Climbing the Malta Classics: Circus Oz

Winter 2016 will go down in history as one of the mildest we’ve experienced. Looking back over these two months, I can think of perhaps two climbing days that have been cancelled because of inclement weather. One such sunny February weekend saw me return to Thaiwand Wall for the first time since mid 2014. The purpose of my visit this time around was to project Circus Oz (6c+) with Inigo and Danny. I was hoping to save this John Codling classic for an onsight attempt, but of late my approach to climbing has changed and I’ve been enjoying one day projecting with my buddies who climb at around the same level.

Thaiwand Walls
Danny looks up at the imposing line of tufas that is Circus Oz

For the uninitiated, Thaiwand Wall is the main overhang in a large cave that breaches Continuation Wall, a 90m high cliff face that stretches south from Wied Babu. The cave is approached via a 27m abseil. A couple of cairns mark the position of the abseil point, which would otherwise be a bit tricky to locate. The cave is perched about 60m above sea level, and is part of a descent path used by fishermen for hundreds of years to access a choice fishing spot. I’ve always peered over the edge of the cave at the descent, and I must here tip my hat to the bravery of these fishermen that make this descent unroped (or possibly relying on some nylon washing line strung around weak looking chicken necks).

We warmed up on Revolver (6a), a surprisingly cruxy route that requires good mantle shelf skills. This is a very scenic line that gives the climber plenty of exposure – it tackles the right hand wall of the cave, rather than Thaiwand Wall proper, and the climber feels the full exposure of being on a 90m high cliff if they look down and right towards the sea.

Simon chose his t-shirt just so that it would match the rope
Simon chose his t-shirt just so that it would match the rope

SPOILER WARNING! What you’re about to read is a bit of a beta-spray about Circus Oz (6c+).
With the warm up routine out of the way Inigo set about using his stick clipping skills to get the first (rather high) bolt clipped and proceeded up the line very kindly placing the draws for Danny and I. From Inigo’s initial recce it seemed pretty obvious that the route would have two sticking points for us: a technical crux around the thickest section of tufas leading to a good rest on a ledge, followed by a series of moves to test our endurance. Getting the chain clipped would present a final hurdle – sharp holds and awkward positioning, especially for someone long and lanky like me.

With Inigo back on the ground it was my turn to get on the rocks and it all felt pretty solid until I got to the first crux… the route offers a series of very inviting hanging tufas to the right, but these lead to a dead end. Cue a rest on the rope to gather my senses and figure out what to do with myself. Rather than going on solid ground hugging big tufas you’ve got to make a counterintuitive cross over move coupled with a heel hook to the left of the line. One of those mental moves that look scary before you actually try them out. Once you figure out the holds and your body positioning it all feels much easier. The final overhang coming out of the rest ledge also had me hangdogging, this time to figure out which of the multitude of pockets would be the best ones to use. The moves didn’t feel as hard as Inigo made them out to be, but this was probably due to my greater reach (being 190cm with a +7cm ape index is helpful sometimes!). Once the chain was clipped I had another play on the top section to make sure I remembered which holds to go for, then it was back to the ground to let Danny have his go at the route.

After a good rest and some snacks to get our blood sugar levels back up, it was time to start the red point burns. Inigo roped up, complaining a little bit about the midday sun. The Englishman cruised through the sea of tufas, sailed past the technical crux with ease and had an awkward rest on the ledge. He moved on from the ledge and into the final pocketed overhang, bam bam bam, and it looked like he’d finish the route, but I guess the sun had worked its effects on him – something went wrong and Inigo’s grip slipped off just as he was moving up to the chain. Robbed at the finish line!

With Inigo’s last minute troubles weighing heavily on my confidence I roped up and tried to slow down my breathing and heart rate to an acceptable level. I strapped on my climbing shoes, did the obligatory buddy check and started up the route. I remember Inigo saying something along the lines of “you’re lucky with the cloud cover” as I made my way past the first bolt. My breathing was controlled, the clouds were indeed taking the edge off the sweltering winter sun, and I was somehow in THE ZONE. Everything fell into place like a lucky streak of blocks in a game of Tetris, one move after the other I found myself pulling through the first crux (away from the hanging tufas) and onto the rest ledge. I gathered my wits about me, stayed in the zone, and set off up what I thought would be my failing point. Somehow my lucky streak kept going, and I moved from one pocket to the other with ease. I even managed to find a comfortable clipping position for the chain. Bam, ROT PUNKT, and no pump in my forearms to boot.

Danny Mainwaring starts up Circus Oz 6c+
Danny Mainwaring starts up Circus Oz 6c+

Danny roped up for his go, murmuring the mantra “find your happy space”. The mumbling worked, before I knew it Danny was resting on the ledge, having made it through the crux in good form. A shake out and a reminder to “find his happy space”, a couple of grunts, and Danny was at the chain. Two out of three had completed their goal for the day.

Not wanting to be “left behind” Inigo roped up for another red point attempt, and on this go the weather god pitied his pinking skin and sent in some cloud cover. It was a case of third time’s the charm for Inigo as he cruised through the route with ease and came back down to celebrate with us. Another great day out at the crag.

Thaiwand Wall topo
Thaiwand Wall topo

Community Service

With a decent amount of daylight left I set about replacing some of the bolts on Circus Oz. The route was originally climbed by John Codling in 1998 using mostly trad gear, a couple of preplaced slings and a big peg just before the first crux. Two 10mm 316 bolts were added some time in the early 2000s, and a few years after that a few 12mm 316 bolts made the line a complete sport route. I replaced the two 10mm bolts and a few of the 12mm bolts that were showing signs of surface corrosion. The starting bolt was also lowered a little, so it is now not really necessary to stick clip. Due to the cave’s proximity to the sea and in light of a recent UIAA report on materials suitable for bolting we placed Seawater series (high corrosion resistant) stainless steel bolts which should last 50 years. The Malta Climbing Club is funded through memberships and donations, without which we wouldn’t be able to maintain climbing infrastructure. If you want to make a donation click on Bolt Fund above.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kyle says:

    Cool Loved it

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