Last week, the big day had finally arrived: I was off to Italy to spend a week hiking / climbing via ferratas at Lake Garda. After a rather uneventful, but long drive through Austria and northern Italy, I arrived at the hotel in Arco sometime in the afternoon. As I still had to wait some time for the group I would spend the week with, I walked around the city a little bit and sat outside reading a book and enjoying the sun. In the early evening, I finally met the other group members. As it turned out, I was the only girl in a group of men all older than me. But fortunately, they all turned out to be nice people, so I wasn’t really bothered by the group constellation.

Via Ferrata dei Colodri / Ferrata Torrente Sallagoni

Looking up the Colodri. If you look closely, you can see the crowds going up the mountain on the left side of the picture.

Looking up the Colodri. If you look closely, you can see the crowds going up the mountain on the left side of the picture.

After breakfast the next morning, we headed straight to my very first via ferrata. We started at what supposedly is the traditional children’s / beginner’s route in the area: the Via Ferrata dei Colodri, leading up to the Colodri summit above Arco. It was fun going up the relatively short route despite the crowds there, and we were rewarded with beautiful views of Arco, its castle, the lake and its surroundings when we reached the top.

Me at the Colodri, with a nice view of the surroundings.

Me at the Colodri, with a nice view of the surroundings.

After a quick stop for some lunch in the city center of Arco, we decided we hadn’t had enough yet for the first day. So we drove to the nearby city of Dro, where another interesting via ferrata is located. After a short hike through an olive grove, we arrived at a little bridge and the entrance to a narrow canyon. A previous group had left their dog there and it took us some pushing and cajoling until we got past the “guard”. Once we were inside, we entered the canyon along various metal steps along the wall, only a a few meters above the water. As the narrow entrance opened to a larger clearing, we felt like we had arrived in some prehistoric jungle with lots of ferns and enclosed in high walls. On we went, sometimes through, sometimes above the river, at one point even passing a long rope bridge (rope as in singular, balancing on a single steel cable). This route didn’t take us very high, but was rather some kind of “reversed canyoning”. I really loved the atmosphere in the canyon. Also, it was nice and cool in there and far less crowded than it had been at the Colodri.

Sentiero Fausto Susatti / Sentiero Mario Foletti / Sentiero dei Camminamenti

Another nice view - this time from the Cima Rocca.

Another nice view – this time from the Cima Rocca.

The next day, we drove into the Val di Ledro, where our next tour started in the village of Biacesa di Ledro. We combined the via ferratas of Fausto Susatti, Mario Foletti and dei Camminamenti, climbing the Cima Capi and Cima Rocca in the course of the day. Again, the weather was perfect and again, we had great views over the lake and its surroundings. What was particularly interesting about this route was the fact that large parts of the via ferratas led through old World War I trenches and fortifications, often complete with stone benches and remains of old radio cable mountings. On our way back to the car, we stopped by at a very nice café in Biacesa di Ledro, where we enjoyed a well-deserved Radler.

Ferrata dell’Amicizia

The long ladder leading up to the summit.

The long ladder leading up to the summit.

We started off day number three directly in Riva del Garda, from where we hiked up to an old Roman fort and passed the Santa Barbara chapel – which is visible from the entire area at night as it is well illuminated. Higher and higher up the mountain we went. The main element of this via ferrata were the ladders, with the help of which we climbed an almost completely vertical wall. The longest of the ladders is about 70 meters high, which made us appreciate our climbing gear even more – especially at the part where the ladder is partly overhanging. As mind-blowing the ascent was, as exhausting was the descent, leading us the 1200 meters of difference in altitude back down into the valley. After one and a half hours or so of hiking down very steep paths, we all felt our knees and feet. This time, we headed back to Arco to reward ourselves with some delicious ice-cream.

Via Ferrata Gerardo Sega

Amazing natural paths along the wall at the Gerardo Sega.

Amazing natural paths along the wall at the Gerardo Sega.

With the start of the weekend, the weather unfortunately worsened and it was mostly cloudy when we got into the car the next morning. After a drive of little over an hour, we arrived at the Madonna della Neve chapel in the Monte Baldo area. The church is already located at quite a high altitude, so this via ferrata began with an unexpected descent to a riverbed, and then up again through a beautiful forest. This route was probably the one I liked most, next to the canyon we had passed on the first day. After a short ladder, we hiked along narrow, natural paths directly along and in a steep and high wall. In parts, and whenever they were wide enough, these paths were not even secured by a rope, so we walked directly at the sheer edge above the village of Avio, hundreds of meters beneath us. At one point, we even discovered a fireplace some people had built, directly at the edge of the cliff and overlooking the entire valley.

Ferrata Spigolo Bandiera / Ferrata Ernesto Franco

On our last day of hiking, the weather had gotten even worse. With skies overhung with dark clouds, we made our way along the opposite side of the lake today, to the village of Valle di Sur. After a failed attempt to go all the way to a parking lot even closer to the beginning of the via ferrata, located somewhere in the forest at a gravel road in a very bad condition, we decided to leave the car in the village after all. Unlike driving, walking on the gravel road was comfortable, so we didn’t really mind the extra hour of walking added by the additional distance. The way to the “Bandiera” was pretty interesting, although exhausting, as it mostly went along and through a river, which we had to cross a couple of times. When we started climbing, it was so cold we could hardly feel our fingers, so finding a firm hold in the wall proved to be difficult at times. When we finally reached the summit, there was snow in the air.

The second via ferrata this day was even more demanding. Me, and most other members of the group, had serious problems with lack of strength in their muscles at this point in time. We just weren’t used to the strains climbing had imposed on us during the last couple of days. So facing a via ferrata with close to no footholds at level D/E (of a scale with F as a maximum difficulty), was too much for us. All but one person cancelled the via ferrata at some point in the middle of the route. It was very short anyway, so going back wasn’t much of a problem. Admitting defeat, of course, was nothing we enjoyed, but it was good to test our own limits.

Handling the safety gear.

Handling the safety gear.

Summary of this trip: I love hiking / climbing via ferratas and I really enjoyed the high variation in different terrains and views. However, I still need to improve my stamina and train my muscles more. But it was definitely the right way to approach “the wall” outdoors for a change, instead of the indoor climbing I have done before. I know now that I’m comfortable with heights and I’m sure I will do more via ferratas in the future. I might even give outdoor climbing a try at some point.