My journey to big wall climbing starts in Malta’s Wied Babu


IMG_2187
Wied Babu, Malta
Having only begun my rock climbing journey a year ago, I am still learning new things everyday. How to belay with different devices, how to tie varying knots, how to handle potentially death defying situations.

One thing I have really been keen on is multi pitching, which I’ve only had the opportunity to do twice before. Once back home on a juggy 5c+ and another over a Maltese sea cliff where I swear some poop o’ fear actually came out. Both, I was seconding but now that my confidence has grown, I feel up for the responsibility of leading others.

Wied Babu was the most picturesque multi I’ve ever done. While there are only three short pitches, the exposure, dramatic sea cliff backdrop and the billowing ocean gusts that engulfed us made the climbing (it’s almost a scramble that can be done in trainers, honestly) stellar. I could almost picture myself 1000m up on a big wall climb in the Dolomites, experiencing that same thrill by tenfold. My illusions of grandeur were further bolstered when I arrived at the top with Stephen comfortably walking up the climb next to me as I began to top belay Becky. I led all the pitches! I am the master of control! No one died!

IMG_2182

IMG_2176

1374773_10151655047712353_202704002_n

All sarcasm aside, it somewhat saddens me that all these experiences have come now after I left Australia and the comfort of my partners back home. But gazing over the crashing waves and admiring the stunning Blue Grotto before us I couldn’t be happier. The past two months have been the most thrilling, scariest, happiest, diverse learning curves I’ve ever faced and I can’t wait to explore more of Maltese climbing ahead of South America.

Sure, I have acquired some strange habits since I’ve been here but everything I’ve done in the past month has stemmed from the love for climbing. Every day has yielded fruitful and exciting escapades up and down rock albeit waking with no expectations. I can’t remember the last time I felt so much freedom while travelling.

What’s next? Even I am not privy to know. My choose-your-own-adventure continues..

Strange habits indeed: weird clothing combinations

Strange habits indeed: weird clothing combinations

Just when you think it couldn't get weirder.. bikini bottoms, sports bra and hiking shoes. Complete with tummy flab. The greatest life choices I make have been the most obvious ones.

Just when you think it couldn’t get weirder.. bikini bottoms, sports bra and hiking shoes. Complete with tummy flab. The greatest life choices I make have been the most obvious ones.

What is your climbing limit? How climbing in Malta has reset all my beliefs


IMG_2056

Naxxar, Malta
There’s something quite special about The Wave crag in Naxxar. The rigid stone bears little resemblance to the fingertip shearing knife point formations that other areas have. Centrally located in Malta, easy accessible via public transport and within walking distance from three other crags, Naxxar is an ideal quickie climbing spot for beginner to intermediate grades. The Wave itself is characterised by knee bar infested tufas, positive holds and flakes on a slightly overhanging wall (the golden climbs however, are 7b and up – so I’ve made a mental checklist…).

The view, as always the case at most Maltese crags, is stunning. On this day, in my line of sight was Claudine climbing and in the distance, a sail boat floating along the ocean while a paraglider drifted above reinforcing Malta as an adventure playground yet to be discovered by the world.

IMG_2131

Here, I’ve found my perfect project: Nighthawks at the Diner – a stunning line with an early crux, a no hands rest (for my little shortness!) and breezy traverse finish. At 7a (23), it would be the accomplishment of all my lamentations in the last few months. I would finally come away from the plateau I’ve suffered.

At first it seemed impossible; the body tension-intensive moves threw me off the rock and the smoothness of the crux footholds holds tested my confidence.

Clipping from a straight arm undercling twice in a row was a tough challenge. One mouthful of rope wasn’t enough but two was too much for my weary forearms. The solution? One a half mouthfuls and believing that I wouldn’t plummet to the ground should I fall at that exact moment. Of course, these were all irrational fears – as most climbing limitations usually are.

If that wasn’t enough, a sideways dead point on the crux pulled me off so many times I didn’t believe I could ever send. A shuffle in feet, body memory and increased strength and suddenly everything began to fall into place. Stay low on the traverse and voila, the anchors are in sight.

I’m never quite sure how my sequences happen to work in the end when at first it seems so incredibly strenuous. Feeling defeated, we yell “I can’t do it! I can’t do it! Falling! Falling!” constantly like a broken record but over time our bodies answer our desperate pleas for adaption and without thinking, the moves come through us.

Every time I project a new route above my grade level, I become enamored with climbing all over again. From working out the moves and constantly falling to fluidly clipping the chains, I witness my fingers, my body and my mental stamina become stronger and what I thought was my limit reset itself. Where once was a fear of lead climbing, I am ferociously attacking each bolt without fear. All of this coming from someone who hadn’t entertained the idea of sport or exercise in the 11 years before she discovered climbing, these experiences have been life changing.

It took a few weeks to tick Nighthawks, but the feeling of accomplishment was immense. Even as I stuck the dead point and moved through to the no-hands rest on the traverse, I didn’t believe I would send. As always, Claudine was my supporter and when I finally reached my second milestone I was glad that my new friends were there to witness it. Would I be able to project Sea of Illusions now? How would I go on another 7a? The options seem endless now.

IMG_2054

Sending my first rock climbing project in Malta feels wondrous


IMG_2049

Garden of Eden, Malta

Before arriving to Malta my idea of climbing was very different. Nestled in the comfort of easy grades and top ropes I never really tried my hand at hard leading let alone projecting.

Sending was not on my mind. While I could proficiently lead at around 19/20 (6b/6b+), my highest send outdoors was 21 (6c) but I was strong enough to dog my way up 23 (7a). Of course, fear is the devil that holds me back in most aspects of life and while I had every desire to push my grade, my mental stamina was far inferior to my (existing lack of) physical.

Call it self esteem issues or simply the truth, believing in myself has been a lifetime raging war. I took with me the memories of a near fatal fall from France (that I will not recount) to Malta so I was cautious at first, but over time I became acquainted with the rock and my belayers.

That leads me to the story of how the send of my first project in Malta restored some faith in myself.

I had been working on Tufa Baroque (21/6c) for about a week at this stage. It seemed a lot easier from a distance, simple heel hooks and relatively big holds on an overhanging face.

When is life ever so simple though? The crux move consisted of a one-chance only powerful throw from a layback onto a relatively decent hold before clipping and traversing to an okay rest. It was one chance only or I would lose momentum and pump out: it was committing, exciting and a little bit scary.

By the third go, I was still confused about my feet placement on the crux. By the fourth – my last go of the day before the sun seared a burning impression onto our skin – I was eye balling the distant hold from the layback and made an instinctual decision to throw as hard as I could.

It stuck. I couldn’t believe it. Like fluid, I immediately clipped and passed the traverse in order to get to the rest.

“You’re going to send it now!” Claudine exclaimed, smiling.
“Yeahhh no.. I think I have to get past the rest first,” I lamented, aware that there was yet another traverse and a pumpy finish over a bulge before I could claim victory.

Arriving at my last rest, it dawned on me that perhaps I could finish it but by this stage my hands were crying for refuge. I threw a heel over the edge to take the weight off my hands and shifted my focus to my breathing. While shaking, I was exhausted but a voice said ‘go’ and off I shot, making certain my feet were high enough before reaching blindly over the bulge for some positive holds.

A messy mantle over the top and I was gasping for air. I stood, catching my breath in an entrancing mixture of exhaustion, disbelief and anticipation. It was near impossible to fall now, but it never pays to be complacent on the rock. When I finally recovered enough strength to clip the anchor, I was still in shock.

But not shocked enough to not take a post-send selfie.
IMG_2072

It was incredibly fulfilling to watch Claudine and Stephen both tick the route soon after. Progressing together helped boost my morale after climbing solo at my grade in Australia for so long.

Stephen working the crux of Tufa Baroque - he's so tall he doesn't need to throw from the layback!

Stephen working the crux of Tufa Baroque – he’s so tall he doesn’t need to throw from the layback!

the tall bugger on his successful send attempt

the tall bugger on his successful send attempt


And so the change began. When I think about my climbing milestones, each one has been characterised by something definitive. While Tufa Baroque was not a hard route, to me it was the limit of my mental capacity and once I broke through it I finally believed I could get strong enough to climb 24/7a+ by the time I leave for South America. The physical limitation can always be quelled by more climbing but this belief alone has already put me two steps ahead.

Malta Climbing Reel: day seven


Wied Babu, Malta
I cannot stress enough the beauty of rock climbing in Malta. It is just sublime. On these fine cliffs in Zurrieq in the south of Malta, you can enjoy the morning shade before cooling down at Blue Grotto. Afterwards, if you fancy a 1 euro beer it’s not a problem, or if you would prefer to return to the crag for a late afternoon jaunt up the rock, that option is also at your disposal. For the avid like me, nothing beats returning to the crag after a quick splash, feeling refreshed and in the beast sending zone.

Okay, so this might not have been the hardest climb in the world but having my picture professionally taken with the Maltese sun setting in the background while breezing up the wall was a pretty fantastic feeling.
This is me on Denny 6a/17 after some cruisy layback moves. Photos by Stephen Farrugia.

HAVE I mentioned that rock climbing in Malta was fairly awesome and then some yet?

1374084_10151647525787353_240132202_n555934_10151647525767353_1817362542_n

Malta Climbing Reel: day six


1385447_10151918553935763_803412132_n-2

Garden of Eden, Malta
Forget the treacherous scramble down the cliff face to get to the crag, just focus on the superb cave that greets you with its handful of incredible quality routes and ocean views.

1374881_10151909896585763_433615451_n
I have been working hard at Tufa Baroque, an extremely pumpy 6c/21 (personally, I think it’s a lot harder for its grade) for a few days now. At first glance, it seemed relatively simple, big holds and plenty of laybacking opportunities blended in with a nice traverse and some nice heel hooks.

It wasn’t until I jumped on it and realised that my ahem.. vertically challenged body would prove a disadvantage to making the crux hold without performing a powerful deadpoint from a layback.

But the story of Tufa Baroque and I will be told another day. Today is about inspirational people.

You see, your mind is a funny thing to master particularly when you are on a climb and your arms are absolutely melting and the first thing you’d love to do is let go and escape this hell that you’ve created for yourself. For me, a fear of big falls stops me from pushing past the initial desire to let go and making those few extra moves to get to the next clip. Instead, I retreat back to the safety of being barely above the bolt and happily take a little comfortable fall that doesn’t shake my sanity.

This of course, is not the secret to becoming a better climber.

But watching this guy:

20140102-153726.jpg

20140102-161122.jpg

20140102-153746.jpg

reset everything for me. He is on an overhung 7b+ (26) which required gargantuan amounts of core strength to stay kneebarred into the tufa before eventually moving up to toe hooking it and moving over the lip.

He was screaming bloody murder and even after he prepared himself for the fall and screamed out take…. he didn’t let go. He just kept going.

Well, he fell eventually but I think we all verified (because we already knew this, didn’t we?) that mastering what you believe are the limitations to doing the next few moves, you will send. Witnessing that single episode of epic beast mode completely shaped the way I am climbing today: fearlessly (after the second bolt).

Malta climbing reel: day five


20131223-170833.jpg

Comino Island, Malta

Even the toughest of climbers must rest and in Malta for me, rest means going to the beach and having me some merrisome exploring. It’s not that I love taking the same photos in the same places but in this instance I just love the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island so much and have to share.

The weather was balmier than the last time I was here and the army of sunbathers had descended upon any sunny spots as if positioning for battle, reloading sunscreen for artillery. It wasn’t quite hot enough for tanning but luckily picture weather is not dependant on sunshine and with more than a few hours to spare, we traipsed around the entire island nibbling on 2 euro fries and sipping iced tea.

Now that I’ve returned as a climber I appreciate the intricacies of the rock more than I used to. Since combining travelling and climbing, my perspective on the places I’ve visited have transformed.

Instead of having to seek out the usual touristy attractions or sparkly views I now see the simplest of places, even a cliff, in their natural form as is: with complete clarity and objectivity. Travelling previously felt like mindless wandering to me but it now feels purposeful, a consequence which has invariably allowed me to enjoy more because I’ve seen beyond aesthetic limitations and experienced these places on a deeper level.

But of course, when you are in Comino, having a great time is not exactly a difficult task.

20131223-170857.jpg

20131223-170915.jpg

20131223-173732.jpg

20131223-173750.jpg