Logistics and dates
Beata and I flew out from London on Friday 26th June 2015 arriving at Verona airport around 9:20PM. We picked up a pre-booked hire car at the airport and drove north on the A22 toll to Arco, arriving at our campsite around 11PM (this was a problem -- see below!). We flew back Sunday July 5 giving us eight full days to climb (not including rest days).
We both agreed we would not want to do it without the car. We drove to all crags, stashed our gear and stealable equipment and used it extensively on rest days. For €75/each for a cheap car it was a no-brainer for us.
Campsites (and warnings)
We had pre-booked at Campeggio Arco for the full duration of our stay (10 days), including having paid €100 as a deposit. Upon arriving we found the gates were closed and locked at 11PM every evening, not to re-open until 8AM. We assumed we'd be able to park outside, pitch and handle everything in the morning but this was not an option. The night security guard was unhelpful, rude and had alcohol on his breath. Personally I was unimpressed by the lack of toilet seats on the men's toilets (sit downs not squatters) but I later discovered the other toilet block did have toilet seats. Otherwise the facilities were very good and clean, although charging by the hour for Wi-Fi was a joke.
Some friends were staying at the ever-so-slightly cheaper Camping Zoo a further minute down the road by car. We spent some time here and both agreed this was the campsite to stay as climbers. Staff were more friendly, the grounds were more relaxed and critically the gates were never locked (great if you want to make a dawn start in summer). Our friends arriving after 11PM and were able to register and pitch without any issues (without pre-booking). This places also includes free Wi-Fi and pitches seemed more shaded and private than Campeggio Arco.
Both of the campsites are a short walk (10-15 minutes) into Arco town centre. A number of crags are within walking distance (particularly some good multi-pitching) but you'd be seriously limiting your options.
Really hot. Too hot. We experienced a dramatic thunder storm one evening but everything was dry the following morning.
I'd recommend a very airy tent; we shared an Alpkit Kangri (geodesic expedition-style tent) and all ventilation was open without giving up mosquito protection and we were too hot. Not that I'll be going back again this time of year, but if I did I'd take my MSR Hubba Bubba NX and I think I'd be far more comfortable.
The group we were with (and our levels of motivation) meant we were climbing mostly during the day, not always paying good attention to when specific crags were in condition. Big mistake. We saw nobody climb anything hard, perhaps a 38m 7b I tried was the hardest thing I saw anybody look at. Back home I can red-point 7b in a day (admittedly shorter, more bouldery) but here I set off fresh and returned to the ground dehydrated, exhausted and lacking motivation to do anything else. That said, some of these routes had spectacular climbing - the movement, the continuity, the position, everything was spectacular.
The Climbing (and my performance)
Start of a spectacular 7b at Nago
My impression of Arco was that the best routes were long. Short, bouldery routes exist but they didn't capture my imagination and were often polished. If you climb 7s then the longer routes were in great condition and featured outstanding climbing. These routes come in slabby, vertical and overhung varieties. One particular route I tried "Eh Mersh" 7b at Nago was amongst the most fun routes I've ever tried -- 38m with interesting stamina climbing the whole way interspersed with a couple of moves that were just a little harder than the rest.
My performance was terrible. Two weeks earlier I'd sent two 7c projects in a day but this was in the final week of my "performance phase" (Anderson & Anderson training) and perhaps should have been rested not trying hard stuff in hot weather. I don't believe this to be the whole story - heat was a huge factor and we did not take advantage of climbing after dawn or before sunset, something we've done in the past but were unable to motivate ourselves to do before, perhaps because it was so hot that by this time we'd only managed to be asleep comfortably for a couple of hours. My diet was also poor as I was treating this as a holiday and a climbing trip; in better temperatures I'd still have been able to climb hardish even with a little extra weight but here everything came together.
Those are all of the excuses but at some point I need to face it:
grading at Arco is stiff!
Crux pitch of Olocausto
We didn't visit an extensive number of crags but we did enjoy Nago, Massone looked great but the left hand end was super polished, L'orto (the one crag never in the sun - we should have climbed here every day) as well as enjoying Spiderman (6c, 200m) at Monte Colt and bailing on Olocausto (7a, 180m) at Placche Zebrate.
Prior to visiting Arco I felt I was a decent enough slab climber, having sent 7a, 7b and even a 7b+ in Kalymnos, but it's clear that slab is a different beast in Arco. While leading the hardest pitch of Olocausto at Placche Zebrate I was repeatedly shut down and had to resort to stepping on bolts to make progress (even with the bolts the moves were still hard and scary!). My feet seemed to slide from the rock; perhaps due to the rock being hot or some lichen on the rock, but most likely because I was not able to make use of the "ruthless friction" the topo advised. My advice would be to work through the grades and get accustomed to the style.
At my request a friend picked up two guidebooks for us - Arco Rock (single-pitch sport climbing covering a huge area) and Arco Walls (multi-pitch sport climbing also covering a huge area). These were about €35 each, in English and apart from some poor transport directions they served us very well. However, they were massively overkill for an 8-day trip. I saw other people with a much smaller guidebook, presumably a limited "best of Arco" which in hindsight is what we should have picked up as we only climbed at the best crags and beelined for the recommended routes which is what I'd expect this guidebook included. Neither of our two guidebooks covered Via Ferrata but we were able to ask friends for advice on where to go.
On directions in the Arco rock book - the written directions are in some instances exceptionally poor, to the extent that three cars independently got lost while visiting one crag. Additionally the QR code GPS locations are to be taken with a pinch of salt - in one instance an upper and lower car park had been swapped, and another the GPS location in no way matched up with the parking areas in the text description (but did manage to take us up some seriously sketchy roads).
Generally these are rest days but with all of the Via Ferrata around these are not always such a great rest.
The start of Che Guevara
Perhaps 1/3 of the way up
Punto Panoramico from the summit
Beata and I climbed the easy but spectacular
with over 1,300m of vertical ascent. It's a 3c but you can make it much harder if you climb without using any of the cables or rungs. There's a short section where this is pretty much impossible but I was still able to use just two runs for the whole VF. Only do this is you have confidence you can complete the moves as VF gear is obviously not for falling on. On a hot day this could be very uncomfortable - we were lucky to get a cloudy day. It took us six hours to get up and about four to get down, but this was due to taking a wrong turn (watch out for signposts with incorrect distances!) and an injured knee.
Dolomites from Sella pass
Another day we drove north along the A22 (more tolls) into the Dolomites, driving up the Pordoi and Sella passes to get some great views of peaks and valleys. There were many opportunities to get out and have a short hike but for us after Che Guevara the previous day this was strictly a rest day before climbing. This was definitely recommended although I would advise planning and researching the route you take for a few hours beforehand to maximise your views -- ours was rather spontaneous and thus a little unorganised.
Looking south towards Lake Garda from Castello di Arco
Shorter rest activities include walking 20-minutes or so up the hill to Castello di Arco. The castle has an entry fee (around €8) to look around the grounds -- there isn't a huge amount on display but the views are spectacular (and different from what you get on the walls due to its unique position in the centre of the valley) and it was a nice place to meander around and relax.
One afternoon we drove to Lago di Garda, parked the car for €1/hour and went and sat by the lake. Great for relaxing although somewhat busy while hot.
- Everything shuts around mid-day until 2-3.30PM (depending on the shop) for siesta; most shops then close at 9PM
- There's a big supermarket a short drive from the campsites, as well as smaller shops in Arco centre
- Ice creams are exceptionally tasty and good value at €1 per scoop (although there was some debate whether a two-scooper at €2 was worse value for money than two one-scoopers at €1 each ;)
- La Sportiva shop offers some decent discounts on shoes (think Sterling prices except in Euros)
- Best pizza available near Arco is the buy-a-slice in one corner of Arco town square (wait until they bring a fresh one out and immediately order a few slices, or get a big group and order what you want)
- Pizza restaurant between the two campsites is worth a visit also