A brief guide to Winter Climbing in Sicily.

*climbing trip report ahead, you might be tempted to abandon all forms of non-climbing related activity. read at your own risk.


Friends who know A and I will know that climbing is a huge part of our lives, after all, we first met and trained together in our varsity rock-climbing team. Living in Europe now has no doubt given us a chance to better explore the sport crags and bouldering areas on this side of the globe. This Christmas season, we hooked up with 2 friends for a climbing trip down to Italy where sunshine is still abundant in winter and the crags are flanked by gorgeous views of the Sicilian coast.

photo credit: CS Ng

Logistics

Where: San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily, Italy (we flew Ryanair to Palermo airport, followed by a 1.5hr drive to San Vito Lo Capo) I would recommend renting a car to get to San Vito as public transport can be rather tedious especially in the low season. A car is also useful for getting to sectors further from the camp ground. There are other major climbing areas on Sicily island but San Vito and its surrounds appear to be the most popular.

When to go: October is popular among climbers but to avoid the crowd, I’d say December is perfect. We arrived in mid-Dec and were usually the only climbers at the crag since there are plenty of sectors to go around.

Where to stay: Campsite El Bahira suits all budgets and is the go-to accommodation for climbers. You can choose to camp with your own tents, rent a mobile home or an apartment. We rented an apartment for 4 pax. and paid less than 10 euros / ppn, off-season rate. Some sectors are right behind the premises and extremely convenient for those without a car. Other options include the many B&Bs in the main town of San Vito but most were closed during the low season.

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Campsite El Bahira’s swimming pool..was closed when we were there but I’d imagine it would be excellent for some cold-water therapy post-climbing.

Weather: Dec averages 10 – 16 degrees, though it definitely feels like summer when the sun starts shining. We start the day early as the sun sets around 16:50 this time of the year. And we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset every. single. day.

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The best way to end a day of climbing.

Food: Most of the shops were closed for the low season but we cooked on most days and purchased our food supplies from SISA supermarket in San Vito town. Some restaurants were still open for business, including a cafe and gelato shop next to the town square. All are reasonably priced. When all else fails there is always Pizza Planet in Bonagia (a must go if you are climbing at Never Sleeping Wall or Parco Cerriolo) – best pizza I’ve ever had for 6 euros. Heck, best pizza ever regardless of the price!

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photo credit: CS Ng

Rest Days: We spent our rest days doing yoga, chilling out at the cafes in San Vito, eating italian cakes and gelato, exploring the beach, looking for crags and scouring routes to climb the next day.

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photo credit: CS Ng
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The beach on San Vito – popular with tourists and sun worshippers during summer but absolutely empty in winter.

Climbing Logistics

Equipment: 15 quickdraws and a 60m rope is sufficient for most routes, though 70m is ideal as many routes we tried were 30m – 35m long. Most anchors are equipped with pigtails/ monster hooks, rings or maillons.

Routes:  There are many routes in the 6a to 7c+ range, though climbers who can easily onsight 8as might find themselves short on projects after the first week. (this did not stop our very strong friend from enjoying the numerous 7s) The grading can sometimes be inconsistent across sectors, some crags are stiff, others are soft. Prior to our trip, we read about a tragic climbing accident in Sicily. As with all climbing areas, we always made sure our anchors were safe and felt ‘solid’, taking extra precaution when setting up for lower-offs.

The YMCA Climbing House (in San Vito town) actively checks and fixes the anchors and bolts, so do drop by their shop if you notice any protection which seems amiss.

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Assad on Il ragazzo e proprio stupido (8a) photo credit: CS Ng
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A – climbing without a shirt in winter. Thankful for the Sicilian sun. photo credit: CS Ng
Can you spot me on the wall? photo credit: CS Ng
Can you spot me on the wall? photo credit: CS Ng

Topo: Sicily Rock – San Vito Rock Climbing guidebook available online or from El Bahira. We survived perfectly fine on a pamphlet-like foldie topo from El Bahira though (only 9.90 euros), there is also a small climbing shop at El Bahira.

What to wear: I climbed in a thin long-sleeved top and belayed in a down jacket. A mostly climbed in a T-shirt and felt it was too hot to even wear a shirt on some days. A wind-proof or down jacket is a must as it gets slightly chilly in the shade, on cloudy days / post-sunset.

Rock and Style: Limestone, coastal cliffs, huge carverns (grottos). A variety of routes ranging from powerful and athletic overhangs to sustained, balan-cey and dicey moves. Even the easy 6s mostly had pleasant and technical movements (no mindless jug-hauling yay!) some 3D climbing, some 1-crux wonders. Lots of tufas. and the occasional bird-shit ridden jug.

Superman (8a) at Never Sleeping Wall. photo credit: CS Ng
A on Superman (8a) at Never Sleeping Wall. photo credit: CS Ng
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Calamancina, the coastal cliff.

Crag Accessibility: Super easy access! Other than Crown of Aragon which is still an easy 10min uphill trek, all sectors we went to are a mere 3 min walk from the parking area. If you are staying at El Bahira, the walls behind are only 5min away.

Sectors we visited:

Never Sleeping wall (long routes, slight face climbing)

Crown of Aragon (one of the best walls for athletic overhangs)

Parco Cerriolo (mega roof climb but usually followed by a flat wall finish)

Pineta, Sinistra Pietra,  (easy access, right behind El Bahira)

Calamancina, Campo Base, Bunker (beautiful coastal cliffs that stretches on forever)


Overall Verdict

Pros:

  • Easy access to crags from parking area
  • clean and open belay spots
  • good friction on rock, varied routes and styles
  • good for groups with climbers of varied levels, there is something for everyone (except if you’re Adam Ondra, then there’s maybe 1 route for you)
  • no crowd in Dec
  • comfortable temps (some passing showers but the rock dries quickly)
  • coastal views and sunsets, majestic walls
  • reasonably priced car rental, accommodation and delicious italian food.

Cons:

  • Need a car to get to the good climbing areas (the walls behind El Bahira will satisfy for a week max. and majority are 6s).
  • No facilities in El Bahira during winter (but there is a wifi spot outside the reception) San Vito shops are mostly closed.
  • Rainy season in Dec so there might be occasional showers, we were lucky to encounter only 1 rainy day in our 2 weeks there though.
  • some inconsistent grading across sectors, some routes are 1 crux wonders.
  • brittle rock on some routes with low traffic, occasional loose rock, just be alert and don’t load on dubious looking holds.

So…will I go back? Probably not in the near future, but that’s only because there are too many other places to explore.

I would say Sicily ranks pretty high in the various aspects of the ‘what-makes-a-good-climbing-trip-o-meter’. good crags? Easy access? good weather? great views? comfortable accoms? Check.

Throw in great climbing partners and awesome italian pizzas? Woohoo! I’m game.

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