Stevie Haston: 30 years of climbing 8s on the Maltese islands

Stevie Haston, a renowned climber with a penchant for pushing boundaries, has left an indelible mark on the world of climbing. Born amidst the vibrant culture of London and the rustic charm of Gozo, Stevie’s climbing journey has been a remarkable blend of adventure and innovation. As he celebrates thirty years of routes at grade 8a and higher on the Maltese islands, we look at his early experiences, insights, and thoughts on the evolution of climbing.

Climbing on the imposing cliffs of Gozo. Photo by Inigo Taylor


Early Beginnings in Gozo

Growing up between two worlds— urban London and Gozo’s idyllic landscapes—Stevie’s early days were spent chasing goats and sheep over the Gozitan countryside which felt a hundred years behind his London inner city life. His introduction to “climbing” was facilitated by his grandfather, one of those legendary Gozitans who climbed before anyone even knew that climbing was an activity to be pursued. Grandpa Haston was kind enough not to take Stevie out anywhere dangerous until he’d reached the venerable age of seven!

Climbing is etched into Maltese and Gozitan DNA – from a cable car to Fungus rock in the 1600s; to fishermen’s routes that weigh in at around 6a (done before climbing shoes, or any shoes whatsoever), climbing has been going on here through the ages, with Stevie being very much part of the evolution of this tradition.

1800s engraving by Lemaitre Sirbeit titled “Fishing on the Island of Gozo” which appears to depict the hauling up of creels [crab basket traps], and possibly the collecting of bird eggs from an unidentified [likely idealised] CAVE in the cliff face. • Published in *L’Univers Pittoresque*, Paris 1847. Source: https://www.facebook.com/MaltaUnderground

Asked to recount some memorable tales from his childhood, Stevie wistfully recalls his first solo up the chossy back side back of the Tower of Power (Lembuba, 4+) and being too scared to solo down; until his fear of being caught up top in the dark overcame his fear of downclimbing. Moving on to his hardest (or scariest?) childhood adventure Stevie tells of soloing the wide chimney at White Tower (Farse Bandit, 6a+) as a scrawny kid in school plimsols:

“I remember being two feet on one side and two hands on the other and looking down into hell!”  

Farse Bandit, 6a+ at the White Tower, Nadur Gozo. Stevie soloed this route in his school shoes! Photo by Stephen Farrugia

Evolution of Climbing in Gozo

The first 8a Stevie completed on Gozo was a trad route in the countryside near Nadur. One of the early sport 8s was A view to a Kill, originally put up with some aid points by another Brit who left a big mark on the local climbing scene, John Codling. Stevie made the first free ascent of the route, located in one of the most scenic spots you could imagine, just above the Blue Hole beneath the Azure Window. Photos of the ascent made it into a British climbing magazine in 1993 for an article Stevie wrote about the potential of Gozitan and Maltese climbing. The photo is impossible to recreate in modern times, as the Azure Window collapsed into the sea that helped carve it in 2017.    

Stevie on A View To a Kill at id-Dwejra, Gozo. Photo from the Stevie Haston archive

Stevie is rueful about the near-dormant state of the local climbing scene in his absence; with only a handful of locals putting up cutting edge routes and seeking hard grades. Malta developed a reputation as a destination strictly for traditional climbing, and foreigners sought the winter sun and athletic climbing on other shores.

Stevie relocated to Gozo in the early 2010s, and his exploits thrust Malta and Gozo into the international climbing spotlight. Stevie’s game-changing development of the Underworld in 2011-2012 with routes like King of Kings 8b+, a 70m near horizontal roof, showcased the islands’ untapped potential for hard climbing.    

Having a laugh (or is it a scream?) in the near horizontal roof of The Underworld, San Lawrenz, Gozo. Photo by Inigo Taylor

Favourite routes

Asked to name a few of his favourite creations, Stevie names The Underworld and the North Coast of Gozo (Fruitcake Land and Wied il-Mielaħ) for their distinct rock composition, which features a greater sand and fossil content in the rock matrix. This creates a unique rock type that isn’t your typical sport climbing bullet hard limestone – think steep rock and exciting (i.e. sometimes friable) holds. Earlier this year Stevie had a special guest in Gozo – none other than Adam Ondra. Despite Stevie’s best efforts to coax Adam down into the Underworld to sample the insane conditions that the crag has to offer, the wind and waves had other plans that led the two legends to White Tower, for a less adrenaline intensive outing.

The peculiar limestone of Fruitcake Land, near Forna Point, Gozo. Photo by Stephen Farrugia

At the White Tower Adam proceeded to onsight several of Stevie’s test pieces and heaped praise on the quality of the cliff and the climbs. In Stevie’s own words:

“The Maltese don’t realise how good those routes are: gently overhanging, often perfect with very technical feet. I would have loved to see Adam at the Underworld as it’s different, it has another element, bigger emotions. Some routes are spicy and epic down there.”  

The Mental Game

Stevie is notorious for putting up routes where few would dare venture, be it for the friable aspect of the rock or the bold sections between reliable protection. Anyone who’s climbed some of Stevie’s more esoteric sport routes in Gozo will no doubt have felt this pedigree. A Stevie Haston route has to be earned, it’s not given away for free – these routes fight what Stevie feels is the antiseptic and tame nature of modern sport climbing.

The Chalice of Malice 7a, one of Stevie’s unlikely routes. Its entry in the 2013 guide book comes with a skull and crossbones! Photo by Inigo Taylor

Growing up on Gozo there was a certain Inshallah (god wills it) attitude which made him want to seek out the slightly less tame side of climbing: his exploits as a professional ice climber are certainly an aspect of this.
Having traveled all around the world, Stevie’s plea to the local climbing is to keep the real spirit of climbing going and not just focus on roadside 8 meter high cliffs.  

“The feelings one gets on a good route, say at the Blue Grotto or in Gozo are not roadside emotions. Routes vary, rock varies and so do runouts, and so it should be. It would be a very boring world if the bolts were a meter and a half apart as they are at some crags in Malta. Some of the routes on Gozo are defiantly Terrain de adventure and will be clearly labelled in the new guide book.”

Alla Jħobbok – a timelapse of the first ascent recorded by Stephen Farrugia

“On the south coast of Gozo there are 3 routes all 140 meters high, making them the longest routes on the Maltese islands. For Malta these are exciting and if you call yourself Maltese you should perhaps do one. Alla Jħobbok is only 6a and it is said that Malta Climbing Club will equip it properly to make it accessible to more people, as it’s currently a trad route. The other 2 routes are a bit more advanced but really great routes with a lot of exposure. All three routes have a complicated access which requires multiple abseils or the use of a boat.”

Coaching and Guiding

For the last few years Stevie has been actively engaged in guiding and coaching in Gozo. Stevie maintains that today it’s much easier to become good at climbing thanks to all the resources available, including professionals of his ilk that are eager to share their passion and knowledge with clients and athletes. Having taught thousands of climbers of different capacities, his main piece of advise is to “enjoy yourself, gain joy, and spread your wings”.

Regarding his past reputation for being stern with his climbing companions, Stevie seems to have mellowed through the years. These days it’s not uncommon to find him accompanied by his faithful dog Diego, who plays the role of congenial guiding companion, especially when Stevie is mentoring young climbers.  

Future Aspirations

Looking ahead, Stevie’s vision is clear: to keep learning, growing, and sharing the passion that has driven his remarkable journey. His dedication to the craft is infectious, inspiring both novice and experienced climbers to seek their own climbing horizons.

In true Gozitan fashion he keeps several breeds of chickens, but don’t be fooled; his garden is also home to weights and a fingerboard along with flowers and vegetables: a testament to his lifelong commitment to the art and science of climbing.

Stevie nursing one of his fledgling chickens. Photo by Inigo Taylor

A Message to the Maltese: Embrace Your Climbing Heritage

As Stevie celebrates thirty years of climbing at the cutting edge on the Maltese islands, his message to the local climbing community is clear. He urges the Maltese to recognise and embrace their inherent climbing heritage, a legacy that spans centuries. He underscores the fact that world-class climbing exists in our backyard, waiting to be explored and celebrated.  

If you’d like to hire Stevie’s services for coaching or guiding you may contact him by email on hastonstevie@gmail.com

Climber on a big white seacliff.
The author, Stephen Farrugia, on the top pitch of Alla Jħobbok, March 2012. Photo by Stevie Haston
“I spent most of the day at the top of the cliff shooting stills for the time lapse video linked above. When he topped out, Stevie decided I’d earned myself the chance to toprope the top half of the route (or as far as the rope would stretch!) just as the sun was about to set. This was the first time I met Stevie – quite an introduction to the man and his mental routes barely three months into my climbing career!”

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