Valle del’Orco – the Italian granite paradise

Last year, escaping the hordes of Chamonix for a long weekend, we’d gone over the border to the Valle del’Orco in Italy. Just south of Gran Paradiso, Orco is a lovely quiet valley with not a lot there except for some huge walls of granite, a few climbers and fishermen and some friendly locals. It seems a pretty well kept secret in British (and Euro!) climbing circles, although word is starting to get out – not least due to Tom Randall climbing some insanely hard cracks there recently. Often referred to as the ‘Yosemite of Europe’, the main walls of the Caporal and Sergent are certainly pretty impressive and create a crack climbing paradise. Unfortunately, the weather last year wasn’t kind to us and we only got in a few single pitches over three days. Determined to climb some of the longer classics in the area, we headed back at the end of August and were rewarded with blue skies, splitter cracks and plenty of delicious pizza.

The grades in Orco are a little notorious for being tough. Together with the climbing all being fairly hard, this really means you have to be climbing around E2/3 to start to make the most of what the valley has to offer. My best intentions of getting strong in preparation for the trip hadn’t quite happened and we went out there climbing more at E1 than E3… but also armed with plenty of aid gear for negotiating tricky sections! Aid climbing is much more common in Orco than the UK, with many hard aid routes and harder pitches of free routes frequently being aided.

The flake pitch of Pesce d'Aprile - fantastic climbing!

Most of the routes we got on were around the 6 pitch length, although we did a bit of single pitch cragging too. Pesce d’Aprile is a lovely intro to the area, 4 pitches of easy climbing, with the crux being a fantastic 5c corner crack. The name translates as ‘April Fool’ which had us a bit worried, but it went smoothly! At the other end of the scale (for us!) was Diedro Nanchez, a 6 pitch dihedral with the majority of the pitches at 6a+ or 6b. As it turned out, 6b overhanging jamming cracks are a little out of my league and I resorted to some tactical aid climbing. I think this meant I had much more fun than the Italian party behind us, who were trying to free climb it all but resorted to serious dogging, clipping in to gear to rest and a major fight with rope drag through the roof… even with my limited Italian I could understand the mutters of ‘un disastro’…

Campsite right under the Sergent - planning tomorrow's route whilst eating your freshly caught trout

Orco is a great place to go if your jamming skills are reasonable and you fancy some multipitch granite adventures without the crowds. It’s really quiet – the only time we shared a route was on a Saturday when locals from Turin descend on the valley. A car is fairly essential – although there is a bus service up the valley that might work if you were determined! The ‘climbers’ campsite is directly under the Sergent and even sells fresh fish – so fresh that they are still swimming as you pick which one you want. There’s also plenty of hiking in the area and Alpine climbing – both rock and snowy – meaning it would be a great place to spend longer than the week that we had there too. Maurizio Oviglia has written an English guidebook to the area, published by Versante Sud. A second edition of Rock Paradise, a guide to the surrounding Alpine valleys, is due out next spring and will almost certainly warrant a return trip for me!


Incastromania (literaly, 'Jamming-Mania'!), an utterly fantastic single pitch 6a on the Sergent.

After 5 days in Orco we headed north to the Bregaglia area to climb the Piz Badile – stay tuned for another report on that.

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