on this matter, instead of sending a barrage of sms’s to Simon accusing me of this and that and what not. At the end of the day, Simon has nothing to do with this. I CATEGORICALLY deny you have ever mentioned that line to me, and your statement that I knew about it is pure fabrication. What surprises me is that even though the article was written by Stephen Farrugia himself, who wrote “so we dutifully returned the next day to scope out a line that would branch out from Freebird”, you have still directed all your frustration at me, and this does raise an eyebrow. You sent an sms to Simon saying the line we bolted and called Greek Odyssey was a trad route you were working on, however now you are stating that its a line you already led on trad and you also have a name for it, as well as a grade. You generally post news of your new routes on the MRCC website, for example the ones at Monolith Buttress, Crucifix Cave, the retro bolting of Freebird on Red Wall, the installation of the rung ladder at Xaqqa, Le droga le haxixa at Lapsi, and many others over the past 3 years. However we found no information regarding this new line. You posted five articles on the retro bolting of Freebird and climbing at red wall in general dating back to 2010 (links: / / / / / ) and even though you stated you climbed a couple of routes, there is no mention whatsoever of this newer trad line. As I have stated on the MCC facebook page, I have and will never bolt an established trad line that has been clearly indicated as such on a guidebook, webpage, facebook page, newspaper, magazine, piece of paper, or of which i have heard of by word of mouth, and such lines should not be bolted without the permission of the first ascensionist and/or consultation with local climbers.

    That said, I can assure you that Stephen and I never meant to step on anybody’s toes, and we bolted that line with the best intentions. In the light of your reaction above however, and in order that this matter doesn’t blow up even further, Stephen and I have decided that should you insist on restoring the trad line we will remove the bolts on Greek Odyssey ourselves.

  5. marcel bercu says:

    Good afternoon. I transferred this year in your country from Italy, practically climbing and read with interest the articles that appear on this site. Therefore I would like to know where you can meet.

    1. Stephen Farrugia says:

      Hey Marcel,
      welcome to Malta! Club members meet in Sliema every Tuesday and Thursday from 19:00-22:00, at the club bouldering wall.
      Here is a map with directions:

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