Cyrille and I met online as we were both interested in climbing on the weekend. The weather was terrible in most of the alps, only improving enough to guarantee dry weather near Arco, Italy. We left Munich at 5 am, which I hoped was early enough to avoid holiday traffic jams. Alas! Major backups occurred near Kreuth, and again near Innsbruck. This added an hour to a 4 hour drive, so we were a little weary on arrival in Sarche at 10 am. I had an idea for a climb there called “Amazonia”. It is a 10 pitch bolted line on the side of Piccolo Dain, a peak which dominates Sarche. That would be a good, safe climb for a couple of fellows climbing together for the first time. We arrived at the rock and realized we’d made one mistake - we had no quickdraws! I ran back to the car and retrieved a gaggle of Screamers that Cyrille had in his gear for ice climbing. So for the weekend we climbed on an odd combination of Screamers and old-school methods like 2 ‘biners hooked together. The route was a bit crowded, but we struck up conversations with nice folks before and after us. This climb is very safe, with probably too many bolts, but I guess you can always skip a few if you feel the adventure has been completely drained away! There is a tough first move, then a long easy traverse to the left. At the end of this traverse, a party of three from Berchtesgaden was very kind and allowed us to pass. We did this by easily combining two pitches to get out of their way quickly. In general, the climb contained short difficult sections on clean rock, seperated by easy scrambles on somewhat grassy terrain. We caught up to the next party above at a belay station below an overhang and had a nice conversation where I got to test out my limited german skills. The scene of the river below, and cliffs across the valley was very nice.

The final pitches had the most sustained difficulties. Cyrille got the crux pitch, which was exciting because of somewhat polished rock and very small hand-holds. After this an easy traverse led off to the right where we unroped. A hike up through scrubby forest brought us to a viewpoint below the imposing upper cliffs of Piccolo Dain. Two climbers were working on a climb, improbably perched in the middle of the face. We hiked down, and then whiled away some time in a climbing shop looking for a guidebook to the area.

I am a little unusual I guess, because I really like multi-pitch traditional gear climbs. I hastily bought a thick guidebook only to discover it dealt exclusively with sport climbs of 1 or rarely 2 pitches. The prevailing Zeitgeist seems to be all about sport climbing, which I find kind of boring. Of course, I’m also not very good at it, that might be a factor too! Somehow, it feels more like exercise than adventure, and that is what I seek in the mountains. Finally I found a suitable guidebook. We found a campsite in Pietramurata and spent the evening drinking tea and looking up at the cliffs of Monte Casale. I’d found a long route to the right of the summit which offered 1000 meters of climbing to grade VI-. It looked blank and imposing, and was entirely gear protected. Cyrille hoped to do some sport climbs in the afternoon, so we found a smaller route that should still promise some adventure. “Via Christina” (VI-) climbs a buttress on the right side of the peak for 500 meters. It is equipped only with the occasional piton.

We woke early after a good sleep, and found to our dismay that the campground gate was locked until 7 am. So we left the car with a note and walked to the trailhead, making the short but steep hike to the base of the wall within an hour. I drew the straw for the first pitch which began in a smooth watercourse, with an awkward move protected by a piton. Continuing on clean, slabby terrain, I found no more protection opportunities for 30 meters. “This is a nervous way to start the morning,” I thought. Higher in the watercourse, I saw I’d have to leave it for blank slabs on the right. Fumbling two marginal cams into pockets I gingerly stepped out on little bumps, now, disconcertingly, covered in dust which I wiped clear before putting my foot on. 15 meters later I reached a ledge and looked around for a belay. A single battered looking bolt, combined with a good stance would have to do.

Cyrille came up and we coiled the rope for a long walk to the right on scree ledges (about 200 meters). At the end we found the “profundo camio,” a somewhat dark and grungy vegetated gully. Cyrille led up carefully. I wondered why it took so long, but I soon found out. Cyrille belayed me up an increasingly appalling carnival of bad rock. There were several handholds which exploded into shards on contact. Towards the end of the 60 meter pitch, a difficult move was required to pull up onto a chockstone in such a way as to avoid touching chandaliered rotten daggers on the right. We were sobered by the difficult climbing for grade III, then we realized that he’d combined two pitches, and the chockstone was rightfully pointed out in the topo as a grade VI- move. The topo also indicated the loose rock on that pitch, so we figured we had to take the good with the bad.

For pitch (4), I trended up and right, then left to get back into the central runnel. First I had to make some scary moves on (again) rotten rock to reach a piton on more solid terrain to the left. I enjoyed firm and solid rock for a few brief moves. A two piton belay station provided a nice perch to look down on the town and watch Cyrille climb. He led up for another long pitch that passed a curious little “pulpit” with two pitons that was a marker we should have payed more attention too. At the end of this long, somewhat creepy and loose pitch, Cyrille was hanging from a tree and pointing the way up into a deep gully of unpleasant brush. In retrospect I think we lost the route in here, as we should have traversed to the right somewhere above the “pulpit.” I went up on an annoying brushy pitch that still required care because of loose rock, and a too-brief vertical hand crack. The route was reminding me too much of such Cascade classics as “Mount Index North Peak”, or the lower buttress of Johannesburg Mountain’s north face. Ugh. Again I found a tree to make a hanging belay from. “The face didn’t look so brushy from a distance,” I whined to myself.

Cyrille came up, and had an idea that we should be further right. I agreed completely. For one thing, this chimney we followed turned into overhanging cottage cheese 20 feet above. Also it was pretty clear we were off route. He suggested rappelling 1/2 a pitch and following a dirty ramp system left 20 meters, but it was possible to traverse right here on unprotected but easy rock. We jostled around at the hanging belay a few minutes and I took off. Though unprotected, it was some of the more enjoyable rock climbing to be found in the neighborhood! Eventually I could sling a horn and continue right. I hoped to find traces of the correct route, but rope drag finally prevented going any further. Possibly another 30 meters to the right would reveal the route. Cyrille took a look at the topo and surmised that a chimney above us might be the correct way though, so he headed up that way. Following, I got only a small taste of the horrors he endured on that pitch! Aside from a tree at the base of the chimney, there was no protection for 15 meters of rotten yet strenuous terrain. Bridging with one foot on the left, and the other on the right, making do with the knowledge that all good footholds break off, and that hand holds are really only pinches of semi-loose blocks, I wondered if anyone had been this way before. We’d certainly left behind the crowds at the various grid-bolted crags below! I found a tired Cyrille at a tree belay, and continued for a short pitch to a forested saddle. “I think we are at the end, Cyrille.”

And we were. Hiking a faint trail, we soon walked a forest road to another trail across from Piccolo Dain. This led down and back to the car.

Sadly, I can’t recommend our route, and I don’t really know that “Via Christina” warrants the 4 quality stars given in the guidebook. I don’t know, maybe beyond where we left the route it became stellar.

We walked around Arco for an hour and experienced the adventure of a flat tire before making the long drive home. Thanks to Cyrille for a good first trip to the area!

Piccolo Dain. Amazonia is ~10 pitches on the lower right of the picture. It's a big peak!

A rough topo of Amazonia


Cyrille on Amazonia

Pitch 3 on Amazonia

One of the best pitches on Amazonia

Some fellow climbers on Amazonia

Above a small overhang on Amazonia

The exit pitch

After the crux VI move on Via Christina

Cyrille entering a short off-width chimney

A large wall on Monte Casale. See the climber rappelling?

Monte Casale walls

Our route on Monte Casale in red. We should have followed the green line to stay on Via Christina

The beautiful town of Arco, Italy