Articles - Sport climbing in Corsica
Dave Pickford on the brilliant arete of Insousiance (F6c+), Col de Bavella
by Dave Pickford
The Mediterranean, is a sea of many islands, which harbour landscapes of widely various character and ecology, from the lush gorges of Crete and the secret coves of the Dalmatian archipelago to the desolate limestone walls of
Take your pick
There can be few places in the world where a dramatic alpine landscape lies within a half-hour drive from beaches with sea warm enough to swim in. Indeed, Corsica may be the only place in the world where it would be quite feasible to climb an ice-fall, then a multi-pitch rock route on a big mountain crag, then go sport climbing, before finishing off the day with a bit of deep water soloing and bouldering on the coast!
After just one week’s climbing, in which I visited the island’s major sport climbing and bouldering areas and had a look at a number of more obscure crags, I came back very impressed with both the quality of the climbing across the grades and the unusual experience of enjoying ultra-classic European routes in the solitude of pristine alpine woodlands high above thundering rivers.
How to get there
Since there are currently no direct scheduled flights from the
Col de Bavella
Col de Bavella is the showpiece of all
The first three climbing sectors encountered, after the short walk through the pines, are perfect for a gentle warm-up or just to get the flavour of Corsican granite, all being well to the right side of vertical and between F4 and F6b. Just around the corner from Filetta (the first sector of these three) are the slightly steeper and more challenging routes of the Campanella and Paterla Nera. The immaculate fluted orange wall on the right hand side of Campanella provides eight routes from F5b to F6c+ which are some of the best at this grade on Corsican granite. Further uphill, the big, steep slabs of Sector Murzella and the atmospheric L’Oriu offer the longest pitches on the crag (up to 40 metres) and some of its best climbing. Downhill again, and just around the corner from these first three sectors, are the relatively small (about twelve routes in total) but highly contrasting areas of Prugola and Levant, the former offering short but extremely rewarding routes (F4+ – F6b) which climb strong features reminiscent of heavily weathered gritstone; the latter providing somewhat sterner stuff in the form of half a dozen short steep climbs up to F7a+.
Explore a little
The sport climbs at Col de Bavella described in Maurizio Oviglia’s guide are really just a small element of the big picture of climbing in this mountainous part of southern Corsica, and those in search of serious alpine rock climbing adventure will head to the huge slabs of Teghie Lisce, Punta Lunarda, and the magnificent pillar of Punta di un Corbu. This is the location of Le Dos d’Elephant, a 280 metre F6c+ that is probably one of the finest alpine rock routes of its kind in
Gorges de la Restonica
Heading north up the N193 towards Corte from Ajaccio, the picturesque Gorges de Richiusa near the town of Boccognano would make a convenient stop off for a day or two en route to the much more impressive Gorges de la Restonica near Corte, which is one of the most spectacular and rewarding places to go sport climbing in Corsica. The ‘gorge’ is in reality more of a deep alpine valley, with towering granite buttresses on both sides that become larger and more impressive the higher you go, and it makes up for its lack of quantity of routes by their sheer quality.
There are three sport climbing sectors developed so far, unimaginatively named Première Ecole, Deuxième Ecole, and Troisième Ecole. All three are found either next to or just above the small road that winds up the gorge, and most of the walls are either south east, south, or south west facing.
Premiere Ecole is predictably the first area encountered when driving up the valley, and has just over forty routes from F4+ to F7a+, mostly on slabs of between 10 and 20 metres; an ideal introduction to the distinctive, positive style of the granite here, defined by usually angular features and cracks.
A couple of kilometres further up, Deuxieme Ecole had the biggest collection of routes (around sixty) and enjoys a stunning view of the valley high above a sharp bend in the river. Virtually all the routes here are worth at least 2 stars in even the most sceptical guidebook writer’s appraisal, and to describe all of the arch-classics here would take up the rest of this article! Don’t miss the immaculate F6b+ arête of A Hundred Years of Solitude (100 Ans de Solitude), the extraordinary flutings of the 35m F6a La Banane (it is not difficult to spot which feature the name refers to), and the delightful slanting crackline of Miroir Brise (F6c+), one of the very first sport routes in Restonica.
About 5 kilometres further up the valley, beyond the Tuani campsite, the final sector of Troisieme Ecole is unmistakable, comprising of a series of impending buttresses looming directly above the road, and looking out across the lower slopes of Monte Rotondo and some of the finest alpine scenery in Corsica.
The best five routes in Restonica, and arguably the best sport routes in
From granite to limestone
To paraphrase Python, if you feel the need for something completely different after all this cranking on granite edges and standing on precarious smears, it can be found just a short drive north on the road from Corte. In the northern third of Corsica limestone predominates, and only 25 minutes from the alpine granite of Restonica a whale-back ridge of limestone rises above the tiny
Other limestone crags in this region worth mentioning are those of Francardo, the next village north of Caporalino, although the short approach to these cliffs is made difficult by intractable paths through thick macchia. And beyond Ponte Leccia, the crags of Pietralba are home to a collection of superb short routes, although at present they are sadly out of bounds to climbers due to an access dispute. There are a number of other, minor crags in Corsica that offer good sport climbing, such as the 15 metre granite wall above a shingle beach near the town of
If you do end up travelling to Corsica by ferry from Sardinia, then it is definitely worth visiting Punta di Capineru, a small rocky cape only a twenty minute drive from Bonifacio, and home to a collection of beautiful granite boulders on which over eighty problems have been recorded. Climbing here is best in the early morning and late evening, as its coastal location means the ideal cool conditions for granite bouldering are unusual. On the subject of bouldering, the Restonica valley also has excellent yet only marginally developed possibilities, with just a handful of high-quality problems established to date on a jumble of large boulders in the woods before Troisieme Ecole. A few days’ exploring around here with a couple of pads and a selection of good brushes would certainly unearth numerous outstanding problems.
The possibilities for climbing in
When to go?
Undoubtedly the best times to visit are May and June and September and October. July and August will be too hot for all but the highest crags and the island becomes crowded with holidaymakers in high summer. From November to late April the weather is unreliable and in the mountains heavy snowfall is common, although good climbing conditions may be found on the coast and on other low-altitude crags throughout the winter.
Where can I stay?
It is never that difficult to find a good campsite or hotel in
Which guide do I buy?
Arrampicate Sportive in Corsica by Maurizio Oviglia (£16) is available in an English version from cordee.co.uk Also, the excellent Swedish website coronn.com have a similar topo guide with added details of some of the mountain routes you can download for 5 euros, along with about twenty other European crag topos.
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