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Travel-Climbing in the Boot

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Sassolungo, Val Gardena, DolomitesPhoto by Herman Comploj


I learned to climb in Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 2004, and have always since wondered what it would be like to climb in my home country, Italy.

As a child I spent summers in a little village called Selva di Val Gardena, in the Dolomites. I learned how to ski there; I wore my first pair of climbing shoes in Vallunga, just outside of Selva; and I did my first via ferrata, Il Cristallo, in Cortina d`Ampezzo, the famous Dolomite ski town a few hours distant. Every time we vacationed in the Alps I couldn’t help but picture what it would be like to climb among these beautiful peaks.

Italy is not only a land of orgasmic food and inebriating wines, but a paradise where climbing on quality rock and bathing in crystalline blue water perfectly accompany your cultural experience. The summer routine here is to enjoy remote rocks on white, sandy beaches and late-afternoon bouldering sessions, but also widen your cultural horizons with occasional museum visits.

This summer, as all others, I will go home to Italy; however, unlike other years, I will occasionally disappear and hit some crags, as well as family reunions. So, join me for a trip to four of Italy’s finest areas. Buon Viaggio!


Hermann Via TartarinPhoto by Herman Comploj


ALTO ADIGEThe 3,000-foot-tall Dolomite Giants of Selva di Val Gardena, in Alto Adige, are a must-see — rent a car, because there is climbing everywhere you turn. Dolomia, a type of limestone, is a highly featured rock, blessed with unique, water-sculpted grips; be prepared to experience some nuanced climbing on these great walls. The classics in this area include: the multi-pitch adventure climbs of Le Tre Torri del Vajolet Turm, also known as the “three sisters,” in the Catinaccio mountain; Torre Delago (5.5), Torre Stabler (5.5), and Torre Winkler (5.6), a historical climb that was the first of its grade in Italy when it was climbed, around 1880; and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (5.10a), one of the most picturesque climbs in the valley. Another is the famous Via Comici on the Sasso Lungo (5.10), also called “La via della Goccia,” which directly translated means: the route a drop of water would take on a straight line down the wall. I have also always been intrigued by theMessner direct (5.10d) on the iconic Marmolada.

Suggested Routes: Val Gardena not only offers historical, multi-pitch climbs, but if you are more of a single pitch, sport-type of guy, then visit Piz Civazes (an outdoor climbing park), a perfect winter cross-training facility.

Also, the newly developed 200- to 400-meter routes in Vallunga, near the town of Selva di Val Gardena, provide a great afternoon workout. For a blocista there is Citta` dei Sassi, near Passo Sella, an irresistible and enchanting valley littered with boulders as if by a god playing jacks. This area has recently been developed by Swedish climbers Stefan Pettersson and Tomas Gustavsson, who in five days opened 113 new problems between V0 and V11, 29 of which are V6 or harder.

Cinque Dita, SassolungoPhoto by Herman Comploj


Via Comici, Salame del SassolungoPhoto by Herman Comploj


Driving a little ways to Cortina D’Ampezzo, near Passo Falzarego, you reach the Cinque Torri (7,500 feet): Torre Grande, Torre Seconda/del Barancio, Torre Latina, Torre Quarta and Torre Inglese. Cinque Torri is one of the best sport-climbing areas in the Dolomites, that offer almost 200 routes from one to eight pitches. Most of the routes are bolted; however, if you decide to do some multi-pitch climbing bring a full trad rack and a 60-meter rope. Torre Grande is the largest and the most popular of the five, divided into Cima Sud, large and flat-topped; Cima Nord, smaller with a wide chimney that cleaves the east face; and Cima Ovest, dihedral-faced and with a large broken chimney. Cima Sud is the most popular, with routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.13c. Cima Nord and Cima Ovest are definitely worth checking out as well; make sure, though, that you are comfortable warming-up on 5.10.

If you hanker for the Alps, but are not a diehard alpinist, try some vie ferrate – iron cables fixed to the mountain, linked by metal ladders and bridges connecting disjointed peaks. Where best to find them if not in the Dolomites, where it all started, after WWI. The best are Monte Cristallo, Cortina D`ampezzo; Ferrata delle Mesulesal Piz Selva (1912); Sas Rigas in Val Badia, the tallest peak of the Odles; Via Olivieri at Punta Anna on the Tofana di Rotzes; and Via Tomaselli on the Cima Fanis.

How to get there: Coming from Rome, take highwayA1 Nord to Modena, then the A22; exit at Chiusa, and then continue on the Strada delle Dolomiti.

Cultural attractions: Tea and homemade desserts, from Shaker torte tospinach quiche, are an easy tick at Villa Frainela, Via Dantercepis, on the way back from your workout in the Vallunga. This is the kind of place you see in old movies: a family-owned wooden storage house that later became an après-ski tearoom. Definitely visit Bolzano, the main city down valley. It is very Innsbruck-like, with its portici and its numerous Austro-Hungarian churches.

Villa Frainela, Tea RoomPhoto by Herman Comploj


Where to Stay: The only way to go in the Alps is, unfortunately, renting an apartment, unless you want to dirtbag it in someone’s backyard — not so cool. So, plan to spend a little money up here.

Suggested travel guide: Le piu`belle montagne e le piu` famose scalate, by Reinhold Messner.

Tourist information: Associazione Guide Alpine Val GardenaVia Meisules 144 (c/o Casa cultura Oswald von Wolkenstein) 39048 Selva di Val Gardena Tel e fax: 0039 0471 794133 Cell. 0039 335 or visit their website:

Via Solda, SossolungoPhoto by Herman Comploj


TUSCANYFollowing the wine/biking travel path down to Tuscany, you end up in Porto Santo Stefano, on Monte Argentario, a peninsula facing Corsica. Here, my family owns a little Italian-style beach house from where, along the horizon, you can see L`isola d`Elba, home to a lifetime’s worth of beachside sport climbing. So, jump on the first morning ferry from Porto Santo Stefano and join the isolani (inhabitants of the island) for some spring/summer climbing. Elba offers several single-pitch crags with routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12b, developed by Renato Bardi and Filippo Lenzi.

Take the ferry to Portoferraio, the capital of the island, in the northeast, and if you are planning on hitting the crags right off the boat, visit Marciana Marina, right outside of Portoferraio. Follow the trail to Madonna del Monte (around 25 minutes); here, the trail ends at an eagle-shaped granite rock on the right at the bottom of a set of stairs, which take you to the cliff. The routes are mainly granite and range from 5.7 to 5.10d; the area is pretty shady, ideal for summer climbing. When you get thirsty, find fresh spring water at the sanctuary Teatro della Fontana (1698).

Right outside of Capolivieri, on the east side of the island, follow the unpaved road from city hall toward “Residence Costa dei Gabbiani” on the Ginepro beach, where you can climb lava rock on exposed 5.7 to 5.12b routes.

Suggested routes: atCosta Gabbiani: Dulpherina (5.8), Dobloni e Galeoni (5.10a), Manta Nera (5.10c), L’isola che non c`e’ (5.11b), Hammer Head (5.11b), Red Viking (5.12b) and The Return of Space Cowboy (5.12b).

How to get there: Toremar ferry from Porto Santo Stefano, which takes about 1:30 to Elba. For more on prices and schedules contact or the Call Center, 199-123-199.

Cultural attractions: The island is well known for its iron caves, formerly mines, developed over the past 3,000 years as the main source of income. Unfortunately, the caves closed in the 1980s despite the numerous amount of iron — about 16 million tons — still there. The Cantiere Bacino in Rio Marina is the only iron cave open to the pubblic, usually in the summer. Also, you might want to stop by Villa dei Mulini in the historical center of Portoferraio and Villa San Marino, near Marina di Campo, respectively the home and summer residences of Napoleone Bonaparte, who was exiled here from 1814 to 1815. One last thing: Etruscan necropoli (aka cemeteries) can be found all over the island, the remains of this culture’s five-century domination of Tuscany.

Where to stay: Camping is the cheapest, most common way to go. Camping Acquaviva: 57037 Potrtogerraio, phone 0565-919103 with 400 campgrounds and facilities, 100 sites, 20 bungalows and three apartments, open from Easter on. Camping le Calachiole: 57031 Capolivieri phones 0565-95137 or 0565-933488 with 1,096 campground and facilities, 274 sites, eight bungalows, and 12 apartments and four campers. These are only two of the many campsites on the island.

Suggested travel guide: There isn`t really a guidebook, but you can contact local climber Renato Bardi at the Antiche Saline – 57037 Portoferraio (LI), phone 0565.917140 – 967016
 or via e-mail:

LAZIOProceeding south, you reach Lazio, where you must stop and visit Rome, the capital, my hometown. The city can be overwhelming for the number of scooters zigzagging around like mad mosquitoes, but in between the summer heat and the winter humidity, the spring, from late April to early May, is perfect. If you start feeling overwhelmed by the traffic, the heat, and the culture-overload, spend a relaxing afternoon bouldering in Soriano, near Viterbo, or venture for a climbing weekend at the top-shelf crag of Grotti. After some cragging you will regain your energy for visiting the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Soriano is a newly developed bouldering area submerged in a thick forest, right at the bottom of the Cimini Mountains, near Rome. The basalt boulders are dispersed in the green of the forest and are easily accessible via trail. There are problems for every age and bicep size – but locals don’t allow grading – so be prepared to improvise.

The areas Cypress hill, Linea Gotica, Settore Dogma, La Prua, La Cozza, La Torre, and the Bunker are the places to be. However, as this is a very new area it might be impossible to spot the boulders, unless you go with a bunch of people from the Ecole Verticale ( the climbing gym in Rome.

Grotti is a pocketed limestone crag with some very pumpy routes up amazing water streaks. There are close to 70 routes here, and very few climbers. If you decide to visit this area get in pretty good shape, because the pockets are tendon-cut sharp and they do not distinguish beginners from pro climbers. It is best to visit in late autumn or late spring. The main sectors are La Curva, Iniziazione, Paretone, La Mano Rossa, Erotica, and Il deposito.

Suggested Routes: SorianoMiFune in Cipress Hill; Pio Pompa; Linea Gotica at Linea Gotica; O’ Must in Settore Dogma; The Snap in Settore la Curva.

Grotti Iniziazione (5.11c) at Iniziazione; Blob (5.11d), Bit Bit (5.13a), Terhima Kasih (5.12a), Nada es Para Siempre (5.14b), Underworld (5.13c), and Il Duido (5.11d) at the Paretone; and also SS4 Salaria (5.12d), La mano Rossa (5.13b), and Requiem (5.12c) at Mano Rossa.

How to get there: For Soriano, from Rome take the Cassia Bis and then the S.P. Cimina. Once in the town of Soriano, follow directions for la faggeta. Park in the square with the coffee shop on the right. From here, follow, obvious path to the main areas.

Grotti is 60 miles northeast of Rome. To get there drive to Rieti. Follow signs for L`Aquila, then turn right immediately at Valle del Salto to arrive at Grotti after 8km. Park before entering the small village, then walk left past the chicken pen up to the crag (10 mins).

Cultural attractions: It’s Rome, what not to do … Since you probably planned your trip in advance, you’ll surely know all the main tourist sites, but you’d best scratch that list and learn how to travel in Rome as Romans do. I took the time to do some planning for you — enjoy!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you wont see all of it in a day either. One might spend 19 years in Rome and never see enough of it, so pace yourself.

Bakeries, coffee shops, and stores do not open until at least 9 a.m., so plan for a pre-breakfast jog in the park. I like Villa Borgese, the main, most central park — very close to Via Veneto, a 10-minute walk to Piazza del Popolo. (I am sure you know this one if you have read Angels and Demons; also, the two most famous Caravaggios are stored here, in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo.) Do plan on following the whole path via the Spanish steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain — it is touristy, but definitely worth seeing. Do not, however, forget to stop by in Piazza Sant’Eustacchio for an espresso that will blow your socks off.

A whole day must be dedicated to the Roman Forum, and definitely stay for sunset — it will melt your heart to see a thousand years of history colored light pink. Make reservations for the Jewish Synagogue, and plan on stopping by Il Forno del Ghetto to taste the “Pizza de Piazza,” a Roman-Jewish specialty that will fill you up, at least until you taste the carciofi alla giudea at Giggettoal Portico D`Ottavia, one of the most well known Roman-Jewish restaurants.

Of course, you must visit the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter’s Basilica, if not for religious beliefs, then for the history. Also, climb up on top of the dome to see Rome kneeling before you.

By night, grab a beer in Piazza Campo dei Fiori and walk around the ancient city center — Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, Via del Corso, and the Pantheon — until the crack of dawn, and then Via Barletta for some freshly backed croissant.

The icing on the cake is seeing the opera at the ancient Thermal Bath of Emperor Caracalla in the summer time, after, of course, un piatto di spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (one of the yummiest Roman dishes) at the Trattoria dell` Angelo.

Where to Stay: Unfortunately, there are no campsites near Grotti, so seek out a cheap room in Rieti by visiting

Suggested Guide: For information on Grotti and Soriano contact Ecole Verticale, Rome, at

Also, for Grotti, consult Arrampicare in Abruzzo, by Sergio Di Renzo.

SARDEGNAFrom Civitavecchia, right outside Rome, take a ferry to Sardegna and end your vacation with some slabby limestone adventures at Cala Gonone, accompanied by cultural/archeological excursions through the Nuraghi, the prehistoric tower-like structures found in Sardegna. Moreover, to add some sweetness to your all-climbing trip, take a bite of tiramisu’,homemade with freshly baked savoiardi (the Italian equivalent of lady fingers), a well-known specialty of Sardegna.

Cala Gonone is a little village situated on the east coast of Sardegna, inside a harbor facing the Mediterranean Sea. It offers a plethora of single and multi-pitch limestone sport climbs, ranging from slabby 5.10s to tendon-burning 5.13s (6a to 8a). This area is one of the most weather proof of Sardegna; even when the wind is strong, most of the routes here are climbing-safe, and in case of rain, you can still get to Bidiriscottai, (north of Cala Luna) for overhanging seaside climbing.

Usually, the variety of the crags is what attracts people to Cala Gonone; après-breakfast sessions on sunny Verdon-style slabs are followed by afternoon tufa crimping at Cala Luna, with its 22 sport routes, just a two-hour walk (or a $12 boat ride) away. The day is topped out by an evening spent camping on the beach, eating pesce alla griglia (grilled fish), courtesy of thelocal pescherecci (fishermen).

Suggested Routes: At Cala Gonone:Un mare di infiniti recordi (5.9), a wonderful, 20-meter slab route;L’altro sport (5.10c), varied moves and difficult crimps; il Guru (5.11c), a great steep face climb; Raja (5.12a), an odd line, but worth the grade; and Gioventu` Cannibale (5.12b), superb with its powerful, big moves and some tricky clips.

How to get there: From Northern Italy catch a ferry from Livorno (near Pisa) or Genova (in Liguria), or from southern Italy get on the ferry from Civitavecchia (Lazio, near Rome) or Palermo (in Sicily) to Olbia. Once in Olbia, take the costal highway SS 125 south, toward Cagliari. Once in Dorgali (about an hour and a half), follow signs for Cala Gonone and Cala Luna and, voila! If the boat isn’t your favorite transportation, you can fly from Rome, Napoli, or Genova to Alghero, Cagliari, or Olbia; Alitalia or Ryan Air usually offer good fares.

Cultural attractions: Sardegna is not only known for its sandy, white beaches and the tasty savoiardi, but the archeological ruins of Nuoro, I Nuraghi — trademark conical monuments with truncated summits, 30 to 60 feet high and 35 to 100 feet in diameter. They are, essentially, very fancy graves shaped like giant igloos.

For Spanish-city lovers, visiting Alghero is a must. Also known as Barcheloneta (little Barcelona), Alghero is a Catalan city with Spanish-style fortifications. Also, once there, peek at the Grotte di Nettuno at Capo Caccia, which takes its name from the god Neptune and houses wonderful stalactites and stalagmites.

History freaks who known of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the “hero of the two worlds,” must go to Caprera, in the Archipelago of the Maddalena in the northern part of Sardegna, where he was buried.

Where to sleep: Municipal campground Cala Gonone, open May through October. Or, if you feel like sleeping in a real bed, check out the numerous pensioni (cheap guest houses). Flexible budget? Great — rent an apartment in Dorgali, the nearest city.

Suggested Travel Guides: Arrampicare a Cala Gonone and Pietra di Luna, both available online.

Fedex climbing on the Green Spur, Eldorado Canyon, Colorado.


Federica, or Fedex as we in the office call her, just received her college degree in PreMed from CU-Boulder. She will be finishing her internship at the end of July, then climbing in Italy with her little sister, Benedetta. Next year, she plans to teach yoga in Boulder while waiting to get into graduate school for a Masters in journalism.