“Each mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art. Le Corbusier called them the most beautiful buildings in the world. He said God built them; I’d say nature did. They are so vertical, and each peak is different. The Dolomites have a special face: no other range in the world has this.” Reinhold Messner
Jagged and peaky, Northern Italy offers all manner of rock climbing that’s both spectacular and terrifying in equal measure.
The Dolomites are just one part of the jigsaw. From the unforgiving cliffs of Trieste which nudge the Slovenian border, to the macchiato Alps of the far north-west, and the Finale Ligure on the Mediterranean coast, it is every climber’s playground.
THE DOLOMITE CATHEDRALS
Messner’s beloved Dolomites, approaching the Austrian border, are home to an abundance of big wall routes stretching up to 800m long. But there’s something for everyone. Classic routes also weave in and out of its craggy peaks and sheer limestone faces, with access just a short hop from the road.
The Sella Towers are a perfect example.
Suspended above a mountain pass which connects the Val di Fassa and Val Gardena, these four imposing summits are true Dolomite icons, forming a mouthwatering network of climbing routes with no shortage of short punchy climbs. What’s more, climbers can access these beauties within a short 15 minute walk of the car park at the Sella Pass.
There’s some seriously adrenaline pumping ascents too. Arguably one of the Dolomites’ most legendary routes is the Via Attraverso il Pesce, or ‘the fish route’, after its fish shaped niche. Now classed as a classic extreme climb, it was seen as one of the most challenging free solo climbs when Austrian climber, Hansjörg Auer scaled it in 2007.
He smashed it in less than three hours. “I needed a number of days to completely come to terms with what I had accomplished,” said Auer. “On the summit I felt total emptiness, combined with an unimaginable sense of fortune.”
Some 180 km south west is the town of Arco, which crowns Lake Garda. No-one talks about Arco without uttering the word ‘climbing’ in the same breath. One homegrown rock star is Stefano Ghisolfi, who in February sent the Queen Line, Arco’s first 9b route. It is widely believed to be Italy’s hardest sport climb, and it wasn’t easy, even for a local boy:
“I was very close to falling in every part of the route, even when the hardest section was over, and I had to give my 100% to complete the climb” said Ghisolfi.
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Further east, nudging the Slovenian border, is Trieste, where the sea meets the mountains. Seven separate crags make up Trieste, including Val Rosandra, which offers a tangle of multi-pitch routes extending to 80m long.
Another of the most famous crags is the Napoleanica, or Napoleanic Way. With its blanket views over the bay, it’s a crowd pleaser, and even has parking a few metres away. Sunny and sheltered, it is an ideal place to quite literally hang out, even in winter.
VALTELLINA AND BEYOND
The famed Italian Alps is also home to Valtellina, with its countless single pitch sport routes and long multi-pitch routes spanning acres of granite rock.
A short leap away is Valle dell’Orco, said to offer the best multi-pitch granite crack climbing in the Western European Alps. It’s quite a claim. An added bonus is the wide range of grades and the short walk access. While for bouldering fanatics, Val di Mello is arguably Italy’s hot spot, and even holds its own bouldering meeting each spring.
The melodious sounding Melloblocco is billed as the largest international gathering of bouldering nuts, or words to that effect. It also has a full on festival vibe.
AOSTA VALLEY AWAITS
Tucked away in the North West corner of the Italian Alps, at the gaping mouth of the Mont Blanc tunnel, is the Aosta Valley. Here, fierce climbers will find over 100 sports climbing areas at their calloused fingertips, spanning grades and lengths from 10m to over 350m.
The Valley’s village of Montestrutto has over 40 routes spanning its roadside crag. Its neighbouring park – complete with picnic benches and a bar – means it pulls quite a crowd in fine weather. But it also makes it a sociable place to chalk up…
THE GRAND FINALE
If the warmth of the Med is calling, climbers can head a couple of hundred kilometres south to the world renowned Finale Ligure (less than an hour’s drive from Genoa airport).
With over 3000 bolted lines ranging from 3a to 8c+ spread across 180 crags, it’s easy to see why this place creates so much buzz. Not only is it a thing of beauty, with views over the coast, but it’s alive with a whole range of accessible crags screaming to be scaled.
From technical vertical face climbing to stunning long cracks and corners, Finale Ligure inevitably has some excellent sea cliff climbing, not to mention a mindblowing array of multi-pitch routes. The most popular climbing area, Monte Cucco, even has a free campsite at the base for hardcore enthusiasts who just don’t want to go home…
Well, who in their right mind would?