I spent 8 weeks last summer working on farms and exploring the island of Sicily. I brought all my climbing gear but couldn’t persuade a belayer to tag along. No big deal. I figured I was bound to run into Sicilian climbers, we’d become best friends, belay each other, and climb off into the sunset. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I was relegated to doing pull-ups on a barn doorway and traversing a concrete wall complete with drainage pipes and rusty nails. Favorite problem: a first ascent I put up called The Sneaky Frenchman V3, still unrepeated.
Fortunately, half way through the summer I accidentally stumbled upon what has to be the most beautiful deep water solo site in Sicily. I was staying at The Gianni House hostel in Giardini Naxos (the best hostel in Sicily, just ask Gianni he’ll tell you). My plan was to hike to the next town and find the bolted sea cliffs listed in my guidebook. At breakfast I ran into this 23 year old guy from Colorado who had some experience on rocks and wore the same climbing shoe size. Jackpot.
Having spent the previous month with only Sicilians who had at least 20 years on me, I dropped my plans and decided to hit up Isola Bella with Joe. Isola Bella is a World Wildlife Fund protected area located beneath the famous city of Taormina. Beautiful, crystal-clear water, complete with colorful underwater scenes characterize this small island known as The Pearl of the Ionian Sea.
Finding the deep water solo spot took some luck and exploring. Luckily, I had decided to bring the climbing shoes just in case the situation arose. I’ll give you the info on how to make the most of your deepwater solo trip to Isola Bella.
5 Things to bring:
- Sunscreen. Sicily is sunny and that sun is out to get you. Make sure its waterproof.
- Waterproof bag. This is key to keep all your stuff dry. Make sure it floats.
- Climbing shoes. Bring an older pair if you can. The rock is sharp and the water wet, I wouldn’t want to subject my favorite shoes to that.
- Shirt. It really just slows you down, but you need it to walk around town above. Keep it in the dry bag so you don’t look like a castaway walking around post climb.
- Waterproof Camera. You are going to want pictures of the epic climbing and scenery. If you don’t have one, buy one of the disposable ones for the occasion.
Directions: Isola Bella is very easy to find and accessible by bus from nearby towns. Just ask around and someone will be able to direct you or just google Isola Bella Sicily.
Approach: Walk down the steps next to the road. Head to the right along the beach until you reach the shallow strip that acts as a bridge to the island. From the strip, swim to the right, going around the island in a counter clock wise direction. You should reach the climbing section in about five minutes. The wall has a nice high over hang on the left next to two smaller over hangs that are split by a canyon leading into the island (very cool to explore).
Climbing: First off be smart. They call it deep water soloing for a reason. Check to make sure there is enough of the wet stuff below you to cushion a fall. If the sea floor is out of diving range that’s a good sign.
The easiest section is on the far right if you are looking at the wall. This section is a good warm up for getting a feel for the rock and building up some courage for the taller sections.
The climbing starts out with super sharp black rock at the bottom. Avoid the red sea anemones that are just below the surface on some of the rock. The further you go up the less sharp the rock gets. While this gives your fingers a break, it also means the climbing gets more difficult the higher you go up.
The next section is on the other side of the small canyon.
This section is harder and taller. Really fun climbing that is 5.10ish, with harder top sections.
The far left sections is the money spot. A beautiful 30ft wall that gets increasingly overhanging.
This was the last spot we hit and we were already seriously pumped. Surprisingly, my month-long regime of concrete wall traverses and pull-ups had left me in poor climbing condition. To the best of my knowledge this wall is still open for anyone to snag the first ascent.
I was only in the area for that day and had to head leave without a second go. Furthermore, the area surrounding Isola Bella holds serious potential. The bolted walls I never looked for can supposedly be sent dws style. They are located on the other side of the peninsula to the left. To the right of Isola Bella, there is also an immaculate looking wall that I didn’t have time to test.
If anyone makes it out to Sicily to give the dws a try I would love to hear about any new spots they find. Post it in the comments. I’m hoping to get back to Sicily soon, hopefully with a belayer, but I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some more sea cliffs. I’d be happy to answer questions in the comments.