Hidden Treasure on the Amalfi Coast

Sunset over the Amalfi Coast

What comes to mind when thinking of the Amalfi coast? Most likely picturesque towns, wine, Sorrento, Pompei, and Vesuvius. I doubt that basking in winter sunshine and sport climbing on perfect limestone springs to mind though. The climbing here seems to be a very well kept secret, so in this post, I’ll do my bit to correct that.

It’s worth admitting that until the day before I arrived in Positano, I had no idea there was climbing on the Amalfi coast either. We had planned to head into Spain when winter chased us from Finale, but a bit of Googling turned up the Amalfi coast. A quick Spain / Amalfi coin toss came up ‘Amalfi’ and we decided to take a punt on it. There were definitely no regrets!

Almost Homeless

2016-11-22 13.08.12

Before I get to gushing about how awesome the climbing is, here are a few logistical points…

The whole area is very quiet in the winter time. This means that you get the crags more or less to yourself, but the down side is that many of the camp sites and hostels are shut. My penchant for showing up to a place with no accommodation booked nearly landed us in trouble this time… We spent a fairly torturous few hours driving along the Amalfi coast road, knocking of the doors of shuttered hostels, and pulling into ‘closed for winter’ camp sites….

Eventually, we found the camp site Nube d’Argento, just on the outskirts of Sorrento. This requires a ~45 minute drive to the nearest climbing, but it’s a short walk into Sorrento. A reasonable compromise to have the cafes, bars, and restaurants on your doorstep. The Taverna Sorrentina is no more than a five minute walk, and it does a decent pizza for €5, and a glass of local wine for €3 on top – can’t argue with that!

A final logistical note. Make sure that your car insurance is up to date, and prepare yourself for some truly terrifying driving experiences! The driving has to be seen to be believed, as does the road up to the climbing in Positano. My van emerged with only a couple of scrapes, and I considered that a win.

Getting A Head?

P1030308

My last post on the Euro trip left me buzzing for more climbing, but quivering a bit (okay, quivering a lot) when moving above ‘highball boulder’ territory. There was progress in Finale, but it was slow progress and my climbing was very limited by poor head games. Amalfi seemed like a perfect destination to work on the head games.

So on day one, I set out with the intent to do a bunch of fall practice and really work on the mental side of the sport… Of course, I did not do any fall practice… We did find an amazing coastal crag and started get into the slabby and crimpy style. I’m not exactly a ‘powerhouse’ (matchsticks for arms),  and so the technical climbing was right up my street. I felt at home immediately. The switch in style also did wonders for my confidence, giving me an ideal excuse to continue to neglect the fall practice. Oh well, progress was getting made regardless, confidence was coming back and with it a real enjoyment of roping up again.

It is worth admitting upfront that I definitely used the change in style as an excuse to neglect properly training the head games. One of these days I’ll learn to love fall practice and fingerboarding, but those days did not come on the Amalfi coast, and at the time of writing, I’m still waiting!

Sorrento

2016-12-01 20.40.15

We had planned to stay in Positano, near the climbing, but there was no room at the inn  (actually, there were no inns..) and so we we ended up camping near Sorrento. I think this was likely a blessing in disguise as it was good to be withing walking distance of civilisation. There’s no shortage of cafes and restaurants, and the prices are generally not too bad.

Christmas was in full flow when we were there, and Sorrento looked the part! The lit up streets streets were pedestrianised at the weekends and were very lively with shoppers and families. Sadly it was not busy with patrons of the local bars, which were typically very quiet even though the streets were full. The Christmas tree (above) dominated the end of the high street, bringing festive cheer and good will to all men – or something like that.

This is all great if you want to do your Christmas shopping and get a glass of wine. Be warned though, if you’re looking for climbing supplies, you have come to the wrong place. Further underscoring the secretive nature of the climbing here, there aren’t really any climbing shops in Sorrento. Make sure you’re stocked up with chalk, tape, and other climbing disposables before you arrive.

Sorrento is cool, but it is a strange kind of place to visit in December. More of a family vibe than a touristy vibe, and certainly not a climbers hub. An excellent base though for launching climbing missions to Positano, and so highly recommended in that respect!

What about the climbing?

P1010826 - cropped

As I said above, I’m quite partial to a crimpy and technical slab, so I was absolutely at home here. The crags we visited seemed to be typified by this style. You could occasionally shave on the handholds, so either pack some climb-on, or man up! I should note that there are a number of steep or caved out crags that we didn’t visit. I’d expect there is something for everyone here.

I’m not sure about paper guide books, but we did fine with the Vertical Life app and topos.

We mostly based climbed on the crags around Positano. You can park at the local football pitch for free and walk out to most of the crags in about 45 minutes or so. We spent a good amount of our time in the Selva area, which has a decent spread of grades and long sustained routes with an excellent outlook. The obvious ‘thread the needle’ as you approach Positano (Monte Gambera) has some excellent climbing as well, again with a great spread of grades and decent length routes.

The crags are generally facing the sea, and as picturesque as you could ask for. Watching the sun set over the sea while you strip the last route of the day is as close to a religious experience as I ever get. The December sunshine is pretty much bang on for me, easily t-shirt weather without getting fried. And given that this whole area seems to be a secret, the only interruptions you may encounter are inquisitive donkeys coming to see what the humans are up to.

P1010832

Repeat Customer

I struggle to pick out a specific highlight from this part of the trip. The climbing was all generally excellent, the settings were all beautiful. The standout for me of this part of the trip was the gradual re-emergance of some kind of head for climbing, and associated massive increase in enjoyment. After years of neglect I left Positano feeling about as positive as I had in years about getting roped up.

I’m not sure that there is a better winter climbing venue out there, especially if you value a bit of solitude. The climate, setting, and local amenities are all bang on, and the climbing is also fantastic. I can’t imagine that this place will stay a secret for long, so get in while it’s good. I’ll definitely be making an effort to get back here at some point.

The Amalfi coast was the last destination that we visited on the outward leg of the European journey. Leaving here was the start of the long drive back home, and a good opportunity to revisit some destinations, and hopefully close out some unfinished business…

P1030353

Advertisements

Pleasantly Sandbagged in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is, I think, the most beautiful place I’ve ever climbed. But fuck me those grades are stiff!

I climbed in Joshua Tree a few years ago, and have basically been itching to get back since the day I left. There is something about the place that really feels other worldly. The weird forest with bulging, rounded rock formations on the horizon looks like a science fiction set or a Neptunian moon. It’s a very cool place to go climbing.

The way the Red Rocks trip worked out left us out of time in the camp site (14 nights max) and struggling a bit for cheap accommodation near the climbing. We only had a few days left in total for this leg of the trip, and so it was the perfect opportunity to get out and check out somewhere different.

I think you could probably spend multiple years climbing in Joshua Tree and not get bored. We only had three days, so we couldn’t even scratch the surface. The highlight for me was climbing in Real Hidden Valley. I think that may be my all time favourite climbing destination – perfect granite in a stunning setting. We did a shaded two pitch route that will definitely stick in the memory for a long time.

The climbing in Joshua Tree was every bit as good, and every bit as hard, as I remembered it to be! I’m still getting reacquainted with placing trad gear after a long lay off, so there was some additional and unnecessary terror from that side of things! One of these days I’ll get a trad head on me…

Like this post, the Joshua Tree trip was a short one. We mostly stuck to roadside and relatively straightforward trad routes. I tried one absolutely nails sport route, and we ran out of time to do some bouldering. There is so much that I would like to do here, I definitely feel like I have unfinished business in the park. Watch this space….

2017-03-07 11.08.00

 

Free Solo Travel

Don’t worry, I’m not brave enough to ditch the ropes. The title refers to the next part of the US trip. 

This weekend I bid a fond farewell to Keith & Manu, and venture forth on my own. Solo, and free to go where I choose. 

Which, in the first instance will be New Orleans then Houston… Not exactly well known climbing hotspots! I’m taking a break from climbing for a week or so to catch up with some friends from back home. I guess I might post about the trip, but the only climbing I’ll get in will be indoors, if at all. 

I’ve no fixed plans afterwards, but if you see a Scottish guy hanging about a camp site begging for a belay, please give generously! 

Fear and Self Loathing in Finale Ligure

Sunset in Varazze

I set off on this year long climbing trip with a warning ringing in my ears. “Be really careful if you try anything over 8000 metres” Err… okay, that’s fairly easy advice to follow for someone who is primarily a boulderer! I arrived in Varazze after ten weeks on the road, obstinately on a climbing trip, and I’d not been over 8000 millimetres yet!

Dope on a Rope

Bouldering is hard to explain to non-climbers. Actually, bouldering can be hard to explain to climbers at times, and in doing so exclusively I was certainly challenging a few folks expectations of what a climbing trip should entail!

This exclusivity had to change at some point though. I set off on this trip with some grand designs on doing some multi-pitch along the way, maybe even a big wall in Yosemite. And as much fun as bouldering is, it certainly is not training for a big wall! I had to get on a rope.

I’ve been climbing for years now. I started when I was about 25 I think, mostly doing trad on the Aberdeen sea cliffs. I transitioned to sport climbing at some point when I decided that trad was too scary, and eventually chickened out of that too to become (mostly) a boulderer. My ‘head games’ have never been anything to write home about. The last few years though I’ve been mostly a quivering wreak on a rope, with a few brief interludes of passable climbing. Getting to Finale was finally an opportunity to blow away the cobwebs, dust off the ropes, and get my head games in order for some ‘real’ climbing…

But before I manned up and got to that, of course I treated myself to some bouldering in Varazze. For two weeks….

Varazze Bouldering

dsc_0055

Varazze is a fairly typical Italian seaside resort. Hotels and restaurants line the shore alongside touristy shops and cafes. I would guess that the place would buzz in the middle of summer, but showing up in November is a different story! Aside from one holiday weekend, the camp site was very quiet – we were the only people there at times. The restaurants were similarly empty, and the bouldering was pretty quiet too.

Varazze’s most famous son is ‘Gioia‘ (8c+ / V16), Christian Core’s 2008 contender for worlds hardest problem (at the time). I guess the existence of this problem is probably the only reason that we had heard of the place, although of course it is way too hard for me to try.

A point to note: The Varazze bouldering guide is out of print, and is not available in any of the local shops. There does seem to be copies available on Amazon though, so a bit of forward planning could help out. If like us, you show up clueless and guideless, there is a cafe up the hill called Trattoria ai Cacciatori that has a copy of the guidebook. They are happy for you to snap photos of the pages on the assumption that you buy a coffee. The coffee is €1.00 so no excuses !

The bouldering in Varazze is… okay. It’s a good destination, but probably not a world class venue. The guide is an inch thick and there seems to be 10 problems up every sliver of rock. I guess I was a bit spoiled arriving there after bouldering in Chironico and Fontainebleau prior. Some of it is very good, but there is a lot of digging to do to find the gold.

We did find gold though. In particular, there are some cool problems at ‘La Cava‘. The Mu/Muu/Muuu traverse problems were fun, and the highball stuff on the back of the Equilibrium boulder is really good, even if it did elude me on this trip…

The main area – Potalla – has a lot of good stuff as well. Mike got ‘Cuicciati il Calzino’ for the hardest send of the trip so far at 7b+/V8, and Keith and I ‘made do’ with a number of V6 and V7 problems. There is loads of cool stuff all the way around the ‘Adams Sleep’ boulder. ‘Mr. Ciabatta’ (6c+/V5) and ‘Adams Sleep’ (7b/V8) itself probably the highlights, with a mention also for the crack traverse ‘Nebulosa’ (7b/V8).

I think if you are in the area is is definitely worth spending a few days bouldering at Varazze. The sport climbing at Finale Ligure is excellent, and splitting up a trip between Varazze and Finale will definitely make for a good time.

Roped up in Finale

p1030292

I’ve done a few routes over the last few years, but I’d guess I’ve been doing about 95% bouldering. Even on a good day, I don’t have a particularly good head for routes. So of course, the first thing I did in Finale was to get straight on a f7a/5.11d sport route. And of course, I got totally shut down. Coming off the back of months of bouldering, I could do the moves okay using a clip stick to go bolt to bolt, but actually leading the route was a different story. Moving above the bolts I was a quivering wreak and climbing like a brick. And worse, I continued to quiver no matter how much I dialled down through the grades… Clearly there was a lot of work to do.

An entirely inglorious start to the climbing part of this climbing trip…

When it comes to physical training, I tend to disdain the fingerboard, preferring to just go climbing and get strong slowly (or not at all…). I take a similar approach to training the mental side of the sport. Even though I know that fall practice is a short cut to performance, I tent to just shake and wobble my way up a load of low grade routes until some semblance of competence and confidence emerges. I’d like to say that I did the sensible thing and took a bunch of falls early on, but that is not the case and I went for my tried and tested, if time consuming method.

I think I spent about ten days climbing in Finale in total, and I think the hardest route I got up was f6b/5.10d. My previous high point was f7b/5.12b, so not exactly at the top of my game! I did a little bit of fall practice, but not nearly enough to push through the head games issues and really make the most of the climbing…

Which is a shame, because the climbing in Finale is excellent. I can’t really say what the ‘typical’ style is because there is so so much rock there and we didn’t even try 1% of it. There is a lifetimes worth of routes. We were mostly on juggy and steep short pitches, although we did try out a few slabby problems as well. There are massive bolted multi-pitch climbs at relatively low grades, as well as short and pumpy coastal crags. The setting is hard to beat, climbing on crags overlooking the sea and watching the sun set on the walk out is not a hardship, regardless of how the actual climbing is going.

I’d be lying if I said I really ‘enjoyed’ the climbing at Finale in the moment of actually doing it. It was torture! Or maybe ‘type 2 fun’ – fun only when I was safely back on dry land. But, there was something there. I used to love sport climbing, and only in my dotage (my thirties) had I really lost my bottle and switched to almost exclusively bouldering. The perfect limestone overlooking the sea in Finale did serve to relight the fires and remind me why I got into this sport in the first place.

Winter #3

The green shoots of progress were finally starting to break through when winter caught up with us and chased us further south again.

The bouldering in Varazze was excellent. I really think I consolidated the improvements made over the prior few months in Font and Switzerland. The venue itself disappointed at first but came good with a little bit of exploration, and ended up being a really worthwhile place to spend a few weeks.

In terms of climbing performance, Finale Ligure did not go well. But in terms of rekindling my enjoyment of getting roped up it had done the job. As much as I love going bouldering, there is definitely something missing if it’s not complimented by roping up and going climbing, and it was great to get back into it.

And of course, the climbing trip was just getting started. There was and still is plenty more to come!

Andy

Things To Do In Red Rocks When It Rains

The previous post left us high and ‘dry’, in position in Vegas but with Red Rocks sodden and off limits for the foreseeable future. Okay, off limits for two or three days, but that is long enough when you’ve flows transatlantic to go climbing…  Thankfully, we were rescued by a load of limestone, that neither of us were really aware of setting off.

Following a recommendation, we spent two days cragging at ‘The Gun Club’, La Madre. The venue is a small gully with north and south aspects. I guess that normally there is a choice of sunny or shaded climbs all day, but it was breezy and overcast the days we were there. The crag might not be ‘world class’, but it’s perfectly decent if the sandstone is waterlogged. We found plenty of fun routes all over the grade range, and enjoyed it enough the first day to return for a second. 

dsc03126

On day one, pure relief at finding dry rock chased me up ‘Clay Pigeon’ (5.11a) onsight, and then ‘Friendly Fire’ (5.11d) with a few goes to do the crux. Having not climbed for two weeks my hands were milky soft to start with and the tips quickly succumbed to the limestone razor blade crimps and sandpaper slopers! I kept climbing course, but I was pretty spent and didn’t really have much left in the way of gurn or fingertips by the end. It’s the only way I know to start a trip. 

Day two at The Gun Club was a bit of a different story. We set off in the morning and did a bunch of the easy climbs for a warm up, then set about getting up ‘High Calibre’ (5.12a) on the left wall. I have done a few routes at this grade over the years, but it’s a bit of a rare treat, so I started with fairly limited expectations. My strategy with harder routes is typically to top rope them a couple of times, then go for the lead. I usually spend a bit of time on the top rope figuring out the moves, then maybe go for a clean top rope before going for the red point. This time however, I found myself through the crux at the first time of asking, and decided to cling on for the top rope ‘flash’. This turned out to maybe not be such a good idea for a couple of reasons.

First, I was totally physically pumped and took a long time to recover. But, worse for me at least, it kinda set up the mind set that if I could do it first go on a top rope, then of course I could lead it. I’ve touched on this a bit in relation to fluffing boulder problems when I ‘assume’ that I should get them, and it’s no different with routes. I got on lead and climbed like a brick, offering little resistance to gravity’s charms. Sending nerves or performance anxiety? I’m not sure which, but I know that my ‘head games’ are definitely something that I need to work on.

dsc03125

I could probably sulk and write off ‘The Gun Club’ as a chossy pit. However, in truth it was two excellent days cragging, which looked like they had the potential to be days spent festering at the camp site. Maybe not world class, but ‘The Gun Club’ would be a up there in terms of Scottish sport. Regarding failing to lead ‘High Calibre’, I suppose it’s better not to define success or failure in terms of whether or not you made the top of the climb, but rather whether you progressed as a climber. I think it’s probably useful to have my weak head games hammered home early in the trip so that I can see about resolving them ASAP. Quickly getting ‘Friendly Fire’ was good for me, and making the moves first go – on a top rope admittedly – on ‘High Calibre’ was also progress of sorts. 

I think the moral to this story is don’t despair if you get rained off Red Rocks, there’s perfectly decent limestone right next to Vegas waiting eagerly to savage  your fingertips – and your ego!

Andy

Rainy Days in Red Rocks

Red Rocks River

We arrived in Red Rocks on the 18th Feb, 2017. Just in time to catch record breaking rainfall. The rain here on Saturday was the highest ever recorded on that date, and is more than double the total February average rainfall. Not ideal climbing weather!

Saturday was a total washout of course, and Sunday was still pretty damp and obviously unclimbable. Picking up supplies in Desert Rock Sports though, I was surprised to hear how long the Canyon would take to dry out. No climbing until Wednesday? Obviously unacceptable, so we grabbed the limestone guide and started laying plans. All is not lost, and hopefully there will be tales of Limestone sending appearing on this blog shortly…

This weekend was a washout and not the ideal start to the trip. But, it was far from a disaster. Hiking around the Canyon and checking out a good few crags and boulders was fun, and will save time later on. The Calico Basin is a beautiful place to walk about even without climbing. The extra heavy rain meant that a fairly sizeable stream was flowing through the canyon, creating impromptu waterfalls and pools along the path. The sun poked it’s nose out of the clouds a few times during the day, giving a hint of what was to come – world class climbing in a fantastic location. Can’t wait!

American Airlines

American Airlines

What a difference a day makes… This time yesterday I was festering at home, no visa, no flights, no firm plans, and wondering if the US trip was actually going to happen. Today, I am Visa’d up, flights booked and ready to go. Flying out 5th Feb, returning 8th July, so plenty of time to get a good look around. I’ll be there in time for the Superbowl, and staying until after Independence Day. So I figure I’ll get a good look at American culture along the way. And of course, a shit load of climbing!

I intentionally don’t have a lot of specific plans for the states, I want to get across there with a bit of freedom to change locations, or stay longer if I like a place. But here are a few places on the ‘must see’ list, that I’ll definitely be paying a visit to.

Red Rock Canyon

red-rock-canyon-national-conservation-area-original-5768

Our first stop is going to be Red Rock Canyon. The climbing here looks amazing, and of course it’s right next to Vegas… So plenty of scope for non-climbing activities. Red Rock seems to be a playground for bouldering, sport, and trad climbing. I intend to do a bit of everything here, but I really want to try out some of these crack climbs I’ve heard so much about. We don’t really have cracks in the UK. I climbed one in Joshua Tree that I thought was tricky, and later found it was graded 5.1 (yes, point one). So, obviously needing some practice there. Some of the bouldering looks amazing as well. I’m gushing now… Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to Red Rocks.

Bishop

2015-05-15-11-01-47

I spent a couple of weeks in Bishop a while back, and I’ve been itching to get back ever since. The bouldering in Buttermilk Country is probably the most scenic I’ve ever done, and I’ve got some unfinished business with the (also excellent) Happy Boulders. The last time I was there we inadvertently stumbled on a Mule festival in the town as well which was… interesting! The daily breakfast burrito from the Black Sheep cafe was almost as appealing as the climbing, I’m looking forward to that as well!

Joe’s Valley

I’ve not been to Joe’s Valley before, but it is somewhere that I’ll definitely be visiting. I’m hoping that lessons learned climbing on Fontainbleau sandstone will translate well here. But, that kind of thinking has resulted in an ego-spanking before, so I’ll see how it goes out there. Some of the videos online look amazing, I think this is a place not to be missed on this trip.

Zion National Park

zionnptommorrissmall

Zion is known for it’s off width cracks, and the UK climbing community has concentrated all of it’s collective off-width skills into two people. Neither of which is me. I’m expecting to get a lesson in climbing grade humility here. But, just look at the photos! The place is absolutely stunning to just look at, never mind going climbing there. I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy hiking about if the climbing is too tough- a visit here is not going to be a hardship!

Yosemite

yosemites-el-capitan-mountain-wall-wallpaper

I’ve been to Yosemite a couple of times before, but I’ve never really been there long enough to really get into the style and maybe try something hard. I’m not exactly sure what yet, that’ll depend on how fit I manage to get before I arrive in the valley. But there is endless scope for adventure at all grades, so I’m sure I’ll find something to climb on. I would absolutely love to get one of the classic hard boulder problems as well… You all know which one I mean, but I’ll need to up my game for that to happen. Time will tell… I think some friends from the UK are meeting up with us in Yosemite, so I’ve got high hopes for a brilliant time here.

Joshua Tree

2015-05-05-10-49-53

Another place that I’ll be returning to having climbed there previously. Joshua Tree is a landscape like no other I’ve ever seen. It looks almost otherworldly – like climbing on a Neptunium moon or something. Last time I was there I went in May, and it was a little bit on the hot side. I’ll try and factor in an earlier visit this time I think, although “it’s too hot” is an excellent excuse when the notoriously sandbagged V2’s are spitting you off…

Other Cool Places Too

I’m definitely not limiting myself the only visiting the above places, there are loads of other things that I’d like to go do, but I have only got five months, so I might struggle to fit it all in..

I’m also looking for advice from the locals, so if there’s anything I really shouldn’t miss then let me know in the comments please.

Regardless of the specifics, I’m sure this is going to be an amazing trip. Rather excited to get going now!

Andy