I like traveling late in the Autumn. Shortening days and cooling temperatures bring a growing desperation for sun, sea and sand. For the northern European rock climbing enthusiast, this usually elicits a yearning for more southern climes. Amongst the more appealing destinations are the tufa-infested sport endurance-fests of the Greek island of Kalymnos, or the spectacular orange waves of overhanging Majorcan limestone, but on this occasion, we find ourselves drawn towards the Italian island of Sardinia, whose tales of idyllic coves, accessed only by boat, and multipitches up bullet hard limestone monoliths provide the requisite impulse. For the man who at times, struggles with decision making, Sardinia presents a pretty persuasive argument—and it doesn’t take long to feel vindicated. Even our plane’s approach to our destination airport, Olbia, revealed to us a glimpse of the wealth of rock on offer.
Climbing in Sardinia is covered by two large guide books; one for singlepitch sport, and one for trad and multipitch. By all accounts there is also a huge amount of untapped potential here. Perhaps there are lifetimes of climbing on the island. Being a tourist on a short trip you probably want to seek out some memorable experiences on quality rock. With that in mind our first foray was to a popular multipitch up The Aguglia, an impressive tower that stands proud above the beautiful, albeit slightly touristy cove of Cala Goloritzé.
Being typical climbing folk we decide to shun the extra expense of hiring a boat for the day and instead opted for the extra effort of an extended walk in. The approach is roughly an hour of constant downhill from the closest carpark on the Golgo Plateau, but any negative premonitions of our heavily leaden uphill return are quashed by the excitement of the climb. It’s not long before we set eyes on our intended challenge as the tower begins to rise from the valley below.
Now I should mention that my climbing partner is my girlfriend. My overwhelming feeling is that for a keen climber, a climbing partner partner is, on balance, a positive experience. Having said that, certain compromises in my case must be made. My recent proselytizing of the joys of the jumar, has, thus far, not yielded any great enthusiasm for exploring such paths. So, with an eye on our growth as a team and to increase confidence in our new surroundings, we decide to attempt Easy Gymnpopedie, a 5 pitch 6b+ (5.11a), intending to swap leads as we go.
Initially everything goes according to plan. Bolting is friendly, the anchors are in good nick and the rock is lovely and solid, if a bit polished. The third pitch sees Leona lead up a tricksy, technical section with vim and nimbleness. At the top of this, however, she stops.
“I can’t see any more bolts.”
“Are you sure? We seem to be doing just fine.”
Some back and forth with repeated eyeballing, but an unwillingness to really climb above the last visible bolt for closer inspection, results in the assertion that this must be some unfinished line and that we’ve read the guide book wrong. I offer to go up and have a look but I’m assured that there are definitely no more bolts. There is therefore no point.
To the ground then.
Refreshing our memory, the guide book reveals that we were, in fact, correct the first time. Frustrated and in need of success we decide to have another go, only the light was beginning to fade. The bolts above our previous high point now reveal themselves in customary order but the stress of a potential abseil by the light of our head torches is too much for Leona.
It is said that to achieve one’s potential one must repeatedly place themselves in ‘the ugly zone’; an athlete must train in conditions that are stressful and difficult in order to prepare themselves for the pressures and rigors of optimal performance. The tougher the conditions, the more fertile the environment for growth. The same might be said of relationships. Toughing it out in stressful conditions might indeed forge new paths of communication and a deeper level of understanding. Sure, I may have mumbled certain choice expletives on the long road back to the car that day, but happily we returned a few days later to complete the route, and we did so in relative contentment, our collective threshold extended accordingly.
Not wishing to push ourselves too far into ‘the ugly zone’, the rest of our trip was dedicated to exploring a few of the singlepitch crags of the area. Routes are typically well protected and good quality. Even in late October the weather was often a little too hot to climb in the direct sun, but fortunately it was always easy to find shady crags. Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the Cala Luna, a small cove accessed by hiking, or much more easily by boat from the small town of Cala Gonone. The logistical frustrations of arranging boat travel notwithstanding, the setting of crystal clear, warm water lapping onto a mostly empty beach overhung by solid, orange limestone, decorated with stalactites and covered with fun, gymnastic routes provides what seems to me about as close to paradise as is possible. Now add to that a beautiful partner to share it with and you have a memory to get you through even the toughest of winters.
Photographer, climber, based in London. day job being aliens + dinosaurs in motion pictures.