transfer day: Cortina to Bormio — preview of Passo Stelvio

Today we have to drive from Cortina to Bormio.  Our plan was to ride from Cortina, climbing Passo Giau, Passo Fedaia (Marmolada glacier), and Passo Nigra, and meet Ajax in Bolzano where he would drive us the rest of the way.

We woke up to loud claps of thunder and a constant strong rain.  After six straight days of good weather and great riding, we lucked out by planning our transfer day on the day that it would be raining.  Good planning, eh?

So that means I won’t get to ride Passo Fedaia this year.  Bummer!  Passo Fedaia, better known as the Marmolada for the glacier you can see from the top, is a little known knee-breaker.  The west side is pretty easy, with 5-7% grades, but we had planned to climb the east side.  My memory is that it has an unrelenting 12-16% grade straight up with no switchbacks.  It looks flat, so you feel really inadequate barely able to turn the pedals over.

Oh well.  I’ve done the Fedaia 3 times before, twice from the east and once from the west.

So instead we packed the car up and hopped in.  I napped for the first half of the drive.  Guess I needed it.

Eventually we reached the base of the Stelvio and went through a little town called Prato allo Stelvio.  The weather was much better.  From there the road went up, and we got a preview of what we would be riding the next day.

The classic side of the Stelvio is the east side.  It is a 6000′ climb with 48 switchbacks.  We drove about 2/3 of the way up and stopped at the Berghotel (Rifugio) Franzenshöhe for a snack.

The Berghotel (mountain hotel) was originally built in the 1820s when the road was built by the Austrian empire to facilitate commerce with mountain communities on the other side (Bormio).  Legions of workers were housed in the hotel and shoveled the snow to keep the pass open all winter.  Originally built for commerce, the Stelvio now serves nearly 100% tourists.

Our lunch was a simple ham and cheese salad served with pickles on bread, but presented beautifully.

From the hotel, we had a good view of the switchbacks above.  Of the 6000′ of climbing and 48 switchbacks, only about 1/2 of the switchbacks and 1/3 of the climbing remains, but it’s still pretty imposing.

We also got a good view of the switchbacks below.

Here is a closeup of one switchback, illustrating the ruggedness of the terrain.  While the road is steep indeed, the road is far more gentle than the mountainside.  They put these switchbacks in to make our lives easier.

To me, the Stelvio looks like a goat path that somebody turned into a road.  Why do they build roads here?  For tour buses of course!  Yes, believe it or not, tour buses can indeed make it over this pass.  Even though the Stelvio carries only very light traffic, sometimes the tour buses cause backups as they need every inch of the road to make it through these tight and steep turns.

After entertaining ourselves by watching the bus lumber up the pass, we turned our attention to the nearby glacier.

And we noticed these hiking boots right in front of the Berghotel Franzenshöhe and realized we’d been sitting in the car all day.  If we sit long enough, something might begin growing in us, as it has in these boots.

So what should we do next?  There was a hiking trail right from the parking lot.  I should mention, though, that we went for a WALK, not as hike.

The photo is Ajax and Rudy with the glacier in the background.  I should mention than Ajax’s company, Alta Quota Adventures, supports multi-sport trips, including road and mountain cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and skiing.  We just happen to be road bike addicts and hiking poseurs.

Speaking hiking poseurs, here’s a photo of Rudy with the switchbacks of the pass in the background.

And here is one of Ajax reveling in the joy of being near a glacier.

Back on the road, we climb (in the car) the rest of the Stelvio.  Here’s a view of a few of the last switchbacks near the top.

Cyclists come from all over to climb the Stelvio.  Here’s a Spanish guy who made it look easy by flying up the last parts of the climb.

Finally, we descended the other side, and headed to our hotel where we were treated a very special dinner.

We’re staying at the Baita dei Pini, which is a very fine hotel.

So, that was a preview of the Stelvio.  Tomorrow, gloves are off and we really have to climb the Stelvio.  We’ll be confronting the Stelvio in all its steepness and enjoying the climb as you can only do on the bike.  You can see the Stelvio from the car, but you can only experience it by living it and the bike is the best way to do this.


About bikealps

avid cyclist and photographer
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2 Responses to transfer day: Cortina to Bormio — preview of Passo Stelvio

  1. Kevin Metcalfe says:

    We stayed at the Baita dei Pini last year. It was great. I’m a little jealous. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.

  2. Pingback: 2012 Giro d’Italia — Best Ever? | bikealps

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