Climbing in Arco

It's a long Easter weekend so we brace the customary traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel and head South to Italy. Our destination is the village of Arco, at the tip of lake Garda. I haven't been there before, but apparently it's some sort of Italian climbing Mecca. The valley is framed by giant walls of perfect limestone. Even at the village entrance are we greeted by banners advertising a climbing competition. On the way to our campground we pass a climbing arena and stage. The ice cream parlor is decorated with pictures of the owner, a climber himself, posing with world famous climbers. The tourist stands sell postcards with climbing pictures. The campground is overflowing with climbers and every available space along the narrow roads is occupied with people camping wild. You get the picture.

Car camping people.

Tereza is here with a climbing partner from the Czech Republic and the two of them are off on their own, climbing some crazy hard routes, training for the Czech National team. The rest of us mere mortals isn't quite at the level of cruising through 7b roofs with backpacks on, so Vladimir is climbing with Tereza's mom while Sam and I set out to climb the nine pitch "Via Romantica", graded at 6c+.

Sam underneath the crux section of the second pitch.
Me rappelling from our high point.

I'm a bit anxious about the route, since 6c+ is very much the limit of what I can lead outdoors. Luckily the first two pitches are the crux and we can still bail from there. I lead the first 6b+, a few moves to get through an initial steep section, followed by a slab with delicate foot placements. I set up an anchor and start belaying Sam. For the longest time nothing much happens. I can't see what he's doing below the overhanging start, so I just wait. It takes him the better part of an hour to catch up to me, a pace we clearly cannot sustain if we want to top out before midnight.

Lago di Garda.

He brought brand new climbing shoes that are causing a lot of pain. Thus we decide to give the second, crux, pitch a try and then bail to do some cragging elsewhere. The pitch is exceedingly well protected - the bolts are so close together that quickdraws are nearly touching one another. Every second bolt has a loop of cord in it. It is quite obvious that most people aid climb this pitch by pulling on gear. It is of course my ambition to free climb it cleanly. It starts out with an easy traverse that ends with a slightly overhanging section full of two finger drip-holes. I manage to climb it with taking a few rests hanging off the bolts. Definitely doable! Quite encouraging, as I'm now fairly certain I could climb the entire route. Alas, for now I have to curb my ambition and we rappel back down.

Medea, supposedly a 6a+, but we all agreed that the overhanging layback finale was way harder.
Did I mention this area was popular with climbers? The rock is crawling with humans!

We end up climbing a few routes in the "Swing Area", aptly named for the fact that people fall a lot and swing around on their ropes. The routes seem fiendishly hard for their grades.

We join up with Vladimir and Tereza's mom for the next day and explore the "Nago" sector. It offers beautiful vistas over lake Garda and much more reasonable climbing. Unfortunately for Sam and me this is already the last day. I will continue to Germany with Anita to visit family. Thus we leave in the afternoon, driving through the narrow and winding village roads. At some point it is so tight, that our VW Golf barely fits with about two centimeters of space to the buildings on either side. This is funny because a big Audi, that was following us, now had to reverse and find a different route ;-)

Unknown dude stripping on the rock.

I got to climb:

  • Via Romantica, first pitch 6b+
  • Via Romantica, second pitch 6c+
  • Karl Dalle 6b+
  • Greppo Greppo 6a
  • Medea 6a+
  • Guildenstern 6b+
  • Cordelia 6b
  • Iago 6c

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