It seems like Europe has been plagued from day one of 2016 with an eternal cyclone spinning cloud over the mains continent, that seems parked like… forever. Chamonix and most of the old continent have been having snow and rain non stop. So what do you do if you have a vacation scheduled with a friend but conditions and weather forecast will make it prohibitive to climb? You head to the only place in Europe with good weather: Sardinia!
I had 2 weeks of vacation in the first half of June before heading back to South America, and many big plans for alpine routes with Arrentino, a white-briefs-wearing friend that studies complicated PHD subjects in Portugal and comes over to Cham for climbing sometimes. We were psyched since January, but the weather forecast and conditions never seemed to improve.
Sitting in Cham waiting for the rain to stop was not an option, so after considering plans B and C and D we decided to head south to fry our fingers on abrasive limestone and burn our bodies in the awesome beaches of the Mediterranean. Great way to start another off year!
After landing in Olbia, in the northern part of the island, we quickly rented a car and shopped for food to try to get our first climbs in that same day. So we headed southeast to the area of Cala Gonone, possibly with the biggest concentration of routes in the entire island alongside the Baunei crags. We didn´t make it on time to climb anything since we stopped to eat pizza, then to drink coffee, then to have beers, and eventually it was late enough that we wanted to have dinner. Arrentino eats a lot, and since I was in vacation mood, we didn´t want to keep track of time.
We bought the guidebook Pietra de Luna – multi pitch and trad version – for 48 euros at a book shop in one of the main roads of town. Then we sat at the pier drinking beer and eating olives, and being overwhelmed at the amount of areas and diversity of climbing in the island. We quickly made a schedule with no rest days and probably not much beach time, but lots of climbing all over the island. Obviously we were too optimistic…
After driving for a while we found some parking spots somewhat far from town, a path downwards and there, we camped at the beach. To our surprise it was a bit chilly, and because I didn´t bring a sleeping bag, a mat, or a warm jacket, my first night was kind of uncomfortable… I just rolled into a ball remembering my night after summiting Ama Dablam trying to believe that cold was more psychological than real.
Next morning we headed to town to climb some easy multi pitch near Millennium Cave. Our first route was a 4 pitch, 6a route with very distinct style in every pitch. The rock was quite abrasive because it was opened a few years ago, and since it was so hot and I was climbing in shorts and bikini top, I got quite scratched right away. We then tried another route but the rock got quite weird and decided to descend and head back for beers and pizza.
Good thing to do in Sardinia is to definitely get on some easy routes first to get a feeling for the rock and the style. Many sport crags have humid rock but a lot of the multi pitches are new and very abrasive, and there´s all types of style even within short routes like our first one. Be prepared also to ruin your soles and damage the rope quite a bit.
Next day we headed south towards Baunei, to find the camp at the entrance of the trail that goes to Cala Goloritze. The day before I ran onto an Argentinian I met in Chamonix who told me about his climb in the Aguglia, having done a bolted 6b line of about 6 pitches. But Arrentino and myself are trad nuts and wanted to do a trad route with a 6c crux. Little we knew that we´d get a good spanking for several hours.
BAUNEI AND PEDRA LONGA
Baunei is quite a central place right in the middle of dozens of sport crags in the same area of the island as Cala Gonone. We stopped to stock on food and went down for a rest day in Villagio Gallico, one of the oldest sport crags in the island. It has close to 50 routes, from 5b to 7c, and gets shade in the afternoon, which was perfect for us, aside from being only 5 minutes walking from the parking spots. We stayed there for a few hours playing around in easy routes just for the fun of it, since our fingers were still pretty fried from the previous day. Besides, the next day would be a very interesting one…
We headed down the road towards Pedra Longa and camped in the sidewalk of one of the parking areas, and right beside Pedra Longa itself, which we would climb the next day.
Pedra Longa is a huge monolith with a very large face that faces the sea. Although it is recommended to climb in the afternoon, the weather wasn´t to scorching and there was a slight breeze. With the sun coming up before 6 am, I didn´t mind getting up super early and heading for the climb.
Before 9 am we were at the very left corner of the rock, where it was my turn to lead the entire route. We so started “Marinaio di Foresta”, a pitch, 190 meter long, 6a+ multipitch that traverses the wall and has a gorgeous overhanging pitch. As I started leading the first two pitches which go up and left to put you in the actual face, I kept looking down at the turquoise sea and snorkeling tourists, in what seemed to be too good to be true. As we progressed, it was clear that it was too good and very true. Climbing in tank top, shorts, the best limestone I´ve ever touched (although again super abrasive), a very athletic route with amazing moves… just pure fun! And with the possibility of afterwards having a beer and really good coffee… I just kept thinking that if there was a spot to spent climbing during winter in Europe, this was it.
One of our main goals in this trip was to get to Capo Pecora, an area on the west side of the island with modern trad, clean lines. We packed almost a full rack but after reading through the guide realized that in this time of the year the walls are wet… there went our dreams of trad climbing in red granite by the sea… Oh well, we still headed to that direction to check out the more wild and less visited side of the island.
A bit south of Capo Pecora is Masua, with limestone cliffs and more famous for Pan de Zucchero, a freestanding monolith in the sea with a few multi pitch routes in grey limestone, accessible by boat only. We camped at an open area and the next day went for an easy multi pitch on the Masua cliffs, on a 4 pitch that ascends through a dihedral with some very athletic moves and finally an easy chimney to the last belay station. We then headed to the beach to eat some fried squid, gelatto and beer. Well, Arrentino was still addicted to Italian white wine in all his fanciness.
Many days in a row of not so hard climbing, tons of pizza, beer and gelatto made us even lazier so we headed back to the Cala Gonone area, this time to check out Cala Luna, another paradise-looking beach with crags and perfect weather. We camped in the same usual spot, and then took the 2 hour trail to the beach. Right away I took off to the perfectly transparent water since I was baking from the sun. After refreshing we started looking for the bolts, mostly rusty and sketchy, on our side of the beach. The area has two different crags, one on the crags right at the beach with very few routes starting at 6b, but mostly 6c and harder. Arrentino decided we should modestly start warming up on a 7a. Although we didn´t suceed in warming up, some Italians from the Dolomites gave us a show on how to onsight 7as on the slippery limestone of the beach. We resigned to easier routes and then headed to the other sector, behing the pier where the boats arrive. This area is completely in the shade and quite fresh but the rock is super weird and after a few routes we gave up and just decided to wait for the boat to head back to Cala Gonone.
Again after pizza and beers, we cherished a week of back to back climbing in good weather, a little break in between the endless, horrible and wet weather in Chamonix that wasn´t allowing for much climbing, and the cold sufferfest that was awaiting me in Peru. This wasn´t the closure I expected to my year in Chamonix, no alpinism, no super classic routes, no badassness… but it was the start of another year of climbing, and to do so every day and feel how climbing even just 7 days brought back a little bit more of my shape made me even more eager to start climbing non stop again.
I got back to Chamonix a little tanned, uber motivated and with the only task of packing and not leaving anything behind. Had I not had plans for Patagonia, I thought, I could totally be in Sardinia for the 2017 winter before getting back to work. Or maybe spring 2017?