(first published on 02/06/2012)
Sometimes, you just get that feeling that things aren’t going to work out. I picked Kyle up on Sunday at 08:25hrs as usual and we set off on our regular pilgrimage to “our” new crag in Gozo. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the birds (had there been any) would have been whistling merrily in the sky. Kyle confidently assured me that the weather was going to stay like that all day. Perfect. You see, Kyle has a website, an oracle he consults regularly that provides him with highly accurate (hourly) weather forecasts. Things were looking good. We’d set up two 60m sports routes there already since December. Today we were planning to start on route nr. 3 We were due to meet Xavier Hancock and his buddy Thomas on Gozo as they were going to repeat one of the routes and hopefully provide us with some feedback as to quality, grade, bolt placement and other factors. Obviously the hope was that they’d somehow find the routes harder than we did. In an ideal world they would fall off at the crux..or need rescuing even! In an ideal world, all who follow, struggle!
So we made it onto the 9am ferry and sailed for Mgarr. In the meantime on Gozo, Xav was already on the way to the crag. So far so good. No rain, but it WAS somewhat cloudier than Malta. From Mgarr harbour we drove at top speed to the town nearest the crag 🙂 then along a bumpy clifftop track, often with little between the car and a long drop to the wavetops below. Hmm. It is A LOT cloudier now we thought. Soon we were driving along a track through some fields deep in hunting and trapping territory. I swung off the track to park in a field when the track ended – and then things got interesting. The car felt erm squishy? Kyle hopped out and had a look at the front wheels and immediately suggested I reverse out. I tried. Lots of wheelspin, lots of mud flying everywhere but little in the way of backward progress. Damn. I popped my head out of the car window and watched the wheels settle happily into a sea of mud. Nice. I clambered out and we tried placing rocks behind the wheels. More spinning, no progress. So much for 4-wheel drive. I suddenly knew what it was like to be Captain Schettino. The wheels sank deeper. Lots of swearing. Screw that, lets go climbing I told Kyle. We could sort the car out later. We had a whole day ahead to climb and drill and bolt and get the new route created. It would all be worth it in the end wouldn’t it?
We grabbed the gear and tried to remain optimistic as we walked to the cliff as we knew we’d only postponed the “car hopelessly stuck in the mud” problem until later. But hey, we were going climbing!
At the top of the crag Xavier’s abseil rope was in place and as we peeked over the edge we could see that they’d already started on the second pitch of “A Bit too Far”. It seemed to be going well so we rigged our own ab rope and geared up complete with straws, bolt drill, ascenders, descenders, brushes etc. By this time Xavier had taken over the lead and was climbing the final, hardest pitch we’d given 6a. Damn. He looked ok on the route. Didn’t seem to be having any trouble. I decided it wouldn’t be sportive to throw a small stone at his head or perhaps roll something down onto him to force him to come off. Good decision. Boy would he save the day for us later!
We were soon all set to go down. Ab rope was anchored, we were all geared up and the rope was hanging down the new line. I clipped my shunt onto the rope as back up, clipped my belay/ descending device and stood at the edge waiting for Xavier to top out. When he did we chatted about the route. Comments seemed positive. He was at his limit he said. Excellent. When Thomas arrived he thought it was high end grade F5 maybe 6a but he wasn’t leading was he? Xavier obviously has better judgement anyway. It had to be at least 6a! Come on!
Then just as they finished packing their gear, it started to hail. And rain. It rained a lot. Damn. They left with the promise to return later to haul our car out of the mud. Thank God. Somehow I couldn’t imagine CAA showing up anytime soon. Their truck probably wouldn’t be able to negotiate the narrow clifftop track anyway. I could imagine the CAA operator saying “You’re stuck in the mud …where??? Are you kidding me??”
Route nr. 3 development project – abort! I unclipped myself from the rope in the driving rain and started to haul the ab rope up again. Kyle, who intelligently hadn’t brought a rainproof jacket, ran around quickly (frantically?) packing all his gear and even more quickly getting soaked to the skin. My Goretex protected my torso and arms and head but feet and legs were soaked very soon too. Equipment back in the rucksacks, we trudged off in the mud, hail and rain back to the car. We settled in the heated seats and turned them up to 5, steam coming off our wet bums as the weather outside threw all it could at us. I was hoping Kyle wouldn’t get hypothermic as by now all trace of colour and indeed life, had left his skin. His dad wouldn’t be pleased. In the meantime, the mud got muddier, the car sank deeper, our bums got hotter. Life returned to Kyle. After about half an hour Xavier called to see if we were still stuck in the mud. Yes we were! And how! Eventually he showed up with his pick-up and young family. Lovely to meet the wife and kids, wish the circumstances were slightly different! The tow rope was tied. The pickup heaved and pulled and just as quickly the rope snapped. The car hadn’t moved an inch. So we quadrupled the tow rope. Then nothing for it but to get down on our hands and knees in the mud and dig the wheels out with our bare hands.
The day was going well so far. Yes it was!
Much heaving and pulling and hauling and cursing later the car finally started to move and slide backwards as Xavier valiantly burnt out his clutch. We were out. The day was saved. I was very thankful. Now time for ravjul and a hot chocolate at Odyssey in Marsalforn! I knew that that morning Kurt Vella Haber was at Mgarr ix-Xini working on his own project. I imagined him by now to be either sitting in a coffee shop having a cappuccino while sheltering from the rain or huddled under an overhang, wet and miserable. I called him. He wasn’t wet, he wasn’t miserable and he wasn’t huddled anywhere. “What rain?” he said! Damn. It had only rained in our corner of Gozo. Go figure. So that was my Sunday. Back in Malta, all was calm and sunny. Damn.