Sport Climbing in Malta & Gozo
A Guide by Simon Alden, Jeffrey Camilleri and Stevie Haston
Tufa Publications £23.95
The Maltese Islands of Malta and Gozo in the middle of the Mediterranean have a diverse history of climbing starting with trad and then later on the development of sport climbing. Indeed the guidebook that preceded this one, that was published back in 2007, had a total of close to 1,500 trad and sport climbs documented. That guide is now out of print and if you want to visit these islands, that are just a three-hour flight from the UK, the only option is Sport Climbing in Malta & Gozo covering just the sport climbing, a style of climbing that is growing quickly and clearly evident by the number of new bolted routes added in the last few years. Published by Tufa Productions the authors certainly know a bit about climbing on these beautiful islands. Simon Alden is the president of The Malta Climbing Club, Jeffrey Camilleri is a very talented climber and nice fella too with a good eye for a line and, of course, Stevie Haston doesn't need any introduction to most UK climbers. Stevie is originally from Gozo and has recently rediscovered the island and the wealth of climbing and became involved first hand in developing new routes including the sensational 55m roof crack King of Kings (F8b+) plus more than 100 new routes.
So is this a place to visit in search of hot rock? Well having experienced the island on more than one occasion there is a desire to encourage more climbers there and turn the islands into a popular sport climbing destination and I guess partly the reason for the growth in sport routes is for the ‘hot rock fix’ many of us crave during the winter months. The rear page of the guide sums it up well, ‘The Maltese Islands are a fast-developing sport climbing destination a short flying time away from most European cities. They offer over 500 fully bolted sport routes, easy access to all the crags, short distances and mild weather, giving 12 months a year climbing potential. They are a scenic interesting place to visit with family too with many cultural attractions in a small area. Many of the climbs and crags featured are totally new and include more than 120 routes developed by well-known climber Stevie Haston on Gozo during 2012 and 2013. While there are no mountains in Malta, the beautiful, rugged coastline, inland ridges, caves and valleys provide excellent climbing possibilities on pocketed limestone at every grade with the hardest so far at F8c+ with potential for even harder routes’.
So what about the guide? The full colour 168-page guidebook showcases the wide spectrum of sport routes with a total of 21 crags featured across the two islands (13 on Malta and eight on Gozo which is just a 20 minute ferry ride away from Malta) with bolted sport routes spread across a wide range of grades from F3 up to F8c+. The layout of the guide is very simplistic and doesn't getting bogged down in too much over-elaborate design that can infect some guidebooks, it’s a case of what you see is what you get, some will like it, others won't. A bit of a disappointment is the quality of some of the climbing images which could be better and sell the area more, the cover is a case in point and having seen some of the beautiful settings and stunningly photogenic routes it’s a shame. That aside the real question is does the guidebook deliver in its main purpose and that is to offer clear and accurate information. Whilst I can’t vouch for the very latest developments the guide does this job well and is pretty easy to follow. The intro section to the guide has information about the island, albeit very brief and something I feel could do with expanding on but there is sufficient, with some tourist information and pages explaining the ethics etc. There is also a key to the numerous symbols that are used in the guide and are now obligatory in any sport guide, the symbols are very self explanatory and easy to grasp. This is followed by an overall map of the two islands to roughly locate the crags. We then move on to the meat of the guide, the crags and routes. At the start of each cliff there is a location ‘Google Earth’ style map. I found this style of map not that clear, for them to work they would have to be bigger and in my opinion a normal line style map would have been much better. A plus point here is the quality of the detailed access information, crucial as some cliffs are tricky to locate and can have complex access, particularly a number of the sea cliffs. Also on this page we have a chart highlighting the grades at each crag and some extra information such as where to eat, any parking information, where to swim etc. Colour photos are used throughout for the crag topos with the numbered lines clearly marked. All the routes are shown with route lengths and French grades with English text throughout, so no problems with translating.
To summarise, a useful guide to an area well worth visiting for something a little different with average winter temperature around 17 degrees Celsius and they drive on the same side of the road as us, so no excuses. If you want something a little different buy the guide, book the flights and check the islands out.