Sunday, 12 July 2015

Arco 2015

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).

Non-climbing days

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 Che Guevara 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

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Round-up of climbing in 2011

As 2011 draws to a close I've taken a train journey to the north as an opportunity to select photos that represent my climbing throughout the year.  The past twelve months have been really great; I've had the opportunity to climb with new people, on new routes in some great new locations.

This year has been the year of full weekend climbing - away with the daytrips to Swanage and Portland and in with the weekend camping trips to (well, yes) Swanage and Portland but also the Peaks, Southern sandstone, North Wales and even Cornwall!  Unfortunately no trips abroad but that's just something to work on for next year.

I've had the opportunity to push my grade a little - achieving my first E1 (OS 5a, 5b) at Chudleigh, first F6b+ onsights and many solid attempts on harder climbs up to F7a!  I was finally able to achieve my long-term goal of climbing the spectacular blunt arete that is The Cutting Edge, F6c+ on my third attempt.

Many thanks for those who have had the patience to climb with me this year - in particular: Vlad, Owen, Mishtu and Kirsten.  Hopefully we can get out and do some more epic routes next year!


The year was off to an early start with a few nice trad lines out at Subluminal, Swanage, with Vlad and Owen.  Climbers were also out in force at The Cuttings in Portland.

First climb of 2011: January 9th


Owen and I headed up to Scotland early February and headed off on an introduction to winter mountaineering course with Adventure Peaks.  We have arranged to meet our guide, John Pickles, at the same time 2012 to pick up where we left off.  On February 14th the three of us did Ledge Route (II), our first real winter climb.

Day 1: Ice axe to the face

Vlad and his pies; a great day in the Peaks after being rained off on the Saturday


Headed out to Cheddar Gorge with Owen to climb the classic Utopia (HVS 4c).  Also managed to get in a few hard sport lines while we were there.

Fond memories of the old climb-mobile


April is the month the climbing really picked up.  We were out at a new venue early in the year on a two-day trip.  First destination was Chudleigh on a Saturday and Haytor on the Sunday.  Bagged The Spider (E1 5b) which I propose is overgraded - there are HVS 5a lines in the Peaks that go way harder.  The majority of the climbing at Chudleigh is polished and crap; it seems unlikely I'll be rushing back in 2012.

The moment where I was told the auto-focus had locked onto my nipples

Classy hen party

Gear at Haytor

Ben bringing up Owen's wife

Owen making Aramis (VS 4c) seem easy; it scared the shit out of me

Owen having trashed my rope


It's always great to take new people out for the first time on rock.  Here's my boss Grzegorz and colleague Bhaskar at Hedbury.

Grzegorz and Bhaskar at Hedbury, Swanage

Of course the Peaks is about the grit.  But bolted limestone does exist.  A great day out at Horseshoe Quarry with Anna, Vlad, Zoe and Emma.

Anna coming up the first pitch of Men at Work (F5)

Anna climbing Sag Ponir (F5)

Girls girls girls... enjoying the sun

Next up is one of the defining moments of 2011, certainly for Vlad.  We'd been climbing at Harpur Hill Quarry and had managed the spectacular 3* Coral Seas (F6a), I'd had a good punt at Apollo Creed (F6b) but then Vlad took a big fall leading People Will Talk (F5).  A huge block of loose rock came away with a run-out Vlad clinging on.  He just hit the ground but was fortunately okay.  Many lessons learned that day.

Safe at the bottom of People Will Talk

At least 10m


With Vlad out of action I headed down to The Cuttings on the early May bank holiday Monday with Grzegorz, Bhaskar and a friend.  We managed a single line before the rain hit.

Grzegorz on the breakfast baps


A view of Blacknor from a belay

Installed with the best intentions

Went out climbing with Mishtu for the first time after meeting her at the Westway thanks to .

Sun cream applied for the first and last time while out climbing with me

Mishtu seconding (with rests!) Fallen Slab Arete (F3 3*)

Two great days of climbing and camping

For the late May bank holiday Mishtu invited Vlad and I up to North Wales for the weekend.  In return we took her up a) her first multipitch; b) her first trad route (even if she was seconding).

Before climbing Flying Buttress

Vlad the burka woman

At the summit of Flying Buttress (VD)

A view of Flying Buttress

Epic hut, courtesy of Imperial College London

Randomly bumped into some old friends from Manchester

Mishtu seconding what is probably Equinox (VS 4c)

Not even sure what this was... but it was hard and damp and I had to retreat

Some B&E

Turns out Vlad has lovely soft hands

Incredible walls in the slate quarry

Slate embedded in my thumbnail

Beautiful clouds just before sunset along the M5


Sheltering from the rain under a huge roof at Winspit Quarry

Least willing climber of the year

Mishtu huddling for warmth under a small roof in the Peaks

Mishtu leading the spectacular Slings Shot (F5) at Blacknor North, Portland

Many great post-climbing rest spots


June/July has now become established as one of the key times in the climbing calendar - the annual Harrison's Rocks climbing/social trip.  It's rather under-represented here but as always, was a spectacular weekend with good weather, good climbing and great friends.

Post climbing pint

Disaster struck when I forgot my rock boots on a trip to Winspit Quarry.  I still managed to lead F6a with sandals...

Those rams-head lower-offs are hugely overrated

Top pub grub at The Castle Inn, Corfe (but no Dorset Apple cake)

Camping chairs: better left at the store

Another great trad multi-pitch, this time climbing Giant's Cave Buttress (VS 4c) at Avon Gorge.

The Ship Inn for a pint following a day at Blacknor North and The Cuttings (another failed attempt at The Cutting Edge (F6c+))
By July I was successfully climbing F6b/F6b+ onsight most of the time.  F6a had become my warm-up and I was really enjoying starting to push those grades.


Scrambled eggs on the OmniFuel - the unleaded petrol got ditched soon afterwards

Mishtu seconding at Sennen, Cornwall

Mishtu coming up Dolphin Cracks (HVS 5a) at Sennen

A nice, late finish to the day

At the belay on Doorpost (HS 4b ***)

Stunning sunset as viewed from The Ship Inn, Portland

Another good day out with Bhaskar

The hole in my thumb was finally about to go

A hole in my hand from climbing some hard trad routes


By September it felt as though the good climbing just wasn't going to end.  But that wasn't true... the days were starting to get shorter, but I had some great climbing partners and there were still plenty of opportunities to get out on the rock.

Foreigner sat atop Gaia, Black Rocks


Come October we'd given up hope for balmy summer days but to our surprise the first weekend in October was truly sweltering.  Down at Dancing Ledge in Swanage we'd not experienced heat like this all year.  Truly the most fondly remembered climbing day of the year.

Me hiding from the sun in a bivvy spot

Other tourists enjoying the unseasonal October weather

Swimming in the sea!

Once the heat passed, we were back on the rock.  Vlad's probably on Empty Promises (F6a)

More lessons learned: how not to make espresso on the go

Mishtu taking a lead fall on an overhung climb at The Nook, Portland

Keith climbing in the darkness

Vlad going up by headtorch... the days were getting shorter

In October we returned to Harpur Hill Quarry for the first time since People Will Talk.  We tried some hard sport lines but the cold wind was definitely against us.  Days were getting even shorter.

Anna out at Castle Naze in the Peak District

Vlad on a solid trad lead

A failing attempt at The Sloth (HVS 5a), The Roaches

The day I discovered Microsoft Photosynth

The Roaches Lower Tier

Ultra-classic Valkyrie (VS 4c ***)


Bea climbing near The Cuttings

Mishtu onsighting The Jam (F4) at The Cuttings, Portland


Climbing necessarily tailed off in November/December.  Conditions meant it was still possible to climb but the weather was cold, the days were short and the drives were long.  All round the risk of a wasted trip increased.

Owen, Adie and I headed up north to Fort William for a couple of days of wild camping and a bit of trudging about in the snow.

After a lovely 3am roadside kip

Stunning morning view

What's impressive about this list is the sheer number of days that have not been included.  The more routine trips to Portland and Swanage were just not photographed.  But these were the days when the majority of the hard routes went down and we all got a chance to really improve with our climbing.