Hot Rock – Sicily 2011

Suffolk climbers migrate south for the winter

You know how it goes – the UK climbing season is drawing to a close for us fair
weather dudes so thoughts turn towards getting some sun on yer back with the
prospect of a bit of bolt clipping thrown in for good measure.

And so it went, Steve C started mumblings of a trip to Turkey or South of France
(anywhere but Spain apparently!) and was anyone interested. I had read a recent
article about some good looking cliffs at San Vito Lo Capo in NW Sicily so threw
that into the melting pot as an option. After a healthy(?) dose of good old IMC
faffing we eventually decided Sicily it was to be for Steve, Clare, Christina
and yours truly. After all, it’s a big ole island with climbing in areas other
than San Vito if it was crap there.

Then the jungle drums started a-rattling and before we knew it we were looking
for accommodation to suit 11 people with only one couple included – i.e. a BIG
place with lots of beds! Much cyber time later and Mr C, with Christina’s help,
had unearthed the very place, secured the booking and obtained commitment from
all interested parties. The game was on!

The usual rigmarole ensued; booking flights – you know the thing, “surely there
is a better deal than feathering Mr O’Leary’s nest”, but unfortunately not –
hire cars, transport to and parking at UK airport, packing, weighing and
re-packing bags, divvying up gear etc, etc.

But, finally the day arrived

So there we were, 11 bleary eyed climbers looking for strong coffee in Stansted
airport at early O’clock am on Saturday 8th October 2011. On arrival at Palermo,
Steve, Clare, Jiehan & Kristina got their hire car and headed off as advance
guard while I, Christina, Johnboy & Karen held back for Tom, Ali & Emma to get
their car sorted out. San Vito is about 1.25 hours from Palermo airport and is
even signposted along the way!

Much of the scenery is pretty scrubby and there is a general feeling of being
unspoilt by excessive tourism. I had this feeling throughout the week, but
couldn’t help wondering how long it will last.

The good thing about Steve going ahead is he could work out how to get to the
villa for the rest of us! Also, we all had to complete forms with name, age, UK
address, passport numbers and stuff to register our visit with the local
Polizia, so it was necessary for the villa owner to meet us on arrival. The
communication was interesting – us with a smattering of pigeon Italian and her
with slightly more lucid pigeon English! Eventually all was done, rooms chosen
and it was time to head down town for some lunch.

Down town took less than 10 minutes in the car, but 30 minutes trying to decide
where it was safe to park without risking having the car towed away! While
wandering around looking for a suitable eatery we discovered that this was San
Vito’s climbing festival weekend, so gear-fondling opportunities abounded! The
only purchases made however were of a fantastic fold out topo for all the cliffs
in San Vito showing a whole stash of development since any of the guide books we
had purchased in the UK were published (and about 1/3rd of the price).

Steve’s team had got into town ahead of the other 2 cars (a theme for the week!)
and were ready to go off and find some climbing while we sat and finished our
lunch. “Is that a brass band I can hear” someone said as a funeral procession
rounded the corner. It was a definite Don Corleone moment!

Tom, Ali, Emma, Johnboy & Karen all decided to hit the rock after lunch too, but
Christina and I opted for a more genteel past time – shopping!

“Yeah, yeah this is all very well, but what of the climbing?” I hear you cry.
Patience, dear reader, patience.

Come the evening, the rest of the assembled party went across the road to the
local pizzeria for dinner while C and I knocked up a tasty treat back at the
villa thinking we would wander over there later in the week. This, however, was
not to be as it appeared not to open for the rest of the time we were there!
Still, much fun was had with communal cooking, eating and general evening

Now, let’s get to the interesting stuff shall we?

Well actually I won’t recount every climb on every day with a blow by blow
account, but here are some highlights and personal favourite moments.

The coastal cliffs of San Vito Lo Capo run for about 5-6km and range from short
8m routes to 50m 2 pitchers – all bolted and with route names painted on the
rock at frequent intervals to make it impossible not to know where you are. Some
traditional purists might suggest this is cheating, but it certainly helps when
you’ve only got 6 days to explore a new venue. In addition to the physical
range, there are routes from grade 2 (yes, grade 2!) up to high 7’s/low 8’s – so
plenty for everyone.

One day C and I were bimbling around in one of the sectors when a local turned
up, did a couple of quick routes (not on our recently purchased topo) then set
his top rope up, whipped out his power tool and proceeded to start drilling
holes. We could see at least two new routes he was creating, so our new topo is
already out of date!

The rock is typical Mediterranean limestone with occasional areas of smoother
flowstone that gives a slightly different climbing experience. Karen
unfortunately had to return to Blighty on the Wednesday so Steve, Clare, Jiehan
& Kristina took her to the airport early doors and had a day climbing on some
cliffs above Palermo. Apparently this area had more of the flowstone type rock
than San Vito.

The Cliffs

View from the cliffs
The Cliffs (click on any picture for larger image) View from the cliffs

Just inland (by only 5 minutes!) is a big old lump of rock called Monte Monaco.
In front of this is a smaller pinnacle by the name of Pizzo Monaco. There are
several routes described in the guide book on both bits of rock but one that
took my eye during the pre-trip reading was the 6-7 pitch Pace Di Chiostro
graded at 5a overall on Pizzo Monaco, with trad gear backed up by bolted crux
sections and bolted belays. What a fantastic route! Christina and I took
ourselves off to have a play (after Steve & Clare had sussed it out and supplied
some beta). Many of the pitches were 35m-40m long which made communication in
the wind and without walkie-talkies (something had to be sacrificed in the
packing) tricky leading us to resort to the ‘tug on the rope’ system! And the
fun didn’t stop there – the abseil off the back of Pizzo Monaco was a 2 stage
affair and it felt like you were about to walk off the edge to find the first ab
station. Just to add an extra frisson of excitement, the wind kept blowing the
ropes into the fissure down the corner we were abseiling down and causing it to
get stuck on seemingly micro-protuberances of sharp limestone! But, all in all a
brilliant day’s climbing. Oh, other than the lucky miss at lunch break. There
was a German couple (lots of Germans there) nipping at our heels about half way
up so we decided to chill, have some food and generally soak up the atmosphere
to let them climb past. So as not to get in their way, we moved round the ledge
to under a bulge a few metres away from the belay point. Just as well it was
under a bulge, the leader set off up the diedre for the step left out on to the
face. The next thing we knew there was a shout and a whoosh as a lump of rock
about 0.5m square came hurtling down missing our ledge by cms (thanks to the
bulge above) before continuing on its inevitable, gravity fuelled, journey –
phew! After that we both hurriedly re-installed our helmets – although I doubt a
hard hat would have made any difference if that had bounced off your bonce!

Comedy Moment

Pizzo Monaco
Comedy Moment Pizzo Monaco

Best single pitch sport route of the week? The 6a Oltre Manica in Sector
Calamancina 1. There was just something pure about this 28m open corner and face
route. The 6a moves were wonderfully technical and flowing with a little bit of
thought required on route finding and a pleasant bit of exposure near the top –
perfect. Plus the added bonus of only one other pair climbing in the whole
Sector when we did it.

The most unlikely route? The grade 3 in Sector Salinella Pineta. Seemingly
ridiculous moves out of a hollow in the foot of the cliff –but actually it’s
dead easy! There’s also a grade 4 starting in the cave at Sector Torre Isulidda
and traversing round just under the roof of the cave to the lower off – crazy!

Best spectator moment? Jiehan’s horizontal body jam and bolt clipping manoeuvre
on one of the more exciting 6a+ routes – an absolute comedy gem!

Most concerning locals? The ‘horse people’ as we came to call them. A community –
probably of Gypsy/Romany descent and most likely operating in an off-grid
economy – riding around in their carts and galloping (yes, galloping) their
horses along the tarmac road using hardly a saddle and only a rope halter. The
poor horse’s legs were splaying all over the shop and it looked as if it would
take a tumble at any moment. Not to mention the sparks from its shoes. Some of
these guys were also seen sitting on their horses outside corner cafés drinking
espresso, talking and generally gesticulating in an Italian manner.

To get a flavour of what the climbing at San Vito is like just click here. The
‘new’ routes are a bit out of date, but the pictures are worth a look.

How to get there?

As mentioned above, Ryanair fly to Palermo from Stansted. I think Sleezy Jet fly
to Trapani but I don’t know from which airport, certainly not Stansted.

Where to stay?

The usual internet search brings up a plentiful supply of apartments and villas
in San Vito itself and the surrounding area. But, if we were to go back, the
first choice would be El Bahira. If you can manage it on the meagre baggage
allowance allowed by Cheap Flights Ltd, you can camp here or, with less hassle,
rent one of the in-situ mobile homes or apartments – they even do a special
climbers’ rate between October and March. An added bonus if you stay here is
that every sector (other than Monte Monaco) is within walking distance, in fact
you will be quite literally under the climbing as Sectors El Bahira & Campeggio
are directly behind the site.

So, there you have it. I started this article thinking I would just do a few
words following Adrian’s last plea for copy, but I seem to have rambled on for 3
pages – an indication of how good we thought the place was. And we didn’t even
get to explore the area around Mt Etna and the E/SE coasts!


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