As the temperatures soar in the Mediterranean many climbers find it hard to keep up with their favourite sport and keep a cool head. Luckily the Maltese islands are surrounded by crystal clear waters that offer a great respite from the heat. And for those who just can’t do without climbing, Malta and Gozo have some great venues for Deep Water Soloing (DWS) and Sea Level Traversing (SLT). When it gets too hot, plop into the water to freshen up!
What is DWS?
For the uninitiated, DWS and SLT are both terms for climbing above water without ropes (which is why it’s referred to as soloing). Climbers tend to use the term DWS for climbs that go vertically up away from the water, and end either with a top out or with a graceful jump into the water. The onus is on the climber to make sure their fall is clear and into water which is deep enough to fall or jump into. SLT is the tamer form of soloing above water: as the name implies, it involves going sideways close to the water, rather than climbing up cliffs and topping out or jumping off!
DWS and SLT Routes are graded using a combination of the S Grade and the French Sport grade, for example S1 6a. The S Grade ranges from S0 to S3. Depending on whether you’re going sideways or upwards, the S grade will generally refer to the most dangerous part of the climb (for example when traversing there may be shallower reefs).
S0: Safe landings
S1: Pay attention, some parts may not be deep enough
S2: Not all landings will be clean, and there may be ledges
S3: Treat this as a solo route – do not fall
The French sport grade, as with sport climbing routes, will refer to the overall difficulty of the climb from beginning to end. Bear in mind that your hands may be wet, and rock close to the water can be greasy, or coated with fine salt crystals that make your hands sweat!
What do I need?
The equipment needed for DWS and SLT is at its most basic just a pair of climbing shoes. Liquid chalk is an option if you plan on doing some harder climbing or if you’ve got particularly sweaty hands. We don’t recommend that you use a chalk bag as the minute you fall in your chalk stash will be ruined, and you won’t be able to use your chalk bag for a few days. It goes without saying that you’ll also need appropriate swim wear for the inevitable dive into the water 😉
You need to be a strong enough swimmer to make it back to shore – it’s not always possible or easy to get back onto the rocks at the point you fall into the water. We recommend that, as with any climbing activity, you always take a buddy in case anything goes wrong. You should also bear in mind that many of the climbing spots we frequent are secluded and you might not always have mobile phone signal to call for help.
When can I DWS?
If you ask the locals the swimming season is from June to September, however the Mediterranean sea will still be reasonably warm enough in October, and for those from northern climates used to swimming in very cold waters even a December dip will feel relatively warm. According to Wikipedia average sea temperatures in Malta never drop below 15°C in the winter months, and hover between 20°C and 26°C from June to November.
Always check the weather forecast, and pay particular attention to wind strength and swell direction, as these two factors will determine how calm the sea will be – it’s not easy to get out of choppy seas.
A non-exhaustive list of DWS / SLT locations in Malta, Gozo and Comino – click on the location to jump to Google Maps:
Għar Ħasan (Wied Mixta)
One of Malta’s best spots for DWS – Solid rock, traverses for days, and overhangs and vertical routes that top out. Just don’t scare the fishermen when you’re topping out!
This secluded valley is close to Għar Ħasan and has some great traverses and some routes that end with a jump in the sea.
Sea level traversing at the very bottom of this popular climbing area. Some routes go up and end with a top out and long hike back to the start, or a dive from up high.
Sea level traverse around the base of this pillar / climbing crag. Only accessible by abseil (or by boat!), and the exit is up the same way you came down. There is some DWS on the overhanging Blue grotto arch nearby.
A couple of routes on a rickety looking arch known as the Mouth of the Gorgon. Not for the faint hearted.
SLT and some steep overhanging routes in this popular swimming area. Watch out for boats and bathers!
SLT either on the main cliff, or around Ix-Xaqqa island (which isn’t really an island). Secluded, and with a long approach, but worth the hike.
Miġra l-Ferħa / Ras id-Dawwara
SLT for days and days on these big secluded cliffs. Ras id-Dawwara (lots of tufas and overhangs) can be reached by kayak or by boat if you can porter your vessel down the narrow ravine at Miġra l-Ferħa.
Fomm ir-Riħ (direction Blata tal-Melħ)
If you manage to get down to sea level Trozz Walls have some great pocketed overhangs, and at the NW of this bay there’s a big cave with overhangs. If you don’t fancy a downclimb to sea level you could get here by boat or kayak from Ġnejna bay.
Il-Prajjiet (Anchor Bay / Popeye Village)
Plenty of traversing and some low cliffs that can be topped out – lots to explore!
The most urban Deep Water Soloing venue you’ve ever been to – in the heart of Sliema, you could top out and walk straight to a cafe for refreshments. This low cave has water just about deep enough to make for safe landings.
Mistra / Selmun (AKA St. Paul’s Islands)
The islands just across the water are supposedly where St. Paul was shipwrecked on his voyage to Rome. We don’t climb on the islands themselves (which like other coastal islets are protected and technically illegal to tread on). From the narrowest point of the channel start traversing SW. You can keep going past several caves, or top out at the overhangs. Watch out for boat traffic!
Comino – Lantern Point
Traverses and big roofs with top outs at the most south westerly point of Comino. Take a ferry to the Blue Lagoon and follow the coastal trail up to the Tower, then down to the point.
Comino – Crystal Lagoon
Traverses around this very busy inlet. Lots of boats and swimmers to look out for, but it’s a lot closer to the Blue Lagoon ferry drop off.
Comino – Santa Marija Caves
At the North East end of Comino, some fun low level traversing. Caution in the roofs, the rock isn’t as good here as it is at Lantern point. Boat traffic can be an issue!
Gozo – Mġarr ix-Xini
Traverse for days on either side of this popular swimming bay. The eastern wall has a low cave around 200m out from the bay with some fun roof climbing. The western wall has caves further out.
Gozo – Xlendi
This densely built up seaside town sits at the end of a rocky inlet with steep cliffs on the far side. There’s a low cave just past the restaurants by the jetty, but fishing boats are often moored here for shade. You can also swim across to the nun’s bathing cave for some steep climbs or traverses at sea level. There are some caves with great DWS potential outside the bay both to the north and to the south, but to get here you’ll need a boat or a kayak.
Gozo – Dwejra Fungus rock traverse
Dwejra is famous for its inland sea and the former Azure window which collapsed during a storm some years ago. Whilst there’s some potential for SLT and DWS at the inland sea the area is busy with bathers and boats. The bay to the south of the inland sea, near Fungus rock, has a fun SLT with clean landings. Follow the footpath from the parking area to the tower, and carry on towards the bay till some steps lead down to the water.