I was looking for something different; nothing too frightening, well bolted routes with a good range of grades in a scenic location and, reasonably quiet. Too much to ask? Sicily didn’t disappoint. It is a mid grade paradise with hundreds of perfectly bolted lines in a beautiful coastal setting.
The rock is amazing, generally steep, running to excellent and surprising holds. Some of the slabs around the El Bahira sectors are quite sharp but this does not detract from the quality of the climbing. The northern sectors (our favorite), offer fantastic climbing on compact white marble which demands good technique and foot work. Being close to the sea these sectors can be greasy in the morning before the sun hits but this seemed to be dependent on humidity and wind direction. There are some inconsistencies in grading particularly around 6a to 6b. 'Last Orders' 6a, and 'JWLG' 6a+ at Sector El Bahira are quite soft for the grade, while 'Via Rosse' 6a+ and 'Retrobolter' 6a+ at Campeggio are tough, the latter offering fine strenuous and exposed climbing. 'Rosso e Nero' is flagged as one of the best 6a+’s in the guide but it has become a victim of its own popularity with polished holds adding to the grade. 'Catwalk' (6c+) is an excellent soft touch for the grade despite the rattling jug after the crux. 'The Riddle' 7a, at Calamancina is also soft if you’re looking for that elusive 7a on-sight. Some must do routes: For gear a 60M rope and 14 draws will suffice. There are a few routes longer than 30M but all have intermediary lower offs. Stolen Glory 6a Via Rosse 6a+ Retrobolter 6a+ Red Necks 6b Per Nostre Amici 6b Toya 17 6c Catwalk 6c+ Beam Me Up Scottie 7a
Although there is climbing all over Sicily. The San Vito area is covered in detail by Sicily Rock. This is a modern guide with good photo topos written in German, English and Italian. The guide is also available at El Bahira Camping reception, if you are unable to pick up a copy before you leave. There is a more extensive Versante Sud guide which is out of print at present. The new addition of this guide is due out later this year. Bees are prolific in the spring. If the wild flowers are out there will be bees about. Fortunately, the nests are easy to spot just by the mass of bees around the entrance. Other climbers will often pass on nest locations but its worth checking your line before launching off up a route, particularly if you are the only team on that sector. A pair of binoculars are handy for spotting bees nest and bolt positions.
The standard of bolting is generally excellent with stainless glue-in’s the norm, from Bolt Products. Some older routes are in need of re-equipping but these are clearly documented in the guide and not amongst the most popular sectors. Bolts are closely spaced for the first couple of clips (as you would expect), becoming more spaced with height. A couple of the easier classics had unnecessary run-outs to the chain which may come as a bit of a shock if you are operating at the limit of your grade. You shouldn’t need a clipstick. The lower-offs are mostly twisted stainless hooks with a backup bolt close by. There are at least three variations of lower off device, some of which are rather complicated on first acquaintance. A good tip is always carry a spare long draw to clip the belay while you figure out how to thread the rope. For top roping always backup the twisted loop with an extender from the adjacent bolt.
San Vito offers year round climbing but like all Mediterranean destinations periods of cold rainy weather during the winter are not uncommon. There are a few caves and sheltered crags which offer bad weather climbing. The best season is probably from mid October to the end of March with some extension either way if you like heat.
Accommodation, Food and Drink
The most obvious place to stay is at the El Bahira campsite www.elbahira.it which offers rapid access to hundreds of routes without the need to drive. We rented a bungalow over 9 nights for €370. A mobile home (static caravan) is slightly cheaper. Camping is also possible with good facilities and nice shady pitches. The disadvantage with El Bahira is that the campsite shop, bar and pizzeria are closed until Easter. The closest provisions are in San Vito which is a 10 minute drive away. Of course you could stock up for a week and avoid using the car but we found ourselves driving round to the northern sectors most days to get some shade and variety, which means you will be driving through San Vito anyway. For future trips I think I would opt for an apartment or camping close to the town which would offer all the local amenities within walking distance with the main climbing sectors equidistant in either direction. If you like cycling a basic mountain bike would be a quick and easy way to access virtually all of the climbing around San Vito. Bike Hire. You can find accommodation in San Vito on this site http://www.sanvitoweb.com There is a small supermarket in San Vito, located on the left driving down Via Savoia (the main road into town), and a good greengrocers, 100M before the supermarket on the right. Bars seemed a little thin on the ground and most restaurants weren't fully open during the winter and up until Easter. There are bars on the sea front and a good takeaway pizzeria.
Traveling from Scotland was a bit of a hassle. There are no direct flights from either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Indeed there doesn't appear to be any direct flights from anywhere north of Luton. We managed to travel there and back in a day with a long wait at Stansted both ways. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Dublin to Palermo and from Luton to Trapani both of which are approximately 90 minutes drive from San Vito. Easyjet fly from Gatwick to Palermo.
We found the cheapest car hire at Auto-Europe. Around £120 for 10 days. You could also try Easycar or better still one of the price comparison sites. Many thanks to Colin Moody for suppling some of the images (the good ones!). More on Colin's site at www.colinmoody.com