The Rocca Sbarua

” Practice grounds for rock climbing were Sandro’s reign in mid-seasons. There are a lot of rocks two or three hours far from Turin by bicycle, and I wonder if they are still well frequented: Picchi del Pagliaio with Torrione Wolkman, Denti di Cumiana, Roca Patanua (it means bare rock), the Plò, the Sbarua, and others, bearing domestic and humble names. I deem it was Sandro himself to discover the latter, the Sbarua, or one of his legendary brothers, which Sandro never let me meet, but who, according to his few hints, must stand for him as much as he stood for the generality of human beings. Sbarua derives from “sbaruè”,  which means “spaurare”; the Sbarua is a granite prism, protruding hundreds of meters from a modest hill bristle with brambles and copse wood: besides Crete’s Veglio, from the base up to the top it is divided by a crevice which becomes narrower and narrower as it goes up, to the point of obligating the climber to ascend the wall, where, indeed, he gets frightened, and where at that time there was only a single piton, that Sandro’s brother charitably left there. Those places were curious places “

Il sistema periodico – Primo Levi


Rocca Sbarua’s sheer sides and grim profile have always inflamed the imagination of its slopes’ inhabitants as well as of the occasional visitors. This is the reason why the Rock has been called “Sbarua”, which means “frightening”, “terrifying”, and why it has inspired, with its magical atmosphere, all sorts of tales and legends. Proceeding through the beech trees of “Bosco dell’Impero”, that is the forest which lays at the feet of the Rock, and retracing the ancient paths that in former times used to be covered by charcoal-burners and by hunters, you get the impression of entering another dimension. So, along with the local traditions and the multiple tales about wolves and demons, since the early 900s these sides have stricken the imagination of another category of people: climbers. Indeed Rocca Sbarua is well-known because of rock-climbing over all, with plenty of lines which have been progressively opened and bolted, and it is presently frequented by many fond of this activity all the year round.
In times past few people ventured to confront these walls, where they trained in order to defy upper-grade difficulties; but some extraordinary Alpinists, who have passed into the annals of history, have left their mark in the spot: we can mention Ellena, Gervasutti, Rivero, Boccalatte, Rossa… These walls have witnessed the evolution of Alpinism into rock climbing. It was in the 1920s that Alpinistic techniques were firstly used to climb the routes, such as “La Vena di Quarzo”, ascended by Ellena; in the following decade, Rivero scaled the ridge edge which bears his name, while the renowned “Gervasutti” crack was opened together with some others; long in the tooth the ways up were increased in number, the techniques and the grades were improved and gradually, in the wake of the big changes which took place in California, by the Sixties the first Free Climbers arrived also to Rocca Sbarua: they can be considered the predecessors of the current climber. These pioneers abolished the summit as parameter for choosing the ways to climb, focusing their attention on the beauty of the lines, and did not make use of artificial instruments but for protection in case of fall. In this context Motti and Grassi opened, among others, the route “Via degli Amici”. It must be underlined that these first forms of climbing cannot be considered on the same plane of the contemporary ones, to say activities devoid of risks, practiced on bolted walls equipped with bolts and belays. All these instruments were introduced later, by the end of the 1980s, with De Marchi, who bolts on abseil the “Scudo di Enea” and puts up the route “Vojages Selon les Classiques”. In those years the sport spread widely, with the parallel retool and the repetition in free climbing of traditional itineraries. Unfortunately in the 1990s this phase degenerated, leading up to a messy bolt of a mass of lines, one close to the other, crossed and mixed-up, put up without a logic and regardless towards the stone, to the extent of chipping holds using drills! Behind all this there was the will of incentivizing tourism: at the beginning the vast supply of ways and their relative easiness had led to the creation of courses and Alpinistic schools, but in the meantime they caused the departure of those ones who looked for the pureness of the line, the beauty of climbing, and extreme grades; therefore Rocca Sbarua was forgotten.
Nowadays the rock is being requalified, by the re-equipment and the gardening of the walls; furthermore, according to the idea that the beauty of these spots shall be made available to everyone and not just to climbers, a lot of paths have been gardened and bolted, so that they can be walked through on foot, by bike or by horse to one’s enjoyment, and it is possible to explore the whole area around the “Sbarua” until the “Tre Denti di Cumiana” and even further, getting into the beech trees and into the legends. “Casa Canada”, placed into such a context of 360° open-air activity, plays the role of a rest stop, where people can meet and compare each other’s adventures, which took place at the shadow of the magnificent Rock.

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