Climbing in San Vito, Sicily in winter
Long gone is climbing in Sicily a hidden secret for sun rock fans willing to escape the winter. The island is full of crags to climb, mountains to hike and plenty of fauna and flora to discover. Sicily lays right at the end of italien’s boot. It is an island with a circumferal coastal length of 1484km and has a mediterranean climate. When I first held the climbing guide-book in my hands, I knew it would be near impossible to cover every area on the island in a single trip. The island has 3 main climbing locations. Trapani/Monte Pellegrino, Siracusa and the areas in Messina. Each of these areas holds many sectors with plenty of good routes to try, it was difficult to decide where to start.
Our choice fell on the areas of Trapani – San Vito Lo Capo, which is about an hours drive from Palermo. It has 2 major camp grounds, only one “real” supermarket, plenty of restaurants and B&B that are opened in summer, a mini harbour and lighthouse and an impressive 4km massive that faces the afternoon sun. In recent years, many of the crags found bolters from all over the world. This corner of the island is the new “Kalymnos”. Where international bolters come to put up routes, you will also find bolting in different style, some scary, many perfect. Some gradings needs to be somewhat revised and confirmed. Sometimes a 5c felt lika a 6b, 7c+ like a 7b and vice versa. Routes with rusty bolts do exist, so a note of precaution is necessary before you hop into a route. Not all routes enjoy the luxury of a chain lower off. We have seen some which has just one „chain loop „ for the abseil. Sponsors who are looking for destinations to equip, this is your place to be!
Leaving the winter behind
We left on an early Valentines Day morning, to catch the ferries at Genova. A little nervous about the upcoming 21 hour trip with the ship, I secured all remedies that could ease any signs of seasickness. Tabs, packets of candied ginger and a plaster over my belly button were the best advises I received. 6 hours later, we had 16 degrees at 19:00 at the Port of Genova as we took both a Peroni at the bar next to the queue of vehicles waiting for the ferry to come, while we finished off the rest of mum’s best grilled chicken wings.
Palermo: 21 hrs later. Crossing the waters with the ferries was a dream. Calm weather, sunshine, and crews that were friendly with the ferry half full. But reality woke us up, during the 30 minutes as we fled from the horrifying traffic in Palermo on a Saturday night. Red lights ignored, cars overtaking in all directions, everybody did what they wanted and the traffic was horrifying. It was amazing no accidents occured while we drove through the city. We arrived in San Vito 1.5 hours later as we checked in our hacienda. Phew! What a day!
San Vito keeps its first 9a „Climb for Life“ Sicily has seen in history. You won’t miss this enormous cave with a few other “easier” lines next to it, when you are in the bouts of Cornino.
The San Vito Massive
We chose a sector with an easy access for the beginning and decided on Pipeline. This is one of the sectors that can be reached easily. 2 minutes to be exact. This sector lays behind the camp grounds of El Bahira, the base camp for many climbers. Expect more traffic here. Certainly a good way to start off with a choice of easy and intermediate grades.
This sector lays further left to the camp grounds of El Bahira and consists of a few sectors. Its best to park at the peak of the hill before taking a 15-20 min minute walk down to the sectors on the right hand side. All sectors faces the early afternoon sun directly and it’s too hot to climb here on sunny, windless days. We had one of those days and proceeded on after a warm up in the cave and after freeing our rope that got caught amongst the sharp rock, to the shady channel sector. At first glance, it didn’t look very appealing, but we changed our minds after a few tries. “Lotta col Vento” 6c has some intensive moves, “Megghiu pessi ca depressi” 6b kept us busy before we felt we needed to get back to the sun. The main sector (left) has a huge wall with easier routes. And then we found ourselves under the huge wall, trying to go for a second pitch route on the 52m “Dall’alba al Tramonto” 6c, but realised that we were so pumped out for that day we had to settle for just a single pitch. No need to over do ourselves on the second day of climbing in the year.
The next days brought us to Campo Basso (Fakirella Beach). Hubby flashed “Crusader” 7b+ (thanks to Helmut for the beta) and I enjoyed the easier but sharp routes. Slowly, our bodies started to get used to the sun, the climbing moves and our skin tore easily after each session. We returned to Sinistra Pietraia the next days. “Red Alert” 7c+ was quickly ticked off, “Seltsam anmutende volls packen” 7b came in the pocket too, as well as a few wonderful motives for my lenses. Yes, we were back in business. And it ran well. There were almost too much traffic for my taste, but then again you ‘ll have an idea who’s in town afterwards.
Cala Manchina, Grotta di Cavallo and Sector Pineta Grotta are some sectors not to miss while you are there.
You can’t miss this impressive piece of rock which juts out from the landscape. Sun laid and windy on one side, shady and wind protected on the other. The crag is pretty impressive with its red coloured structure on a clear blue day. The last few newer routes to the right are great lines but it meant climbing on very sharp rock between cactus plants and bee hives. Perfect warm up before hiding yourself from the wind and sun on the other side. In the shade, tufa -filled overhangs at the start leads to a steep finish at the top. Lads with long arms might want to try “The English Wonderbra” 7c+, with athletic moves in the beginning and a boulder at the end of the roof.
We saw a baby goat, stuck right at the top of the wall. Hearing it’s cries for help for the following days left the girls unsure if we should set out a rescue team to save this poor creature. But the mascueline rescue team was “out of reach” and “busy”. We couldn’t stop thinking about it as we passed the rock again the next day and had to stop and check. It was still there, still crying for its life and trying every single way to get out of its situation. On the third day I returned alone, it was quiet. Nothing was heard or seen or found, and silence ruled the land as if nothing happened. We hoped well for the little one. Either it found its way back to its mother or it was shot down by the locals. We hoped of course for the first.
Never Sleeping Wall
I would rename this wall to the „Never drying wall“ instead. On 2 instances when we were there, it was either dripping wet or had sweaty holds. This awesome looking wall is full of hanging tufas and has fantastic lines. „Silent Sleep“ and „Long Sleep“ both 6b+ goes 28m up on Tufas and concretions. „Bella Susanna“ 7a is a long awesome line that must be climbed, when the wall is dry. A shame that the „Long white line“ 7b+ was so dripping wet when we got there, that this has to wait till it dried out, before giving it a try. The bolting looked scary. So Instead we took on a challenge in a newer N.N. route that was perfectly bolted between these 2 routes, assuming that this route could be graded at around 7b/c. The wall would probably hold off light rain, and keeps dry for a while before the wet seeps through. So keep an eye on the history of the forecast if you’re seriously projecting one of the routes here. This wall, overlooks the town of Cornino and Monte Cofano stands to your right.
Crown of Aragon
A place where dragons and dungeons, knights and ritters falls and rises on an overhanging wall full of tufas and white chalked holds. An impressive southern wall that faces the sun most of the day. Best on days when clouds appear, or when temperatures drops to around 14 degrees. Plan on coming here when you feel like Hercules to pump out the biceps. Gradings here are not too soft. Even the easier routes to the left requires a good portion of strength to warm up on. We had the usual problems that day. It was either too hot, then it was too windy, then too cold. What a dilemma! But we had the wall much to ourselves, apart from another italian couple, many green lizards and a black viper. We came back on subsequent days, yet failing to tick off all the routes available there. There must be a come back, a return to Aragon – it was a drug that soothes a tufa-junkie’s addiction. There is no suggestion here. Just climb all the routes from left to right, or vice versa… till you drop!
The second half of the vacation started to really rain down on us. Nevertheless, we still climb each day adjusting ourselves to the weathers temper. A few sectors that have been just opened are now closed for any climbing. Fiamme Gialle is one of them. It was a shame to miss out on the Lost world and Cinema Paradiso, but yes, there will be a come back. I’m quite sure.
A sunset each day, keeps the blues away
The sunsets there was special. No mountains infront, no trees inbetween but the horizon where the blazing ball sizzles in the water. It was the perfect gift every evening, a moment to stop doing everything and just enjoy the moment.
General information and logistic
- “Sicily Rock” from Karsten Oelze & Harald Röker reveals the best updated routes from 2013 of the Trapani region (3rd Edition: 12.2013)
- “Rocca di Sole” from Versante Süd is the best guide-book for all the areas in the island Sicily (from Massimo Cappuccio, Guiseppe Gallo, 2012)
- Camping “El Bahira” situated right in front of the 4km Massive of San Vito. (with choices of Mobilhomes and apartments to rent)
- Camping Village La Pineta in San Vito (with choices of Mobilhomes and apartments to rent)
- Google up plenty of holiday homes to rent and b&b in the summer time. There are more than 300 apartments listed, just in San Vito itself. You might think the whole town is made out of holiday homes.
- Fly. Keep a look out for cheaper flights in the off-season. Car rentals from the airport.
- Or Ship yourself there. Alternatively, if you’re planning to go there with your camper van, you can catch the ferry at Genova and reach your destination in 21 hours to Palermo. (e.g. Grande Navi Veloci) Other ports are Salerno or Villa San Giovanni that goes to Messina.
Travelling from one end of the island to the other takes 3.5 – 4 hours by car. So it would be good to know in advance what you’d like to see.
There’s a SISA supermarket in San Vito which is quite well sorted with fresh vegetables and butcher. Otherwise, bigger, better supermarkets in Custonaci.
Best time to climb:
If you want to climb in the sun, the best times are in winter when temperatures around 14°-16°C are perfect for the shining sun. But also expect that San Vito is wind exposed and can be utterly uncomfortable. Shady sectors in San Vito are rare but available. The massive of Monte Monaco is in the shade most of the time.
Bad weather. Should it happen, there aren’t many rain sheltered places to climb. However, a few caves to run to. Nevertheless, the walls dries up very quickly and with the quick access to the walls, you can get back to your car in a jiff if the thunderstorm decides to stay.
October till April are best bets. Hit for the coolest months if you’re sun shy. But expect more precipitation or storms at a stretch.
70m and 18 quickdraws would be fine for longer sport climbing routes, though 16 is the minimum.
- Erice…also known as the “City of God” This medieval city seeks a project to renovate and restore the many churches and monasteries in Erice, thus its name.
- Ruins of the Segesta Temple
- Hot Springs in Castellamare del Golfo
- Zingaro National Park (Turtles, Rabbits, Wild boars at your feet, if lucky)
- Tonneros at Casteluzzo and San Vito
- Hike up Monte Cofano
- Beach out in one of white pebble shore in Castelluzzo, or sand filled beaches in San Vito