Is Malta the sun rock destination Britsh climbers forgot?
It is not that it has been ignored exactly - the place has received a steady stream of vistors since the War and the first ascent lists includes such names as Showell Styles, John Dunne, Crispin Waddy and, inevitably, Gary Gibson.
But it has never had the popularity of northern Italy, southern France or the Spanish Costas. And whilst other Mediterranean islands, such as Sardinia and Kalymnos, have rapidly become must-visit destinations for any climber with a passport, Malta seems to have slipped off the radar.
Undoubtedly one reason for this is that the last climbing guide was written over 20 years ago and has long been out of print. If that's the case, then by rights this new bumper fun book could produce an invasion not seen since the great siege of 1565. Covering over 1200 routes in 21 areas on the 3 islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, it is an excellent showcase for what the area has to offer. Which includes almost everything you could possibly want to do on rock - both trad and sport routes, single and multi-pitch, bouldering and deep water soloing, and the full range from quick hit roadside crags to serious sea cliff epics.
This is very much a modern guide - the Rockfax influence is obvious and acknowledged - A5 size, full colours topos for almost every route and good use of symbols to convey the basic info on each of the crags. It is entirely in English with good clear route descriptions, and yet it does not try to disguise or diminish the challenging nature of some of the routes - several descriptions include the warning that they should be regarded as works of fiction to ensure you embark with eyes wide open! The maps are very detailed - actually they are far more detailed than anything we could find on the island and the only problem is that with so much detail they can sometimes be difficult to read whilst driving to the crag. This is a guide which does its fundamental task very well - it gets you to the start of your adventure with the minimum of fuss.
There is, of course, more than that to a good guidebook. The book is also an inspiring read which nicely whets your appetite. It is packed with photos which again show the full range of what is on offer, but also try to convey some of the essence of climbing on the islands. There are several pages of tourist information and even a short list of basic words and a pronunciation guide - very useful as the Maltese language is curiously full of odd Qs and Xs. And for the purist, not only is there a short historical summary, but also a full list of first ascents.
The guide is not without its flaws, such as the lack of page numbers for the routes shown in photos. This can get particularly annoying for photos which open each area in the guide, as these don't even get a caption. For that you have to go to the listing of photo credits at the front of the book, then go to the index at the back and by the time you find the route in question you've forgotten which route you were looking at. And if you're going to copy Rockfax, why not go the whole hog and include a crag table, graded list and top 50!
At £32.95 this guide isn't cheap, though this is partly down to the strong Euro. Given the low numbers of climbers that Malta has attracted in the past, the authors would have been justified is producing a more basic, cheaper guide that simply meet the needs of the local climbing community. Clearly they have faith that the quality of the climbing on the islands will attract more attention once properly presented. Having climbed there I would say the faith is understandable and their efforts commendable, but will that be enough to tempt climbers away from their usual haunts. Let's hope so.
Chris Moor is a regular contributor to UKClimbing. He describes himself as "Tall, a bit too heavy and completely lacking in upper body strength." Chris also wrote a very useful Dolomites FAQ a few years ago.