The Stelvio is in many ways the queen of Alpine passes. It has
the most switchbacks (46 on the Bormio side, 48 on the Prato side). At
2758 m (just over 9000'), only the Col du Bonnette is higher. It has
only recently been paved. Eddy Merckx raced its gravel ramps in the
Giro. So as we left Bormio to ride both sides of it on a beautiful
day, we were excited and perhaps a little intimidated. Bormio lies
at 1217m, and Prato, our destination 48 km away on the far side, sits at an
oxygen - rich 913 m. You do the math. OK, I'll to it: that's 1541
m of climbing on the Italian side and 1845 on the Prato side, for a total
of 3386 m of ascending (a bit more than 11000').
The view down the valley towards Bormio before the section of tunnels.
The series of switchbacks above the tunnels, midway up the Bormio
The series of tunnels on the Bormio side. In spots they are
too narrow for two cars. On the descent we had to back up with some
cars when an impasses was reached.
A bit closer view of the same switchbacks as in the photo above. The
waterfall alongside them is spectacular.
Looking back down the tornante; the highest tunnel can just be glimpsed
in the upper right corner of the photo. Above these switchbacks,
the road climbs somewhat more gently along an open, alpine, glacial valley
until it reaches a cirque below the pass. It makes a few switchbacks
to climb up the headwall of the cirque to the pass (but the headwall on
the Bormio side is far less dramatic than the one on the other side).
The tightly folded strata above the road are typical of the Alps and
rare in the Dolomites.
A glimpse down the far side from the pass. Many switchbacks
are blocked from view on the left.
The boys lunch on bratwurst and sauerkraut sandwiches. They were
made by a pair of Swiss vendors who drive the pass every day. The Swiss
bratwurst vendors asked, 'vat do you call "sauerkraut" een America?'
From the far side of the pass you can see this very nice set of hanging
glaciers on the north-facing mountain faces.
Looking back up the valley from Trofoi, which lies just below the
lowest switchbacks. The pass lies to the right; the road climbs
for a few kilometers in the direction this photo was taken then bends to
the right. This picture was taken during the descent to Prato.
This amazing set of switchbacks lies a bit above Trofoi; this photo
was taken during the climb from Prato.
The climb from Prato is very long. It begins with some 7-8%
sections along a beautiful river raging with glacial water, continues
past Trofoi then climbs steeply through the set of switchbacks visible
in the photo above this one. It was there that we met a very tall
Italian who had just been dropped off by his rather attractive girlfriend.
Unfortunately she drove off, so we talked to him instead. After
the steep switchbacks through the woods, the road pops into the open and
offers this sight. At this point we were all beginning to suffer;
the air is noticable thinner, yet 20 tornante, and about 8 or 9 hundred meters
of ascending lie ahead. The road makes a series of asymmetric switchbacks
so that it works its way up the valley towards the headwall in the photo
while climbing up the side of the valley at the same time.
A couple of the assymmetric switchbacks that bring the road up the
valley and up its side can be seen in this view back down the valley.
If you look carefully, you can make out our tall Italian friend on
the uppermost section of road, next to a wall; he is about to make a gentle
left bend as he continues to climb. I took this over my shoulder
as I rode and evidently didn't hold the camera horizontally!
The headwall viewed from further up the ridge (Fred took this photograph
during a hike a few days after our ride).
Fred gains the summit! This was one of Fred's best days. About
150 m of dirt remains on the Stelvio, and Fred is on it. Those booties
Edwin and his grimace conquer the Stelvio.
Sterl, after stopping to take some photos, reaches the top. Is that
The scene at the pass. The Stelvio is very popular with motorcycle
tourists. The descent off the Prato side was actually surprisingly
non-technical, in a sense. It was pretty much just BRAKE, turn, SPRINT,
BRAKE, turn, .... The pavement on the upper switchbacks contained
smooth - even polished - 1 to 2 cm diameter pebbles - a very slippery suface.
The traffic is a bit difficult also. The descent to Bormio
is very nice - the pavement is mostly good and there are varied corners.
The view down towards Bormio from a relatively low point on the climb.
What on Earth does a messy hotel room have to do with the Passo di
Stelvio? My and Sterling's entertainment the evening after the ride
was a bat that flew into our room, right across in front of my face, and
onto my nightstand. Eventually it flopped onto the floor, where I
threw the towel on it and took a picture. All ended well.
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