Rock Climbing in Malta

This blog post has been a long time in the making. As many of my readers will know, I’m a rock climber. However, I don’t think I’ve said much about my climbing background before.

I started around 2009, while we were living in the UK, when a German colleague wanted to start climbing and was looking for a partner. And of all people he was looking at me, who had trouble climbing a few meters on a ladder. Long story short, he convinced me, and what started with simple indoor bouldering traverses soon led to roped climbing (on a top-rope), and eventually to indoor lead. My technique improved, and my confidence with it, until the next regular climbing partner convinced me to head outdoors. Of course outdoor climbing is a very different affair, and I still remember the challenge of simply walking to and from the crags. It builds character, he told me. (An assessment that I wholeheartedly agree with.) In time we moved to Malta, where I quickly realised that if I wanted to climb it has to be outdoors, as there are no proper climbing gyms around. It took me a while to adjust. Several months, in fact, until I had the confidence to try leading again. But by then I was completely hooked, and as I added more vertical mileage, my abilities and confidence improved. All this was sport climbing, where there are pre-fixed bolts on the routes, and which has really taken over the island. I never really thought I’d ever do trad climbing, where one has to put in the protection oneself. For one thing, I thought that limestone and trad don’t mix too well. It’s not granite, of course, or gritstone, but there are ways to protect routes, particularly in the lower grades.

So about four years ago I made the shift. I still do a lot of sport climbing, but I also enjoy the challenge and the adventure of trad climbing. After tracking down and buying a copy of the 2007 comprehensive guidebook, I realised that there was a wealth of routes to be explored, often at crags that have seen virtually no traffic in the last several years, as sport climbing has become the dominant style. Sadly, this guidebook is long out of print, and the current (2013) guidebook does not include any information about routes with traditional protection.

Since I started with trad, I have been on the lookout for older guidebooks, and soon managed to find a used copy (in good condition) of Commander Graham’s c. 1971 “Rock Climbing in Malta”, at a Scottish bookstore that specialises in mountaineering books. To say I was excited about this is a major understatement! I had heard about the rich heritage that the Royal Marines had left to local climbing while they were stationed here, but now I finally had the evidence in my hands. And I must say that there is something special about the way guidebooks were written back then, that I think adds a lot to the experience. It has been a joy (and an adventure) to work on several of these routes over the last few years. (The inquisitive can find a few examples in earlier articles on this blog.)

Recognising the inherent risk with having all information on this climbing heritage in out-of-print guidebooks, I really wanted to get this information out there, before it all gets lost. Very few locals climb in the traditional style any more, though I believe the interest is there, if they only had access to the necessary information. So a little more than two years ago I reached out to Surg. Cdr. Adrian Mellor, then chairman of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Mountaineering Club, for permission to reproduce this book here, which the club was kind enough to grant. With the RNRMMC’s permission it is my pleasure to share with you a complete facsimile of the guidebook “Rock Climbing in Malta”, written by Cdr. John D. Graham and published by the Royal Naval Mountaineering Club in Malta in the early 1970s. The link will lead you to a PDF that can be browsed on the web or through Google Drive.

To complement this release, I have also created a page on this blog, which can be accessed through the top menu, dedicated to the subject of Rock Climbing in Malta. The page is meant as a one-stop reference on the subject, and is initially populated with a list of all known published guidebooks (with a link to the PDF in the case of Cdr. Graham’s), and a list with links to the topos for routes opened by myself or my climbing partners. Climb safe!

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