The Gozo Exploration Session

The UNESCO World Heritage candidate site of Dwejra and the Inland sea, a stunning location for a magnificent day’s climbing

Given the limited space on our islands, Gozo can be considered the new frontier where exploration and discovery are still possible, especially when it come to our favourite sport. We tend to go there less frequently, yet the potential for development of new routes on the extensive sea cliffs is massive.

So last Sunday, three of us headed out there with different goals in our sights. Miriam and Marina were keen to have their first experience of a trad multipitch climb while I was eager to get stuck into a new crag which Jeff Camilleri and I had discovered and scoped last summer. We made a deal, I would lead the girls up Phoenicia E1 5b overlooking Dwejra Bay, after which they would patiently accompany me to the top of the new crag to install access gear for the exploration to begin. As it happened on the boat over, we met another party going off on an exploration: Simon Alden and his posse were heading out to San Dimitri area to continue developing a new line they have been working on at the cliffs there. Yes it seems, Gozo really is the new frontier for climbers…

Getting to Phoenicia requires a 20 minute trek up to the far side of Dwejra Bay to a spot overlooking the Fungus Rock. From here a two-rope abseil is required to get to a wave cut platform at the foot of the massive cliffs. The day was bright and sunny but of course our perch was just out of reach of the sun’s warm rays and exposed to a jetstream of freezing wind that seemed to reach warp speed just at the point where the belayer was forced to stand! Speed was of the essence before we all froze so as soon as both girls were down at the platform, I got cracking up the slabs of the first pitch.

It is always lovely to visit an old friend, share reminiscences and revisit fond memories. This is how it feels to go back to Phoenicia. In my years of climbing, I only visited her four times and every time has been a wonderful encounter, the memories of which stick in my mind. The remoteness, the commitment, the fear of failure (no way out but up the route!), the scant protection on the first pitch… but also the excellent holds, the technical moves, the brilliant rock quality, the fantastic situation and exposure. All these make Phoenicia a superb challenge and wonderful climb. The girls found the climbing good and the situation magnificent, so we all enjoyed the outing to the full… and once at the top we found some sun and thawed out before heading back.

After a civilized cup of tea in the bar down at the Inland Sea, we headed off again for the new crag. It took some time to get to the top because I had only been there once before. Once there we discovered that there was little place to set up an abseil using trad gear so I decided to install an expansion bolt lower-off so I could use it straight away to get at least half way down the face and see what was hidden out of sight beneath the rim. The sky was already getting dark but I thought that at least a first foray would give me a better idea of where to go next time we come out. Of course as soon as the second bolt was tightened, along came a black cloud and bucketed, not rain but hail down on us, so a hasty retreat was necessary before the rock became wet and treacherous. Oh well, at least we’ll be straight down onto the face next time we get out there…

It was a great day out. Miriam and Marina bore the freezing winds and hail storm stoically and still had a satisfied smile on their faces as we shared the day’s events on our return boat ride to Malta.

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