Eat it up Italian-style
With the snow level at 1000m and falling, storms
brewed over the Swiss massif and rain lashed down outside
the window. We were in Bern and had dreamed of heading
for an ‘Eiger style’ mountain adventure
which now seemed distinctly cold, harsh and unattractive.
My Swiss alpine guide friend Bruno had an escape plan.
‘Finale is by the sea, has lots of new routes,
you can climb there even in December!’
Finale rose to popularity with the English in the 70s
and 80s, slipping out of vogue as Southern Spanish crags
were adopted as home from home in the 90s. In recent
years there has been much development and within a twelve
mile radius of Finalborgo, rock walls and outcrops offer
acres of incredibly diverse sport climbing of great
character. From a distance some cliffs fail to impose,
largely because steep wooded hillsides lead to their
base. However I was struck by the immense variety of
climbing styles packed into each route with the opportunity
to mix it up on golden honeycomb pockets, petite edges,
winding cracks and funky features - all in the same
New crags slightly further inland do not feature in
the most recent Y2K guidebook, waiting to be revealed
to the world by local activists, and there is also a
fair amount of sea cliff exploring to be done. With
over 2,000 bolted routes ranging in difficulty from
Fr4 to 8c and Genova airport only half an hour's drive
away it is well worth considering, particularly in the
cooler months or as an escape from higher, more weather-prone
An hour's drive away lies fiercely overhanging tufa
climbing at Tende and Andonno, which is home to Italy's
first 8c+, Noia, repeated by Josune Bereciartu two years
ago. Both are captivating crags in their own right and
well worth a visit if you have plenty of time or a hunger
for pull-and-go forearm explosion on consistently steep
The nearest town, Finale Ligure, was heavily inhabited
in both prehistoric and Roman times. Bought by the Republic
of Genoa in 1713, many of the architectural traces of
the town's history are in the old Finale borgo, with
a fine castle and a wonderful view over the Mediterranean
sea. Finale's charm lies in its atmosphere; narrow cobbled
alleyways flanked by tall leaning houses twist into
grand open courtyards with bars, bakeries and art shops.
The Bar Centrale in the main courtyard attracts many
climbers, serves local fresh olives with every drink,
and even in October you can sit out in the evening wearing
just a t-shirt.
Bric Pianarella, Settore
del Paratone (Big Wall)
This crag is a multi-pitch delight and the most imposing
structure of Finale. Developed in the mid 70s and early
80s, Bric Pianarella's Settore del Paratone has just
over thirty routes ranging from one to nine pitches
in the Fr4+ to 7b range and is largely bolted. One of
the six sectors, Paratone, is fifteen minutes walk uphill
from the car.
Recommended climb - Grimonett
240m 5+, 5, 5, 5, 5+, 6b, 6a, 6b, 4+ ***
Bruno was standing at the foot of Settore del Paratone.
‘We don't need to take water, we go fast.’
Smiling at his ‘Swissness’ I agreed, pleased
and psyched for a fast ascent. With three teams ahead
on our wall it felt reminiscent of a school cross country
race starting at the back of the pack. The tree-capped
summit of Grimonett lay nine meandering pitches away.
Moving in leaps and bounds, the rope and my feet slithered
just behind up the white, worn bottom pitch. Roadrunner
style, though inelegant, worked well to melt away the
warm croissants and chewy hot chocolate of our Bar Centrale
breakfast. Carrying a few extra slings for trees proved
useful to avoid exploratory shuffles along leafy ledges.
The top of the white band signified a change in style
from varied and absorbing vertical or slabby cracks
and pockets. Magnificent open brown limestone lay above,
spectacularly steep with exotically carved runnels and
pleasingly large handholds, opportunities for body-wedging
and many places to rest. Our topo was in the car and
somehow that made it more interesting. Following this
steep 6b terrain the crux awaited, a sharp pull through
a small bulge led to easier ground and the summit. In
just over three hours one of the 14 long routes on this
sector was completed with a descent on foot facing left
away from the crag.
Capo Noli: A sunny sea
Capo Noli is a beautiful seaside crag east of the beach
at Varigotti and is extremely hot in the full sun. Climbers
can attempt a 400m traverse about six metres above the
Ligurian Sea. The white, smooth and slopey rock requires
a slow, considered style and in places there is an undercut
wave-washed bulge above which most of the routes start.
The guidebook mentions a number of easy climbs and many
more have been developed since. It could be a great
venue for low level deep water soloing. Most of the
routes are in the Fr4-6 range and a simple topo is available
at www.rockstore.it. Descent can be made by
abseil from the top of the routes.
Rocca di Corno (Horn Fortress)
Settore Ovest: Sport climbing at its best
We climbed Peace, which involved steep pocket-pulling
on a delightful orange wall, followed by a lunge requiring
determination leading to small holds to reach the chain.
Rombo di Vento
is a stamina fest with rests and some quite hard moves
in a splendid position, being a contender for the best
6c anywhere. Mug
and Open Your Mind
are also superb. Trainee guides, mainly from the Aosta
valley, had gathered there to attempt to onsight 7a
as part of their guides assessment, which created a
jolly and encouraging atmosphere.
Climbs are described from left to right facing the
1. Mug 6a+ 30 m
side wall **
2. Open your mind
6c 25 m ***
3. Branco 6b+ 25
m corner **
4. Peace 7a+ 25
m back wall ***
capovolta 7b+ 10 m (variante di 'Hambre') **
6. Hambre 7c 30
7. War 7c 25 m **
8. Rombo di vento
6c 35 m ****
9. Rock Stupid 6c,7a+
25 m, 20 m **
10. Rock Rapid 6c
20 m *
Walking left there were many easy climbs in the Fr4-6
range. To the left of the Muro Crepitante slab there
is a bird ban and to the right there are many easy routes
including the pleasant pocket climb Bettabel
5+, 5 (60m), and Enfant
Terrible (40m), which is steep and powerful on
Monto Sordo (Deaf Mountain)
Monte Sordo has over 80 bolted routes and as it avoids
the north winds it is possible to climb there in a t-shirt
in winter. A 20-minute walk up through an olive grove
leads to the four sectors. Many different cliffs, the
best being Alveare (bee-hive) and lo Specchio (the mirror),
give fine climbs, the steepest of which remain weather-proof.
Recommended routes at Lo Specchio (mirror) include
30m), which follows fine tufas to a spectacular
fin mounted with difficulty before enjoyable technical
climbing with tenuous balancey moves to overcome the
top bulge. Game
Over (7a+, 20m) and Vivere
di Rabbia (7b, 25m) are also fine routes. Free-tto
misto (6c+, 30m) is a little tricky in places
and Free Nelson
Mandela (6b+, 20m) follows a superb, obvious
and steep left to right traverse line.
Cosi la Va (6a, 35m) on the right is an excellent
warm up for the other routes, with fine pocketed wall
climbing and a surprise layback crack and tree to overcome.
RyanAir flights from London Stanstead to Genova can
be amazingly cheap, leaving just a 30 minute drive to
Finale from the airport. RyanAair also flies between
London Stansted and Turin which is perfect for Andonno,
which is one hour away from the airport with Finale
one hour further.
From Central Switzerland or the Alps it is a 5-hour
drive south to get fairly guaranteed weather, the safest
bet being climbing at Finale. Flying to Nice and travelling
east along the coast is also an option for a combination
of French and Italian crags.
Where to stay and rest days
Free camping exists at Monte Cucco and there are numerous
hotels and pensions to stay in, both at Finale Borgo
and on the coast, starting at around £15 a night
per person. Local fish, pizza and pasta restaurants
provide tasty evening meals at reasonable prices. We
stayed at Vecchie Mura (Via Delle Mura 019/69.12.68
Finale Ligure). To book hotel accommodation in advance
For lazy days eating gelato (traditional Italian ice
cream) and drinking cappuccino on the sea front seems
idyllic and provides an ideal spot from which to plot
a sea cliff trad adventure or the next day's sport.
The town has a local castle, several small art galleries,
two climbing shops, a pharmacy, bakeries and supermarkets.
Capo Noli has a dive centre with resident marine biologists,
operated from Hotel Capo Noli and featured on www.sportesport.it.
Peluffo Sport in Finale Ligure also operates PADI diving
Finale Y2K by Andrea Gallo (published
by Idee Verticali 2001 and distributed by Cordee at
£19.95) is the most up to date and can also be
found in Rockstore, Finale Borgo (www.rockstore.it).
Another guidebook to the surrounding area, incorporating
Andonno and Tende, is also stocked in the same shop.
www.coronn.com is planning to offer a Finale
topo due out in 2004.
This article, by Anne Arran,
first appeared in the March 2004 issue of High Mountain