Living and climbing on a small, densely populated island such as Malta it is very rare to come across an unclimbed (or unclaimed) stretch of rock. All we’ve got to share as climbers are 316km2 according to Wikipedia. Men and women have been climbing on these rocks for hundreds of years – fishermen, egg collectors, smugglers, and more recently – rock climbers. Given this background, you can imagine my elation to have come across a moderately sized cave in a well travelled (and easily accessible) area that showed no signs of previous climbs. This “discovery” started in February 2014 while I was hiking on the popular Ħaġar Qim – Għar Lapsi trail. While looking up at the cliffs above the inland sea I spotted a series of caves, but from my low position I couldn’t really tell how big the caves were. Either way, I took some photos and made a mental note to revisit the area. Fast forward to April 2014, and I’m headed to Għar Lapsi with Aaron, when he suggests that we make a detour to check out the caves before climbing.
The first two caves we visited turned out to have a very low roofs, too low to sport climb, but there’s potential for boulderers armed with enough crash pads. Our voyage of discovery didn’t start out too well – in my mind I was beginning to think that maybe there was a reason no one had developed climbing routes here before. Having made the trek down to the caves, we trudged on along the slopes to find the fabled “big cave” with a roof full of stalagmites that I had seen from below. Bounding from rock to rock with the grace of drunken mountain goats we made our way past a quarry and onto a grey slab and looking up at the cliff we saw a vision of steep, overhanging white rock… the holy grail, the fabled cave – it existed, and it was big enough to climb in. A recce around the inside of the cave revealed no bolts. Just to be certain, we scrambled up to the top, and were greeted by an even bigger surprise – we were right under the temple of Mnajdra, making the cave easily accessible. It felt like Aaron and I had come across the holy grail – unclimbed rock featuring steep overhangs in an easy access area – hidden in plain sight.
Aaron and I returned on a Sunday morning, accompanied by James and armed with tools generously supplied by the Malta Climbing Club. On our first visit we tackled the right hand side of the cave, setting up two routes using a mix of expansion bolts and resin bolts depending on the overhang of the wall. Over May and June James, Aaron, Manuel, Lucia and myself visited the cave around three times a week, alternating bolting days with climbing days. It’s nice to take home an ascent of a new route after you’ve dedicated a few afternoons to setting it up – drilling holes, blowing them out, and glueing (or hammering) in bolts. In between we also found time to clear the accumulation of rubbish that built up in the cave – some unknown source littered the surrounding area with hundreds of plastic water bottles that filled four large bin bags by the time we’d gathered them all.
As we set up more routes (and bagged first ascents) we started to invite other climbers along to the crag to share our new routes with. It is very satisfying to see climbers enjoy your creations – or your interpretation of a way to climb mother nature’s creation.
Why Cobra Cave?
The name of the new crag comes from the self-assigned nickname that we, the route setters, gave ourselves in the summer of 2013, when over the space of a few short weeks we all developed cobra-shaped rope burns / bruises by catching skin between a quickdraw and the rope. This amazing feat of self flagellation is usually achieved when cleaning a severely overhanging route after a successful send, when post climb elation gets in the way of sensible rope work and flailing arms get caught betwixt rope and draw. Anyone who develops a “Cobra” is welcome to take on the title of Cobra Brother or Sister. Drop us a line and we’ll teach you the secret handshake!
There are three distinct sectors in the Cobra Cave area – the main cave and the left and right walls. Cobra Cave features overhanging and roof climbs, a few of which can probably be climbed in the rain (with a wet finish) since they start deep inside the cave. The routes inside the cave offer a mix of endurance climbing on big jugs interspersed with technical cruxes. The left wall offers the easiest way back to the top of the cliff and is envisaged as a “School Wall” where novices can practice lead climbing. The right wall features technical routes on a vertical wall with some slightly overhanging bulges. At the time of publication the following routes were still unbolted: (1) Oracles and Niches and (8) Fat Lady’s Thighs. (7) Prehistoric Enigmatic Societies is still awaiting a first ascent, however Kenneth Abela, who came closest to sending the open project, said the grade should be in the range of hard 7a+ or soft 7b. (7) and (8) are open projects and we’d appreciate if the first ascensionist would contact us through the Malta Climbing Club so that we can update our records both with the FA details as well as the suggested route grade. Route details can be found in the PDF attached to this article, and the PDF will be updated as developments are made.
Some people love to climb in the sun…most don’t, not in summer anyway! Cobra cave and walls are entirely in the shade in the morning till around 13:00. The left half of Cobra Cave and the right wall are in the shade from 4pm. The crag is ideal for climbing all day in Winter and early morning and late evening in warmer months
The equipment used in Cobra Cave is 316 Stainless Steel, the recommended material for Malta’s corrosive sea-salt air. The bolts used in the cave were provided by Manuel, James, Aaron and myself, while the Malta Climbing Club bolt fund generously provided us with the tools, resin and the main abseil chain that is used to lower off into the cave.
As mentioned above, the only “reserved” lines are marked in the PDF – we encourage other route setters to contribute their routes in the cave. If any routes are added we encourage equippers to use only 316SS or better, as using cheaper materials will result in a short term saving only for the route setter – cheaper materials deteriorate exceedingly quickly when exposed to sea salt air and need to be replaced (usually at the MCC Bolt Fund’s expense). This double expenditure can be avoided by using proper materials at the outset, and the MCC is willing to provide competent route setters with the required materials funds permitting. Contact Simon Alden for more information.
So here’s the pdf!