Climbing in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily

We were last in Sicily only 10 months ago, but we had such a good time that it was high on our list of places to return to. However, this visit has not had the same idyllic conditions, our first three days were almost non-stop rain, high winds, thunder, and single digit temperatures. It was a cold and dreary start. However, day 4 dawned bright and sunny, and our spirits rose with the visible sun. For the first 10 days we are staying in San Vito Lo Capo, right up in the north west of the island, a small resort town which is deserted in the winter with the exception of a few hardy climbers.

The main crag in San Vito is a long escarpment above a rocky shoreline. It is a beautiful limestone cliff with a surprising variety of character to the rock. A lot of spiky, hard, dark limestone with fantastic grip (does anyone know what that is called?), pale orange textured rock with lots of positive edges, as well as smooth, white rock with hardly any visible holds.  Caves are dotted along the cliff and vary in size from small one-person shelters, to huge grottoes which are so dark at the back that every shred of instinct was telling me to run away quickly!

Me on the orange textured rock which is a delight to climb on with the
grey, spiky, finger shredding rock on the left.
The enormous Grotta del Cavallo. There are various climbs around 8a up the sides.

Our first day of climbing was at the Bunker sector, a very accessible stretch of cliff with lots of routes between 5a and 7a. This was the perfect place to get re-acquainted with San Vito, however it was also the location of one of my epic battles from our last visit. I have a great talent for forgetting routes almost as soon as I have done them, but Right Wall (6a) sticks in my mind, and has done all year since we were last here. The route starts on the right hand wall of a small cave, a series of strenuous moves on mediocre holds gets you through the cave and over the lip. The rest of the route is apparently really nice wall climbing in the sunshine above. On our last visit I tried it on a top rope, but despite a big fight I could not get out of the cave. No matter what I tried, I could not get enough grip on the key pinch to get through the cave. Since then, I have had 10 months of training at The Valley Bouldering Centre, and I have learnt how to climb through roofs and on steep walls, not the natural territory for a slab climber! So when I looked at Right Wall on our first day back, I decided it to give it another go. Not only was I going get back on it, but I was going to lead it (something else I don’t do much of). So I geared up and worked out my sequence. The first two moves were on good holds, and two bolts early on protect the crux sequence. I reached up high with my left hand to the pinch, it was as bad as I remembered, but I could hold it now and I could see what I needed to do. I worked my feet up and then did a long reach with my right hand for a big jug, but I couldn’t reach it! It was just out of range. My hand felt around the sloper just below the jug and I found a tiny edge that was enough to get two fingers on, I moved my foot and could now reach the big jug and the next clip above my head. Progress! But it wasn’t over yet, I still needed to get through the lip of the cave. This turned out to be harder than I expected and the holds above the lip felt rubbish. I slowly worked my way along the lip, trying to find better holds, and inching my feet higher bit by bit. I eventually got my feet high enough and found a hold good enough to step my left foot high over the lip, and slowly but surely the rest of me followed – I was out of the cave! After a moment of celebration on the ledge I worked my way up the rest of the wall, thoroughly enjoying the standard face climbing on the remainder of the route. I lowered off with a real sense of satisfaction, and relief, I now had evidence of an improvement in my climbing. Riding high on this wave of euphoria, I then went on and did my first 6b lead (Alligator), up a beautiful wall with lots of tiny little holds and loads of friction. The complete opposite to Right Wall.

Click on the image to see the video of Right Wall (6a)

On our second day of climbing we went further north to Campo Base. This area is much steeper and is dominated by smooth, clean rock with interesting looking lines. The sun was still shinning, but the wind had come up and was gusting to over 40 km/hr. We had some shelter at the base of the crag, but the higher we climbed the more we were battling the elements as well as the routes. Despite this, the highlight of the day has to be Jon’s ascent of Bianca (6c+), a very technical wall climb on superb rock. It had a definite crux in the centre of the wall involving a committing move using small finger holds and with poor sloping footholds. Despite quite a bit of faffing (see the video below!) he made the move confidently and finished the route smoothly. I went up afterwards to see what all the fuss was about and could barely reach the tiny crimp, let alone hold it to make a big move. All the routes we did in this sector felt hard for the grade, I was very glad we hadn’t gone there on the first day, it would have made me much more hesitant.

Click on the image to watch Jon battling the wind on Bianca (6c+)

Our third day of climbing was equally good. The rain that had been forecast stayed away (apart from a few drops), and again we found some really nice routes to climb, this time in the Calamancina area. We did a lovely 5a to start with (Beautiful Hamster), just really enjoyable climbing on solid rock. We followed this with a whole handful of varied 6a+’s which were all nicely technical and continuously interesting. Jon did a 6c on slopey holds (Sergio) and a 7a+ (Alpha Romeo) up a line of tufas, only his second 7a+ in over 2 years. We have several of these climbs on video as well, so keep an eye out on our YouTube channel over the next couple of days.

In the 3 days of climbing we have had so far, we have done some fantastic routes and despite the weather it has been great to be back in San Vito Lo Capo. It is now raining again (which is why I have time to write this!), but tomorrow is due to be dry (and windy), so hopefully we can get another couple of days at the crag before we move to the other side of Sicily. I would quite like to climb another cave before we leave…

— Gaynor

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