Sunday, February 6, 2011

Traverse of Italy, Ortles-Stelvio, Part II

If you want to catch up on the series read:
Traverse of Italy, Introduction
Traverse of Italy, Alpi Carniche
Traverse of Italy, Dolomites North and Central
Traverse of Italy, Brenta Group and Val di Sole
Traverse of Italy, Ortles-Stelvio, Part I

Immediately previous to this Javier had a challenging two days after starting in Refugio Lago Corvo, ascending the Tarscher Pass, and finally arriving at switchback number 25 of the Passo dello Stelvio roadway.

Javier writes on July 18th, "I wake up as usual around seven in the morning. My surprise is great when I look out the window. I see that it is snowing and strongly, between 10 and 20 cm cover the ground. The meadows that were green yesterday are today a huge white blanket broken only by the black ribbon of the Passo dello Stelvio road (the plows are running). My heart sinks to my feet. My biggest fear seems to have come true. I go down to breakfast and to wait out the snow storm.

At 11 am, after several coffees and having perused all the books available in the lounge (some very interesting about the events in this area during the First World War and the history of the Italian Alpini), it is still snowing and I'm climbing the walls. I do not want to spend all day here.

I need a sign. Soon, I see that there are three crazy mountain bikers going up the road and they stop for coffee to take off some of the chill. Well, why not me? I put on my fatigues and decide to go forward. Then, I will see what I find.

From the Berghotel Franzenshöhe there are 23 switchbacks, 6.5 km and 560 meters of ascent, to the top of the Passo dello Stelvio. The climb is easy, the wind is just a little uncomfortable when riding into it, the flakes fall gently tempering the cold. There is very little traffic, cars and motorcycles give shouts of encouragement (I feel like I'm racing in the Giro). This will be one of my great experiences of my tour, pedaling under a heavy snowfall near ten thousand feet is not something you do every day.

The view from switchback 11:

The Berghotel Franzenshöhe in the distance:

Looking towards the final switchbacks to the top of Passo dello Stevio:

At the top of the pass it is really cold and the wind presses hard. I stop for a coffee and assess the options. There is little for me to decide, the only option is to go down to Bormio. After buying cheap ski gloves (my long gloves were forgotten at home) at one of the small shops I put on ALL of the the warm clothing that I have and begin my descent with a great deal of caution.

I can say little of descent to Bormio. Fog, wind and cold. After 6 km I stop at the first possible stop, the III Cantoniera. The feelings in my hands are almost zero. I warm up for a bit before continuing. The snow becomes light rain just before a series of linked hairpins and some dark and narrow tunnels.

Arriving at Bormio:

In Bormio I opt for the Albergo Montana, simple but a bit far from downtown. I visit the attractive historic center and think about tomorrow. The weather is supposed to improve but there is still the problem of snow. I seek alternative options to continue my "Alpi Bike". Tomorrow is another day."

In the next installment we will cover the final day of Stage V, a four day stage, in which Javier travels from Bormio to Livigno.

Photos: click to enlarge

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1 comment:

  1. That's some crazy weather for mid-July. The ascent wouldn't be bad, but the freezing descent would be a real challenge. Bravo Javier!