Finale Ligure

As I mentioned in the end of my last post I'm currently in Finale Ligure on the North-West Italian coast. I had heard from friends that the climbing here was good and it was kind of on route from Dolomites/Arco to Ceuse. The guidebook for the area (Andrea Gallo 2007 Italian with German and English text) is a real tomb, it's got over 2000 routes in it!

Finalborgo the old part of Finale town is a beautiful historic old walled Italian town complete with narrow pedestrianised cobbled streets, a castle and of course fantastic pizza, coffee and gelateria (ice cream)! I can recommend the Castello pizzeria, Bar Central for ice cream and Sbuccia cafe for coffee, smoothie and fast free wifi. The new part of the town Finale Marina has got beaches and the usual seaside antics: difficult parking and sun burnt holiday goer's.

Entrance to the old town Finalborgo
Refuelling with great coffee and smoothie wifi in cafe Sbuccia
Cooling down!

Almost all the crags are nestled up in the densely wooded and wildly vegetated hills above the town, finding the crag and the correct sector can take a bit of trial and error.

For the first few night we stayed up in Case Valle, from here we could walk down into town and access about nine different crags. Unfortunately most of the crags faced south and climbing became unbearably hot after mid-morning. This time of year (June) the temperature is mostly around 30 degrees C, dropping down to low 20's in the night. Climbing in the shade is ok, as long as there's a breeze. The guidebook recommends the best time to visit is Easter and October time although climbing could easily happen all winter.

Multipitch in the densely wooded Case Valle
The highlight of the crags we visited in the Case Valle was Grotta Dell 'Edera. This was an open-air cylindrical climbing arena accessible via a underground cave! It's not only an amazing situation, the climbing was also fantastic; steep tufa lines and intricate wall climbing on deep pockets. I climbed Per Uscire Dalle Tenebre 6c+ and Lubna 7b, both were fantastic. Don't take my word for it, check out the photos!

Upside down tufatastic climbing on Uscire Dalle Tenbre 6c+

Amazing climbing on Lubna 7b

Lowering off Lubna

After a rest day catching up on work and wifi in an awesome little back street cafe in town we moved camp over to Monte Cucco where I had heard there was a free campsite and NW facing crags. The free campsite turned out to be an old abandoned campsite which is now open to all. On the first evening I managed to sweat my way up a silly steep and spicily bolted 6c in 29 degree C perfectly still muggy air. 

Hot and sweaty climbing in Monte Cucco

The next day conditions were much better, a nice cool breeze made for enjoyable climbing, We headed over to sector Fenia o Anfiteatro which turned out to be a stunning 40m ish slightly overhanging limestone wall, splattered with deep pockets. Chris and I climbed Zambrink 6c, Cianbalaur 7a, Megahommu 7a+/b and Belin Double 7b. All were 30m+ of steep pocket pulling enjoyment.

Jen climbing in Sector Fenia o Anfiteatro in Monte Cutto
The guidebook seemed to suggest that the grading at Finale was on the tough side due to the latter adoption of the french grades, I would say this is true on the easier routes (6c and below), we though the routes given 7a and above were more correctly graded, presumably since they were put up later. Although maybe still not holiday ticks!

Now for a rest day before heading to Ceuse at the weekend. I'm looking forward to being back in France and my first ever visit to the 'best crag in the world'!


I've just come to the end of a week's climbing trip in the Dolomites. It was my first ever trip to the region. Even though I had seen plenty of photos of the famous Tre Cime towers, gazing up at the imposing north faces was very impressive, and quite intimidating!

Tre Cime North faces in late evening sun
The drive over from Chamonix was 'interesting', following the SatNav on the 'avoid-tolls' setting through the Swiss alps it suddenly announced “turn left and take the ferry” half-way up a mountain pass! There was no ferry, what the SatNav was referring to was the Valais to Bernese Oberland to the car transporter through the mountain! I got in line, paid 22 CHF (18EUR) and drove the van onto an open sided train, this was no tourist affair just a quick and functional service. A bit like the channel tunnel but much less refined, sticking my head out through the van window into the open tunnel while the train was speeding along was quite exciting! 

Open-air car carrier Valais to Bernese Oberland
After a morning of swimming and climbing in Interlaken we set off for another leg of driving driving east towards Austria and eventually Northern Italy.. Again after following the SatNav up to the stunning Susten mountain pass for several hours it became apparent when we got to a road closed barrier that the pass was yet to open for the season, we were two days two early! It was a bit of waste of an afternoons driving but I can think of worse places to have a late lunch! The closed pass made for the most amazing traffic free ride for road cyclists. We took tolls roads for a bit after this! 

The closed Susten pass 2224m in the Swiss alps
Eventually we reached the Dolomites, we slept in the van in the carpark by the Auronzo Hut up the toll road from Misurina. The toll road cost 22 EUR and 3.50 EUR per nigh to stay up there, quite reasonable to say in such an inspiring place with fast access the the Tre Cime.

Auronzo car park 2330m
On the first climbing day we climbed Cima Grande, the biggest out of the three Tre Cime at 2998m    via the Normal Route. Even though the climbing was very straight forward, the route was complex and interesting.

Negotiating a gap on the ridge near the summit of Clima Grande
It made for a fantastic if rather long and tiring day out with my girlfriend Amy and friends Chris and Jenny. The Normal Route is also the main descent route on Cima Grande, and since one of my ideas for the trip was to climb the Brandler-Hasse, a 15 pitch route VIII/7a+/E5ish with 730m of climbing on Cima Grande's North Face, having knowledge of this route would be useful. Unfortunately this didn't quite go to plan but it was still a great trip.

Team on summit of Clima Grande 2998m
My first big route with Chris was the Gelbe Mauer (Yellow Wall) on the S.Face of Cima Piccola. The route is a modern classic, fully bolted with pitch grades of 7a,7a+,6c,7a+,7a,7a+,6c,6c,6b+,6a+ and 5a!

Although the difficulties of this route are more sustained than the Brandler-Hasse, being fully bolted and easily accessible made it a more appealing warm up option. After a 5am coffee at sunrise we managed to knock out the first five pitches, all onsight before the sun hit the face.

Seconding the 'warm-up' 7a first pitch!
The climbing was excellent, generally technical, often both strenuous and delicate on on small edges. On the 6th pitch which was the last pitch of 7a+ I took a fall when a small flake I was pulling on suddenly gave way!

Setting of on P.6 of Gelbe Mauer, Clima Piccola - the last 7a+ pitch of the route

On the whole, the rock on the route was pretty good (for the Dolomites) but care is still needed when choosing holds. Missing out on the onsight of the last hard pitch was a bit of a shame, but at least I've done my bit to make the route have fewer loose holds for subsequent parties! At the beginning of seconding the 7th pitch Chris developed cramp in his fingers and was unable to continue; we descended. It would have been nice to finished the route but we were pretty happy to have climbed most of the best and hardest pitches of this great route onsight.

Our high point
Approximate line of Gelbe Mauer on Clima Piccola

The following day we took a much needed rest-day. In the afternoon there was a massive thunderstorm and a lot of rain. The Brandler-Hasse is on the north face; it's slower to dry after rain than the sunny south faces. In the evening we wandered round to the north face of Clima Grande to take a look at the conditions, it was obvious the route was totally soaked, we were constantly being showered with drips of water falling from the upper (crux) pitches!

The next day was our last full day's climbing, we opted for an easier and quicker drying alternative on Punta Frida's south face. We choose the Via Dei Riocordi, 6 pitchs of VII+/6b+ crux , the route had bolted belays and a few bolts on the crux pitches, a bit of trad gear was needed in between. The route was very enjoyable, we got up and down the route in well under guidebook time.

On morning before driving to Arco we all nipped up a via ferate above Cortina. It was a great day out. I love the exposure and the physical nature of the activity and I think it's great how it allows non climbers to experience ascending a big face. However, personally for me it lacks the movements, body positions and immersing problem solving I enjoy so much while climbing.

I'm currently in Finale Ligure, yesterday we climbed in the most amazing natural limestone open-air cylindrical cave accessibe via a underground tunnel....this will have to wait till for the next blog post!

Last day in the Dolomites, Misurina lake in early morning sunshine

Gorge du Tarn

I've just returned from a week of sunny sport climbing in Gorge du Tarn. It was a great week, it felt like everything came together: good company, warm weather and climbing fitness.

I didn't have much knowledge of Gorge du Tarn other than seeing a few photos. After a longer than planned and rather hot journey it was amazing to arrive in Gorge du Tarn just as the sun was setting. The Gorge is a super picturesque location, striking limestone towers protrude out of lush woodland. The 'main' road down through the gorge is a work of art, single track in places it weaves it's way through carved out tunnels in the limestone walls beside the river Tarn.

Groge du Tarn
Looking at the guidebook I was stunned by how little of the potential climbing has been developed, it seems that only the most acceptable (roadside) crags have been developed. I'm not sure what the current local situation is but it would seem that the areas has massive potential for further development.

These's not a single route in the guidebook on any of the crags in the photo!
We camped next to the river, most days started with a refreshing transition from sweaty sleeping bag into cool river water.

The highlight of climbing in the Groge it's self was sector Tennessee, unfortunately some of the best routes in the Gorge were closed due to the re-bolted work that is currently under-way. This work should be finished soon, but it wasn't a bit problem for us, there was still lots to go at. In sector Tennesse Luke and I onsighted the long stamina crack pitch of Une Colonne Derriere Les Verrous 7b and the awesome Les Ailes Du Desir 7b+ with big moves between positive finger pockets. After getting the the chains of Ailes Du Desir I had a blast up the 8a extension, taking the route to 50m! The climbing was amazing, probably the best pocket pulling I've ever done. After clocking up a fair bit of airtime I got a bit psyched out and lowered off, definitely one to come back to.

Unknown climber in the rest at the beginning of Ailes Du Desir
The stunning Millau viaduct
We also had a couple of days climbing at Le Boffi, about a 40 min drive away. One of the highlights was climbing Sac a Glue 7b+, more big move pocket pulling goodness. 

Me on Sac a Glue 7b+ in Le Boffi - thanks to Dave for the photo
The climbing highlight of the trip for me was climbing El Monstro del Muesli! a 45m 8a in Gorges de la Jonte first redpoint with a couple of hours rest after working out the moves. I was really chuft to get my first '8a in a day' on the last full day of climbing. I'm putting it down to having two bowls of Muesli for breakfast that morning! 
Luke starting up El Monstro del Muesli! 8a, Gorges de la Jonte  

Luke lowering off El Mostro del Muesli!

The route starts with a pumpy 7b to a good shake-out then a reachy technical crux sequence into immaculate face climbing on small crimps finger pockets finishing right on top of the wall. 

The river Tarn and Gorges de la Jonte

Short and sharp 7a on a day that was really too hot to climb! Can't remember the name or sector. Thanks to Dave for the photo 

Living, Working and playing in the Alps: Chamonix

Driving up the valley late last night; Bonneville, Cluses, Sallanches, Servos.... nearly there, driving on the now familiar wrong right side of the road past familiar roundabouts, trying to carry speed in my under-powered van up the raised duel-carriage way, it's pitch black but Glacier du Bossons is visible high-up on the right reflecting the moon light. Returning from a weeks climbing in Gorge du Tarn, looking forward to getting 'home' to Chamonix.

For the past month and a half Trystan and I have been living and working out of a chalet in Chamonix. Luckily given a good WiFi connection and coffee making facilities we can carry on with much of our work as usual.

Chalet in Les Bossons

It's been an enjoyable, and actually very productive time! Obviously we didn't just come to Chamonix to work, the usual mix of work and play has been in full force.

When we arrived on the 8th May we just about caught the last day of winter lifts squeezing in a days snowboarding on surprisingly good snow up on Les Grands Montets.

Grand Montets Snowboarding

Climbing wise I've been exploring the Vallee de L'Arve, this is the Limestone clad valley down the road from Chamonix. The climbing in this valley is generally overlooked, obviously it's not what many people would come to Chamonix for but after spending many a wet day visiting crags in the Chamonix valley I wish I knew about the many all weather steep Gneiss and Limestone crags just down the road. The guidebook is mammoth 1500 routes and 3000 pitches! There are many very big and awesome looking multipitch routes that I didn't get a change to explore.

The crags I did visit were Cascade de Doran, Malsaire and Bionnassay. They were all good, Malsaire is very good for routes in the 6's and low 7's, but being just below Cluses it's a bit far from Chamonix, we visited it after visiting a friend who gave us a tour of CERN near Geneve. Bionnassay was the most impressive crag and only a 30 min drive from Cham. The routes are very good, generally long 30m+ and grades start in the upper 6's with the best looks routes being in the high 7's/8's.. Lots to go at, and much of it says dry in the rain!

Beautiful Bionnassay
  On my visit I climbed Des Esperances 7a+ and Les Fastes de la Solitude 6c+ both over 40m long!

Cascade de Doran
I also did a bit of bouldering up at Col du Montets and in the forest above Les Bossons on the right bank of the glacier: The bouldering in Les Bossons is like a mini granite Fontainbleu! Complete with the problems marked with coloured arrows.

Les Bossons Bouldering
I also did a bit of mountain biking on Trystan's bike, here's an awesome little downhill trail we found down through the forest above the chalet in Les Bossons, notice all the fallen trees from the recent storm and when I nearly went over the handlebars!