Serra delle Ciavole (the east face)

Demanding mixed climbing routes in the Apennines, alright. But in the very heart of the Pollino National Park, in Southern Italy? Monte Alpi? Alright. Steep, secluded, remote, impervious … Well, the east face of Serra della Ciavole may offer exactly what you’ve been looking for.

I think it’s quite a while now since the east face of Serra delle Ciavole first started hauting my (vertical) dreams. A rarely frequented face and, indeed, one of the few true challenges for climbers who won’t get easily discouraged by a long and tiresome approach on mostly pathless terrain, through knee-deep snow. There is no easy way to the foot of this face, no shortcut whatsoever. And, as an early start is mandatory, it will has to be made at night.

Depending on cloudage and the changes in temperature over the last few days, on the actual snow height and the snow pack’s composition and condition a late start may be a bad idea altogether. Given its particular exposure (east), the wall is often discharging small rocks and pieces of ice already an hour or so after sunrise.

But, namely, it’s the risk of slab avalanches that poses a serious hazard on this terrain, and you may have the chance to convince yourself of this fact already before even setting foot on the steeper parts of this wall:


There are numerous interesting routes of different lenght and difficulty. But keep an eye on suspicious looking glide cracks on the upper parts of the steep gullies. These cracks usually form right beneath the edge of horizontal rock ledges running across the face but are hard to make out when covered by a thick layer of snow.

On my first ascent, in late march, I choose more than once to stick close to one of the rock buttresses and climb the solid limestone instead of placing my ice axe close to one of those gaping cracks in the frozen snow. Although the grip of the blade felt pretty good, I simply coudn’t seem to find trust in the stability of the underlying snow layer. ‘Trigger this thing now’, – I thought, ‘and you won’t have much time to feel sorry’.


Anyway, after about 1 1/2 hour of intense climbing I reached the exit of the gully I had chosen, pulled myself over the edge of the cliff that makes the south ridge of Serra delle Ciavole and walked up the remaining metres to the main summit.

The view from this peak is almost unmatched by that of any other peak of the Pollino massif. In the west clouds were gathering behind the col that connects Monte Pollino and Serra Dolcedorme. To the north I could clearly distinguish the snowcovered tops of Monte Alpi and Monte del Papa. To the east the vertical cliffs of Timpa di San Lorenzo looked closer, and more inviting, than ever before.


What a beautiful day! What a beatiful peak! And what a fine climb, after all! After a short stay on the summit I decided to follow the north ridge right to the col and, keeping a safe distance to the impressive snow cornices, continued in direction of Serra di Crispo in order to enjoy a fine view on the east face of Serra delle Ciavole from the north.