As our time on Sicily draws to a close we find we will be leaving with a great sense of dissatisfaction. Why? Well, mainly because we have only scratched a small part of the surface of this varied and complex place. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean; almost 200 times larger than Kalymnos, one of the later stops on our journey. As a result Sicily has it all: great beauty, an incredibly rich history, vibrant towns and cities, sleepy villages, empty mountains and a wealth of fantastic climbing.
Even with 3 weeks on the island we have had to pick and choose what to do and where to go. Climbing-wise this meant the visit was split into two halves with the first 10 days being spent in the North West corner of the island (in San Vito Lo Capo) and the remainder of the time spent in the South East corner (between Siracusa and Ragusa). Although many people coming to Sicily will fly into Catania, which is a 50 minute drive from Siracusa, most climbers do the 4 hour drive to San Vito Lo Capo without a thought to the climbing that is much nearer to hand. This may be due to the lack of a major climbing focal point for the South East of the island. However, there are many crags that are worth visiting.
The guidebook that we had, Di Roccia Di Sole, was published in 2015 and lists just under 1000 routes spread across about 40 crags in the Siracusa / Ragusa areas that we visited . We were looking for routes in the 5c to 7a bracket, with which the area is well supplied, but there is plenty of harder stuff (up to 8c).
To some extent our plans were determined by the weather as we had 3 days of torrential rain. However, what has impressed us is how quickly many of the crags dried. The only crag we visited but weren’t able to climb at, as the majority of routes were affected by seepage, was Ambiguita. The places that we did climb were Pandora, Cimiterio, Timpa Rosso, Antro dell’Eco, Curvone and Cavadonna. Whilst there isn’t a huge number of routes at any of these crags, they are all worthy of repeat visits and a brief synopsis of our thoughts on each of them is given below. Our favourite, perhaps, was Cavadonna, the final crag we visited on our last full day in Sicily.
Great, sustained technical wall climbing on the right hand side of the crag with excellent rough limestone. However, some of the rock in the caves at the left of the crag, where many of the harder routes are, was a bit polished and dusty in places. Directions for the approach in the guidebook are wrong. Initially, stay to the right of the stone wall and you will find the path at the end of the field / parking area.
Technical climbing on pockets. The routes are quite short but the rock is excellent and even the 5c’s make you think. The approach path through the woods isn’t easy to spot and involves going through a makeshift gate that isn’t mentioned in the guide. The locals are really nice though. Somehow, we had a 10 minute incomprehensible conversation with one guy despite him speaking no English and our Italian being very rudimentary. It culminated with him giving us a handful of sunflower seeds from his garden!
The right hand side of the crag is home to some very technical face climbing on rough, pocketed grey limestone. Perhaps the toughest grading of all the crags we went to but the routes we did were all fantastic. The leftmost sector is generally steeper and requires a more powerful approach. We only did one route in that area but it was very good. The crag is very easy to find and forms a large natural amphitheatre over a dry riverbed with a naturally terraced bank on the far side.
We only had a couple of hours here due to a late start and the approach taking somewhat longer than anticipated. In part this is because we followed a “Google Route” to the parking, which led down a dirt track to a dead-end and then, once we had got to the parking spot, the 15 minute approach walk took us nearly an hour as we couldn’t find the path. But it was worth the effort. The path to the crag doesn’t become apparent until you get beyond the wall at the far end of the field. The mistake we made was to look for an obvious crossing point in the second wall mentioned in the guidebook – there isn’t one.
We only did 3 routes but they were all very good. Two 30m, 6a pitches on light grey limestone, like the best you could find anywhere in the Peak District and a fantastic 6a+ up a steep golden wall on big pockets.
The crag overlooks one of the numerous canyons in the area, this one is verdant with relatively low angle sides that create a thick, almost jungle like landscape below. Every shout echoes across the canyon multiplying each holler of success (or failure)!
Similar rock to Antro dell’Eco but a much easier approach (you park less than 50m from the crag). Unfortunately, this means that the crag isn’t particularly peaceful but all the routes we did were good. One of the routes we did (Claudia e Maria – see video) was a little polished but the other 6 were in really good condition. Some of the bolts were showing signs of age whilst others were obviously brand new.
The guide book shows Cavadonna as east facing, but it actually has a southerly aspect and is in the sun all day long. Although the crag is sheltered, thankfully there was just enough breeze to keep us comfortable as the temperature hit 19 Celsius. It is also quite easy to find despite being in a secluded, beautiful and very peaceful valley.
The routes we did were between 6a and 6c+ and all were good or superb but some of the best lines are taken by the harder routes. Much of the crag is steep or very steep resulting in a great looking selection of routes between 7a and 7c. Many of the pitches are long and the guidebook estimates of route lengths being quite conservative. Cavadonna and Antro dell’Eco are the two crags that we would really like to go back to.
With so many of the crags drying so quickly the rain had no more impact than sore fingers on the amount of climbing we were able to do. Many of the climbs utilise small sharp pockets that can wreck your fingers very quickly. On the flip side, rarely did we encounter routes that had become polished. The few that were polished tended to be towards the harder end of the spectrum of things that we tried. Many of the easier routes would actually benefit from the rough edges being smoothed away through more traffic. Another joy of the climbing in this area is how varied the movement is between and sometimes within a single pitch. It is also worth noting that we found the grades in SE Sicily a little tougher than in San Vito Lo Capo, although this was more noticeable on some crags than others.
An additional plus, particularly when being here in February, is that there seems to be no preferred orientation for the crags. We climbed on North, South, East and West facing crags. This meant that we have always been comfortable climbing here – neither too hot or too cold – despite maximum day time temperatures fluctuating between 8 and 19 Celsius during our stay.
Would we go back to SE Sicily for another climbing holiday? Certainly. In part this is because there is far more to the area than just the climbing. Having close on 1000 routes to go at on almost deserted crags combined with abundant cultural distractions is a very tempting mixture.