Monte Scale — Unknown Side Climb — the old road before Stelvio

For all the times I’ve been in Bormio, I thought I knew every ride from here.  Today was an “off day” so Ajax led us on an “easy ride” through the town of Oga and up Monte Scale.  Monte Scale is the old road, built in 1391 long before the Stelvio was even conceived.  Scale means “stairs.”  Yes, it is rideable by road bike.  So here we go…

Here is the unstoppable Team San Jose leading the pack out of town and up to the town of Oga.  Sue is in the front, next to Craig, with Ajax following.  I was also proudly wearing my San Jose kit, but you can’t see me as I was taking the picture.

We have a new recruit on the trip — Carla from San Francisco.  She joined us in Bormio and started with the double Stelvio day.  Here she is in her snazzy Switzerland riding outfit.  Check out the pretty faux embroidery on the sleeves and the collar.

The tour through Oga gave us a good warmup with 900 feet of climbing.  It’s a nice alternative to the main road to get to Monte Scale.

Monte Scale is a big climb with many switchbacks.  It heads up to the beautiful Fraele valley, where there are three lakes.  The Fraele valley used to be a main trading route between Bormio and Austria.  Ajax tells us the Italians traded wine for salt.

Here are Ernesto and Carla riding side by side.  Ernesto is sporting his Death Ride jersey.

About a third of the way up we get to a flat area with a bench to sit.  Ernesto enjoys the rest here.

OK, enough resting.  It’s time to get serious and climb those switchbacks.  This road is really nice.  The grade is steep, but the pavement is in good shape and there is virtually no traffic.

Here is a view of Ernesto in one of the switchbacks.  You can see a vertical granite face in the background with two towers guarding the pass at the top.

The new road (which we are on) is to the left of the granite wall.  Believe it or not, the old road headed up the granite wall.  The last section went right between the two towers and had a terribly steep grade.  The granite wall, two towers, and the steep grade made it easy to control trade on this route and prevent hostile armies from invading.

The towers were an effective defense for the pass until 1635 when the Duke of Rohan (sounds like Lord of the Rings to me) stormed the towers and burned 70 houses.

From the road there are some nice views west to the Forcola di Livigno, a pass we will do soon.  Here is Ernesto enjoying the view.

Fortunately, it’s 2012 now, not 1391, so we are taking the new road that has lots of switchbacks and a grade that is ok for bicyclists.  Here is a view of the top with two tunnels approaching the twin towers.

and a closer view of the towers…  Can you see the old road?  You can see the last few switchbacks in the lower right corner of the photo above.  In the photo below, the “road” goes through a slice in the granite and is virtually invisible.  I sure wouldn’t want to climb that road!  Thank heavens for modern road grading and switchbacks.

From the top, we have a good view of the switchbacks on the way up.

Looks pretty impressive, huh?  The grades are in the range of 6-10%, but some of the straightaways heading west are much less then this… almost flat.

At the top there is a sequence of three lakes.  The first one is natural.  The second two are man-made.  Previously, there were fields here and towns devoted to sheep and cattleherding.

Our group stopped to enjoy the view.  That is Swiss Miss (Carla) on the right.

You may notice the road is dirt.  It is hardpack and very smooth and very rideable on a road bike.  That didn’t matter to us, though.  It’s an off day, so we wanted to get back to town and enjoy a restaurant lunch.  My favorite is Pizzoccheri.

So, statistics.  We rode about 26 miles and climbed 3000 feet.  Not bad for an off day.

Side note:  did J. R. R. Tolkien get his inspiration for the Lord of the Rings trilogy from Bormio?  From Monte Scale we have the Duke of Rohan and the Two Towers.  The valley below the north side of the Gavia has the river Torrente Frodolfo.  Was the name Frodo derived from Frodolfo?  Anybody know the origins of this?

About bikealps

avid cyclist and photographer
This entry was posted in bicycle touring, Dolomites, Italy, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s