Not all classics are hard: The Outer Zone

A contribution by club member Alex Teoli

Despite the ongoing pandemic and blistering heatwave, it’s been a good year for climbing in Malta with the likes of Charlie Ylaya, Suhail Kakpori, Nicola Gatti and Sean Cassar absolutely crushing it on the local scene.

Suhail (aka Kako) has already notched up five climbs in the 8th grade (including an 8a+/b). Meanwhile, Charlie sent his first-ever 8a earlier this year, followed by two more shortly after.

Not content with redpointing his first 8a, veteran climber Nicola Gatti decided to repeat the feat… this time with his bare feet. Elsewhere, local Maltese climber Sean Cassar has also recently redpointed his first 8a (Tropical Hurricane), no doubt the first of many. And this isn’t even mentioning many other climbers – such as Matt Galea and Nick Hladnik – who are sending hard at the moment. 

So, you get the idea, lots of hard sends and people pushing themselves to the limit. 

Chris Von Brockdorf hangs onto the roof of a climbing route at Wied il-Mieħaħ
Chris Von Brockdorf cuts loose on the roof of Outer Zone (6a) at Wied il-Mielaħ, Gozo. Photo by Gianluca Agius

With this in mind, I felt almost embarrassed when asked to write about this 6a route in Gozo I had recently done. But I guess climbing isn’t just about sending hard all the time, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong I would love to send like those guys. Their achievements are awe-inspiring and their dedication to the task is one which we can all aspire to.

But I guess I can justify this piece in that climbing is a sport for all shapes and sizes, something anyone can get into and try at least once. So, if we just mention the hard climbs all the time, then how can we call what we do an inclusive sport? 

Also, not all classics are in the 7th grade or higher and this route in Gozo is living proof of that. 

Wied il-Mielaħ

Famous for its iconic stone arch, Wied il-Mielah is a tourist hotspot and one of the most Instagrammed places in Gozo. For many, it’s a chance to see an incredible geological formation. For rock climbers, it’s a giant playground, one to be respected and looked after but a playground nonetheless.

Rock climbers on the sea arch at Wied il-Mielaħ
Climbers on the impressive column of the Wied il-Mielaħ arch. Photo by Chris Davies / Gozo Tourism Authority

With relatively comfortable belaying spots, the valley itself is littered with routes ranging in difficulty from 3+ all the way to 8a, with different styles of climbing to accommodate any climber.

But the route I’m focusing on is located on the arch itself. As you walk down the narrow staircase overlooking the old river bed, you come across this incredible limestone arch jutting out to sea. There are several routes to abseil from on the actual stack but the one I want to focus on is in the inner wall, right on the frame of the ‘window’. 

Outerzone (6a)

I first came across this route a few years back and through my novice eyes, it looked impossible. For someone with little to no experience, it can be an intimidating sight to see. In hindsight, I wish I’d given it a go back then. 

But now, some years later, I am back. This time around I had to try it to see what all the fuss was about. As I crossed the valley over to the arch I couldn’t help but get excited. 

Some of my friends who are well on their way to projecting 7bs had just given it a go. It was refreshing to see these people who I consider strong climbers get so stoked about this 6a. 

Wied il-Mielaħ Sea arch climbing
Outer Zone (6a) follows an arête and a horizontal roof. Photo by Stephen Farrugia

The majority of this 16 metre is relatively straightforward with large jagged jugs and big footholds spread across. It’s the last five metres or so that make this route memorable, an overhang that requires a small leap of faith into the void.

It has just the right amount of solid holds to make you feel safe and just the right amount of exposure to get your heart pumping. Plus, this section is begging for a heel hook that will undoubtedly make you feel like a badass.

After that, you have a small traverse to get to the chain and then before you know it, you’re being lowered down the window back to solid ground.

Jaz Fenech Henson carefully places his heel hooks in the horizontal roof of Outer Zone (6a). Photo by Gianluca Agius.

Closing thoughts

Actually enjoying the process and projecting hard is a bit like a balancing act at times, one which I’m still trying to navigate myself through after five years of climbing. And this route is a great reminder for why we do this in the first place, to have fun and challenge ourselves not just physically but also mentally.

But the best part is, we choose how hard to push ourselves.

About the Author

Alex Teoli is a British-Maltese rock climber and freelance writer. On top of this, he describes himself as a fan of football, Liverpool and beer. He enjoys nothing better than a hot mug of tea after a day of climbing.

Author Alex Teoli on Scorpio Direct (6b/+), Flakeout Walls, Mġarr ix-Xini Valley, Gozo. Inset photo by Gianluca Agius

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