For some time, I had eyed the top of Monte Stivo, which looms over Arco di Trento, north of Lake Garda, in Trentino, sensing the beauty of the panorama that can be enjoyed from its summit. Its winter ascent gave me a simply perfect day.
Trekking: Mount Stivo, Trentino, in winter time
As a famous italian journalist (Mario Calabresi) writes in one of his recent books, you must know how to seize the unexpected as an opportunity. Saturday 14 January 2023, I had to go windsurfing at Lake Garda. But the absence of decent wind led me to quickly reschedule the day, also having the trekking equipment in my car. So, after having bought my usual speck and Tremosine cheese sandwich (only for 2.70 euros!) at the Conad Supermarket in Limone, I started consulting my guide with the possible excursions around Lake Garda, and I raised my head, noting the beautiful snow-capped peak of Mount Stivo, above the profile of Riva del Garda and Torbole. Having rejected, after some hesitation, the hypothesis of an easy trip to Mount Bestone from Tremosine, I decided to head towards Mount Stivo, possibly considering the possibility of a partial but nonetheless suggestive ascent.
In the end, I did the full excursion to the mountain top, and the beauty of the landscape and the sensations I enjoyed exceeded my expectations. My guide recommends the excursion from May to September. But I think it's even more beautiful in winter, due to the better visibility and the brightness of the snowy landscape.
To reach the summit you start from Santa Barbara (see our map below). This locality can be reached either by going up from Arco di Trento, with a narrower but well-maintained road, or from Vallagarina, and from Ronzo Chienis. Once you reach the Santa Barbara pass, however, turn north (Via Castil), and continue until you park near the K2 Mountain Bar, or the stables located shortly after (Via Sant'Antonio). There are wide open spaces on the side of the road where you can leave your car.
The ascent does not present any orientation problems (see our map below). The signage on the track is clear. Take the paved road and, after the stables, at the crossroads, turn left, following the sign for Rifugio (Hut) Stivo - Marchetti (path 608B). Continue along the paved road, guided by the frequent signs, and, when in doubt, by the white-red trail signs on fences or walls. The road gains altitude, in the mixed forest, with a gentle slope, and allows you to warm up your muscles well, and not to get out of breath.
After about 2.3 km (30-40 minutes), you arrive at "Le Prese" (about 1500 meters above sea level). From here to the summit of Mount Stivo, the signs indicate a one hour and fifty minutes walking. From this point, I started walking on snow, higher and higher, but always with the right consistency (neither too hard nor too soft). The landscape opens up more and more, starting to show the peaks of the important mountains that close the horizon to the West, North-West, and which I will describe later.
Now, the western slope of Mount Stivo clearly appears in front of you, all covered with snow, and you can see also the Marchetti-Stivo refuge, just below the summit.
The track is always quite wide and comfortable, with a modest slope. A hundred meters further on, in reality, you can make a choice: either continue along the road towards Malga Stivo, as I did on the outward trip; or grasp the nettle and start climbing the South West ridge, much steeper in the first part. I took it easy. I wanted to enjoy the climb, and took the steep ridge, on my way back from the top of Mount Stivo.
The track continues wide in the NNE direction until just below Malga Stivo (3.7 km from the start, 1800 meters above sea level). Then, at a bend towards the SSE (to your right - valley station of the Marchetti refuge service cable car), you start walking in a deep and narrow track in the snow, which with several zigzags, gains altitude along the slope. This stretch is beautiful. You are immersed in the white mantle of snow, in silence, and, if you are lucky like us, under a cobalt blue sky. There is the risk of getting caught up in the compulsive photos shooting (see our slidegallery), but hold back, because you will see the best at the top.
The snow during my ascent was of the right consistency. Crampons were not mandatory, but they would have been useful to make it less tiring going uphill, and for greater safety going downhill, especially at higher altitudes, on some steeper sections, where the snow was harder.
We crossed the buildings of Malga Stivo, and continued to climb. I was amazed to see how many people, even in winter conditions, walked the track. And I was also pleased to see how many young boys and girls were climbing and descending the peak. Beautiful people, the Trentino people: precise and hardworking, and mostly smiling and cheerful. I couldn't help but notice the difference with some exponents of the "shady race" that I occasionally meet in Switzerland, or that I met in Norway....
Just before the Marchetti-Stivo Hut, a nice fresh breeze started blowing, stronger at the top and on the ridge, a hint of the first Ora wind of Lake Garda. Up to here, I've been sweating going up with my mountain sweater, without gloves and hat. Once at Refuge altitude, I had to start covering up.
Uphill, I ignored the Refuge, and kept going straight for the summit, a few meters and a few minutes higher. Then, I finally saw the summit cross sticking out of the snow. I took the last few steps, excited, and found myself in "heaven" (about 2 and a half hours from the start, 5 km, 2054 metres)!
I truly believe that this is one of the most beautiful peaks in the area, as far as the panorama is concerned. Probably even more than Monte Altissimo di Nago (where I climbed a few summers ago - read report in italian).
To the south, you can see a large part of Lake Garda. A little further east, Mount Baldo and the Altissimo di Nago. Almost two thousand meters below us, the plain of Arco, Mount Brione, Riva del Garda and Torbole. If you raise your gaze to the west, Carè Alto, Adamello, Presanella, the Brenta Dolomites (with the Tosa peak on display). To the north, Lake Cavedine and Mount Bondone. Below, towards the North East, the Adige valley, between Rovereto and Trento; towards the South East, Mount Carega. An observation post with indication of the mountains helps you to recognize them. You would never go down.....
After the photos of the summit and a glass of hot tea, given the cold wind, I decided to go and eat more comfortably at the Marchetti-Stivo Hut.
How beautiful are the SAT Huts (SAT: Trentino Alp Club), with those white-blue shutters that make you happy just to look at them! I ate on the terrace of the refuge, sheltered from the wind, enjoying the sun on a deck chair. Then, I entered the refuge for a coffee, greatly appreciating the physically and emotionally warm environment.
For the descent, I asked for advice from a guide at the Refuge, and after being reassured about the practicability of the track even without crampons (left at home...), as mentioned, I decided to take the steepest ridge.
What beautiful sensations! The route is not difficult, but be careful, and don't get too distracted. Follow, at an adequate safety distance, the edge of the East ridge which descends from Mount Stivo, and which then veers towards the South West, becoming steeper below an altitude of 1900 metres a.s.l.. Going down, the snow was less deep, but wetter, or powdery, and less consistent. I descended calmly, experiencing a few harmless slips. After 7 km, I then rejoined the trail I followed going up, in Le Prese.
The descent, therefore, concludes by retracing, almost melancholy, the same road as the outward walking, with the warm light of the sunset filtering through the trees, and coloring the meadows with orange shade.
Good things should never end. But the San Barbara pass, Mount Stivo, and the Refuge Stivo are always there, and I will definitely go back as soon as possible. In scarce 2 hours (and almost 10 km), you are back at the parking lot where you left your car.
Have a nice walk. Fabio Muriano