Everybody knows about the Dolomites - but what do you do if the weather turns bad? Find tips and tricks in this Climbing Trip to Arco where we pivoted after it snowed in Rätikon! We'll talk about culture, climbing, lodging and food.
Arco is a little town in Northern Italy, tucked in between the limestone walls on the “foothills” of the Dolomites and the Largo di Garda, a huge lake that runs out of the mountains into the mellow countryside.
Thanks to the lake and its location on the Southern side of the mountains, it benefits from a stable climate and warm weather when the Alps are in poor condition. Because of this, it serves as a training ground for summer alpinism and bigger walls abroad.
It has dozens of limestone walls for multi-pitching and endless opportunities for cragging.
People have climbed here for a long time; in fact the first Sport Climbing competition ever took place in Arco. One might think that all the crags are already developed, but there are so many untouched cliffs in the textured hillsides surrounding town.
Originally we had planned a climbing trip to the Rätikon, an incredible alpine limestone multi-pitch destination. Snow in the forecast had us pivot and follow all the other Germans to their favorite and always-sunny place: Arco.
Arco is an hour from the Tirol region of the Alps. This region is special because it has a long and rich history of Italians and Austrians. Most alpinists from here grow up speaking Italian and German.
The proximity to southern Germany, just 3 ½ hours, makes this town and the whole region one of Germany's favorite places to climb, bike and hike. Wherever you go you will see Germans. This makes the Arco valley feel very tourisitic, which it is.
There are plenty of crags within walking distance of Arco itself and are usually family-friendly.
In order to avoid the crowds we had to drive up the mountains and hills for 20-30 min. By then you can find crags with much fewer people. The rock is varied and you can find in one crag tufas, blocks, slabs and pockets. Some crags are freshly developed, whereas others host classics from the 80s that have certainly gotten harder with time.
Most climbs are east-south facing, so the perfect time to climb here is late October or November in the Fall. However, you can find some crags that are tucked into the forest or west facing. If you are in need for some pocket climbing, drive up to Sarche and climb at Falesia Dimenticata! On the walk to the crag you might find endless walnuts! This crag was closed for a long time and then the “Dolomiti Organization” bought this wall and turned it into an awesome “Climbing garden” even with a toilet.
Multi-pitch climbs can be also found close to town or in the Sarca Valley, 15 min up the road. Most climbs are sport equipped and have modern bolts, pitons and old cord in threads. The “easier climbs” from 4c – 6b are usually highly trafficked and the limestone becomes more polished. I personally don’t think that that is a big deal but there are plenty of people who despise this (like Akio).
Routes in more difficult grades (7a and up) are not polished and rarely have other climbers on it. Europeans like to climb with double ropes but we experienced that most climbs have walk-offs rather than rappels. My favorite route was “Archangelo” (6b, A0, 6c) which had some incredible tufa traverses, but it had literally 5 parties on it.
For camping/dirtbagging we had an empty “Vito” van from my dad and slept on the ground. We just cooked with portable backpacking stoves and canisters.
Supermarkets are plenty and I recommend buying all the random stuff that you never have eaten before. Italians are really into cookies! We can't really recommend a place to eat, since this whole valley is very touristy and good places seem to be hard to find. The castle Troboli next to a climbing area and at a lake, serves classic several course Italian menus starting at 40€/person, which maybe worthy to check out!
There are campgrounds around Arco that place you really central and in the scene. If you don’t care about that, I recommend to stay at a campground at the Garda lake, in Dro or Sarca or even in the mountains. There are plenty of opportunities to sleep overnight on some small road that goes up further into the mountains. Our favorite place was up the road to Mandrea. The road to the crag to Nago was pretty nice as well. You can find showers for 3€ at Camping Marodi at the beach.
Last but not least: BETA. Arco has 5 (!) guidebooks for cragging and multi-pitch climbing, this is very overwhelming. I recommend going to the library first and checking out a guidebook there and taking some photos. There are websites like planet mountain, crag 27 and “Markus Stadler” that have cragging and multi-pitch beta and topos (just selected climbs).
If you want to finally buy a guidebook, head over to the bookstore in the city center of Arco. Avoid taking photos at the bookstore, the owners do not appreciate that...
We didn’t do this, but as a rest day activity I would highly recommend to try out wind surfing on the Garda Lake, there are plenty of schools and rental services.