Rubber Duck, Physique, Ethiopia – and a date with Conchita


Rubber Duck

It was a busy week with even more climbing related activities than usual.  Who’s complaining?   A weekend in Gozo, fully equipped with bolting kit, glue and bolts, all set to take that 60m abseil to continue work on a major new sea cliff multipitch, thwarted by a buddy failure, high winds and rough seas.  So plan B came into play.  I’d been to Mgarr iX-Xini a few times recently and noticed the area of unbolted rock right of Big Dick (sorry).  Aha new route potential!  So I abseiled down this line instead, cleaned it then proceeded to bolt it.  I should have checked – turned out I’d bolted Rubber Duck, a route put up by Brit Andy Cunningham in 1988 which looked like it hadn’t been climbed in years.  The route had somehow been overlooked by the persons who’d bolted the lines in this area more recently. This made me feel very guilty.  As a matter of principle, ethics, call it what you will,  I never bolt other people’s trad routes without their permission.   Its like pooping on a painting someone put a lot of effort into creating.  In this case the sin wasn’t so bad I guess as the whole area had been retrobolted ages ago and had now become a sport climbing crag.  Inigo Taylor has now led the route and commented on its high quality.  It goes at only about 6a+ so next time you’re in MI-X, give Rubber Duck a go.   That weekend I also led Champagne, a John Codling classic, first ascent in 1987 when it was led “trad” though with pre-placed threads.  The route was named after the “thank God” jug at the top, shaped like a huge bucket which marks the end of the route difficulties.

Back in Malta on  Monday, after work I headed out to Victoria Lines, Crazy Horse Cave sector to bolt another line we’d toproped a couple of times at club meets.  A couple of bulges and a crackline, right between Whammer Jammer and Bimbo Maniac.  Four bolts and a lower off, and the job was done.  Mark and Carolina were coincidentally toproping Crazy Horse direct nearby.  I greeted them warmly and threatened them with a slow and painful death should they go near the route before I’d led it, then headed home to tea and toast, with a bit of jam.  One of life’s little pleasures.    Tuesday is club wall day so I spent a couple of hours there in the evening chatting to the visiting climbers as usual.  Often multinational, they come to the wall to train and socialise and touch base with other climbers.  At the same time, they generate precious funds we use for bolting and maintaining local routes.


Wednesday was a big day.  I’d agreed to meet Jeffrey after work to revisit one of Malta’s neglected classics, Physique E5 6a.  A real adventure route in a spectacular location taking a very exposed line up an overhanging wall followed by a wall climb on pocketed limestone.  The route has some history.  John Codling led it many years ago using some threads and a couple of pitons for protection.  There were big runouts, big fall potential.  Happy to have survived the lead, John then took a leap of faith about 25m from the lip of a nearby cave into the sea.  He had the tendency to do things like that in those days!  Noel Toledo and I followed him up the route.

John Codling on the first ascent of "Physique" E5 6a, 23rd Sept 1986, Noel Toledo seconding.
John Codling on the first ascent of “Physique” E5 6a, 23rd Sept 1986, Noel Toledo seconding.
John Moulding on probably the 2nd ascent of Physique. 1989?
John Moulding on probably the 2nd ascent of Physique. 1989?
FA Physique watermark3
John Codling, pleased as punch, a great new route in the bag, belaying Noel up the pitch.
FA Physique watermark 2
Noel Toledo topping out on the route.

Since then its hardly seen any repeats unfortunately.   The threads and pegs deteriorate quickly in our corrosive sea air.  Who bothers to put the effort into replacing such gear?  Hardly anyone.  To his credit Wallrats proprietor Charles Ellul, in his slimmer days (:)) bolted the upper part of the route using three 60kN bolts which are still in place and look like you could hang a bus off them!  Jeff and I had agreed some time ago to rehabilitate the route so we headed to the abseil point and rigged our less than confidence-inspiring abseil anchors.  Jeff’s job was to drill the bolt holes while I would follow him down on a separate abseil rope, cleaning out the holes with blower and brush to prepare them for the resin which would come afterwards.  We both placed a carabiner in the first of Charlie’s bolts we encountered on the abseil, and clove hitched our ropes to it, giving us more security on the abseil.   It got harder further down when the wall became overhanging and the route took a more diagonal line to the platform on the right hand side of the wall.   Without this diagonal line we would abseil straight into the sea.  So Jeff had to periodically lean to the right, searching for natural features he could loop a cord through or jam a nut in in order to clip the rope into it and redirect the abseil sideways.   I had my smartphone in my pocket and took a few pics.  The route really IS spectacular.


At one point Jeff was to my right and lower down, his rope passed through a krab which was attached to a knotted cord jammed into a crack.   I took a pic and then a split second later the knot popped out and we both got a shock as he swung out into the void, his rope twanging against mine and then we both hung there, our hearts thumping, somehow the ‘phone still clutched in my hand.  I popped it back into my pocket and sealed it in tight.  A close shave.

Jeff on the abseil – looking cool, about 0.5 seconds before the thread broke and gave us both the shock of our lives!

Further down, Jeff used a skyhook hooked on the lip of a pocket out on the right.  I don’t like skyhooks. At all. Perhaps because the last time Jeff used one it tried to embed itself in my face, narrowly missing my eye.  With a sense of imminent disaster I clipped into it and lowered off it, holding my breath while willing myself to weigh less.  It took the strain and this time, stayed in place.  Finally we were down on the platform, all holes drilled and cleaned.  It was great to be there again after about  26 years!  The surrounding seacliffs are amazing, the sea blue and close and lapping away at the platform, inviting you to take a swim.  Not this time.  Now we had to work fast, get back out via a 35m jumar.  The sun was setting.  Time was short.  I had my headtorch on but didn’t really want to have to use it!  Jeff volunteered (God bless his soul) to do the honours with the glue gun and place the bolts while I would jumar with the rucksack, drill and other gear.  Exhausting work for someone of my “advanced”  years.  Cough.   We used the very expensive sea-water bolts for the first (bottom) 3 bolts and 316 SS bolts for the rest of the route which should keep it safe for many years.  There’s a ring and a bolt lower off about 1.5m below the top of the route so its possible to lower off back to the platform after leading it, 70m rope needed though!

No I’m not belaying Jeff with my back to him, he’s on the abseil rope gluing in the bolts. I’m just chillin’ 🙂

All those years ago I’d paid a second visit to this platform but spent hours in the sun waiting for my turn to climb.  Felt unwell and instead of climbing out, chose to jumar out using a couple of cords.   It took ages and was very very scary as I got higher and higher, sliding the cords up the rope in turn, praying they wouldn’t somehow get loose, sending me sliding back down the rope to the rocks and my doom below.  Naturally at the time I didn’t realise I should have tied a knot in the rope below me every few metres and clip it to my harness as a safety backup.  Nice memories!

Eventually we topped out just as it got dark and set about sorting the gear and making sure we hadn’t left any shiny expensive stuff lying around.  Next stop was the bar at Gnien il-Gibjun in Zurrieq for a drink to celebrate James Herrera’s birthday.  He’d spent the evening climbing at Garden of Eden where the club held its weekly meet.  Sadly he offered a warm welcome and plenty of smiles, but no cake.


Thursday was another club wall day, Friday I’d agreed to meet my good bearded friend Thomas Ripard to lead the new route at Victoria Lines  just bolted the previous Monday.  We both led it and agreed to a grade of solid 6a+   Not a brilliant route but a worthwhile addition to the crag, one more to go at when in the area anyway.  Next we rigged a toprope on Cruel Jewel F6c.  Yet another Codling route from 1987 originally E3 6a, since then retrobolted by Jeff.  I’d led the second ascent in January 1988 when it was still a trad route, but its actually harder now due to the placement of the crucial third bolt.  Previously you could clip the insitu thread before starting the crux moves, now you have to clip the bolt midway through the crux.  So we toproped it, fell a few times but did the moves.  I decided to go for the redpoint right away and managed to do it clean, about 26 years after my first redpoint of the route!  A good feeling.   Tom then toproped Two Precious F6c the trad route to the left, which feels harder.

At this point I decided to change the name of the new route.  I’d already come up with a name for it but the sight of Tom’s beard I guess got me thinking about Eurovision.  Perhaps there was a resemblance.  I don’t know and I wouldn’t dare suggest it as he is a friend,  but there and then I decided to call the new route Conchita!  Tom was delighted as it had given him a lot of pleasure.  So Conchita it is.  Enjoy the ride people, its unique.

Thomas discovering the pleasures of Conchita
Moving up Conchita’s  second bulge




















Saturday was fundraising day.  Funds for a charity project in Ethiopia and funds for bolts.  Sorely needed funds I might add as the drill is currently occasionally making weird noises and needs a service while the glue gun is damaged and might need replacing.  Hopefully we can get spare parts.  We gave 29 people an experience of climbing at Ix-Xaqqa on Saturday morning.  It would not be possible to host such activities without the help of our core MCC team and friends.  On this occasion our Spanish buddy Manuel and his girlfriend Lucia who are on holiday here took care of handing out and sizing the climbing shoes while stalwarts Stephen Farrugia, Inigo Taylor, Chris Galea and Chris Darmanin helped with belaying and fitting helmets and harnesses to people.  I also have to thank Chris Cassar and James Herrera who showed up at the very end to provide moral support.  In his defence, James had just spent a tough morning working on developing yet another new crag for the enjoyment of our community – soon to be “launched”.  After the event we drank gallons of Shandy down at Rita’s and enjoyed lunch.

Thanks again to everyone!


PS.  All bolting and retrobolting was funded by the Malta Climbing Club.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Noel toledo says:

    Hi simon,
    First of all well done for a great website ! Very interesting stuff. I was happy to go back in time when I was reading this article 🙂 🙂 …. in particular remembering the time we spent rock climbing together with john codling.

    I am afraid i have lost the bottle for rock climbing but whenever I am near a cliff i always try to see from where to best climb it and check out any possible routes.

    all the best for all the rock climbers in malta (both foreigners and maltese) !!!

    noel toledo

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