A 5ft fraidy cat and a sea cliff multi pitch in Malta can only end in tears


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Blue Grotto, Malta
Somehow, the words “dangling” and “sea cliff” married together in a sentence never seemed that appealing to me. Even when used after “climbing” and “adventure”, it is a solid NO for me. What can I say? I am a major pussy.

I don’t like doing things that are dangerous. Which is why I never climb without a rope, scramble up/down cliff faces or go bouldering without a mat under me or boulder in general for fear of thudding and then dying via spontaneous combustion.

I don’t like being unattached to safety gear while leaping from height or plunging deep into the ocean without breathing equipment.

I will never spearfish, jump off a bridge, free solo climb, free dive, wrestle a squid, wrestle in general, be a tight rope walker or light fireworks just for the sake of it. And honestly, I am FINE with only daydreaming about base jumping and ice climbing alpinism from the safety of my comfortable, normal-person-above-sea-level conditions.

James, however, had other ideas for me and I was ambushed with the idea of trying a new extension he bolted to an old multi-pitch called Greek Odyssey at the Blue Grotto, a famous sea arch in the south. The direct route, he said, would be “a great big adventure”. Who was I to refuse an ADVENTURE on one of Malta’s most iconic landmarks? Plus I really prefer not to reveal my pussy side to friends until after I’m certain they can handle my crazy.

What
a
stupid
idea.

Okay, so the abseil down the cliff into the deafening roar of the crashing waves was mildly enjoyable. Having only been on a few multi pitches before, I was confident I knew what I was getting myself into. It would be the same as when I was on a mountain, except to replace immediate death or broken bones upon plummeting to the ground below, I would just go for a nice drowning in the ocean.

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The first pitch was a very simple seven metre traverse on a grade far lower than my ability. Following James, I stepped from the safety of my ledge onto the cliff above the waves tentatively, mentally preparing myself for a great soaking if I slipped not two metres below. Knowing this, my grip was twice as hard and exhaustion set in even before I reached the belay stance. Yep, I was terrified.

“Alright,” I thought. “I hate this.” While James rocketed off on the second pitch I felt the rocks below me crumble and I dangled precariously. In reality, I was secure but the exposure played tricks with my mind and I was going mental. I must have checked my phone and belay device were still secure about a hundred times. Nonetheless, the second pitch went fairly smoothly bar some hold breakages that were nothing short of thrilling.

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The new, last (and hardest) pitch involved (what I thought was) a crazy overhang over a juggy lip to a scenic finish. After suffering from exposure, pure terror and thirst coupled with the fact that I had expended most of my energy clutching to dear life during the first pitch, a moderately physical climb became the death of me. Struggling over and over to overcome the lip, frustration and weakness overshadowed my desire to maintain any form or technique. Making one last ditch effort, I threw a trembling heel over the ledge and clambered my way over the top, spluttering exhausted profanities in my wake.

James thought I deserved an ice cream.

The experience highlighted more than ever how a climber’s performance is so strongly dictated by their mental headspace. Aside from the usual dangers of climbing, I never believed I was in any severe life threatening situations because I knew I was in safe hands. For a few brief moments, some slivers of calm did peek through my shroud of fear and I appreciated my beautiful surroundings. They were ephemeral and so surreal that I wonder if it really happened.

I might just make an ice climber yet.

Greek Odyssey Direct: 6b+ Highly recommended despite all my complaints.

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