The Transalpine Adventure Part 2 – Mountain-Biking from Passo Stelvio to Lago di Garda
Updated: Sep 13
The Sixth Day
After sleeping well in the Tibet-House at almost 3000 meters of elevation and a good breakfast, we set out for our next adventure. We had set our alarms extra early, and for a particular reason. If you want to ride the "Goldseweeg – Trail" that we planned on using, you need to enter the trail before 09:00 am. This is a straightforward solution to the problem of hikers and bikers sharing the same path. And it was especially necessary for this one, as the Goldseeweg is immensely popular among both bikers and hikers. So this simple separation through different time slots works well as a solution to resolve the conflict between those two factions.
After riding through the Hotels complexes next to the Stelvio Ski Lift, and past the still closed souvenir shops we had to best a very short uphill. From the highest point of the pass road, we had to carry our bikes uphill towards the Dreisprachenspitze, literally the "Mountain of Three Languages". It is named for the border between Switzerland, as well as the two Italien regions of Lombardia and South Tyrol intersecting at that point. Here there is a little refuge close to the mountain top, as well as the start of the Goldseeweg. Also by turning around here, we had an absolutely stunning view all over the glacier behind us, as well as the Ortler Mountain Range.
From here on out we started our descent on one of the best trails I have ever ridden to this day. The Goldseeweg flows along the mountainside like a river. Especially in the beginning, the whole thing is much broader than your typical alpine trail, allowing a little more room to manoeuvre. It also did not get to steep for at least the first section, allowing us to practically surf along the mountainside. We only stopped on one or two occasions, when we had short snowfields, nested in particular shady areas of the mountain, covering the trail. In these instances, we had to carry our bikes a few meters, but it all just added to the experience of the track.
Now there was one thing about the trail you should know. The whole thing is actually completely counter to our general direction. In fact, descending the follow-up trails after the Goldseeweg would lead us into Prad am Stilfser Joch, where we had started the whole ascent just the day prior. We had planned for this. Because we did not want to miss this awesome trail, we had the brilliant idea to cycle back up the Stelvio a second time and spent another night at the top. But after cycling up the mountain just the day prior and with five days of heavy climbing already in our legs, we realised that it would be impossible for us to ascent the Stelvio a second time. Especially if we wanted to walk away still strong enough to complete the rest of our tour. So the evening prior we had ordered a bike taxi to drive us up the mountain to our hotel. These bike-taxis are surprisingly affordable (We paid 30 € per person, it would be cheaper if you are more than two), and are best pre-ordered the day prior.
This also meant that we had plenty of time for a relatively short tour. And this left us plenty of time to enjoy some things we usually had to sacrifice for our progress. Having some nice talks with other mountain bikers, for example. Or even: A lengthy lunch break, with a short nap on a grassy, soft, mountainside included. Pure luxury, I tell you.
The day progressed as we descended, and our skills progressed as well. On the lower sections of the Goldseeweg, it got steeper, narrower and the technical difficulty increased. We both pushed our limits quite hard that day. It was especially motivating for me, because it was the first trail I got by on without plenty of dismounting, and it actually showed me how much my skills had progressed, just within these few days.
It was actually shortly before our lunch break that we finally got low enough for the first up-close look at some trees we had on this day. It was also soon after we had crossed the treeline that the Goldseeweg concluded in a forest road. From here it was only a short distance towards the Panoramico Trail. This trail actually rises again, for about 200 meters of elevation up the mountain, but is quite ridable and flowy for long sections. Only two times we had to push our bikes uphill because it had gotten too steep. And thus we reached the highest point of the Panoramico, where we took our aforementioned nap.
From here on out the descent to Prad am Stilfser Joch can only be described an up and down in the most literal sense. There are long downhill sections interrupted by long, but not quite as long, uphill sections. Those are mostly ridable, although in some parts either to technical or too steep. And to push your bike up those sections, as they are basically just hiking trails, with the fact added that you are now low enough on the mountain to feel the Italian summer heat.
Shortly before we had reached Prad am Stilfser Joch, we discovered a trail, with some kickers built on them. Here we had quite an incident. As I was following Clemens close behind on down the trail, and over a jump. And then the path in front of us was suddenly blocked by a fallen tree. I had so much speed that despite braking hard, I skidded along the trail and hit Clemens's bike in the back. Not fast, but fast enough to fall over to the side. And while falling over, I grabbed the first thing in my reach: Clemens's arm. So in the end, we both fell over into the branches and needles of a fallen pine.
Anyways we reached the town without further incidents and with time to spare. So we took the time to treat us with some beer and ice cream at a local café. And from there we got driven up the mountain. While cheering at the bikers, we passed on our uphill. We felt that we had earned the drive, as well as the right to cheer the previous day.
The Seventh Day
We started our seventh day the exact same way we had our sixth: With a portage up to the Dreisprachenspitze. Only this time, we did not turn right, towards the Italian, but left towards the Swiss side of the mountain. It was a lovely morning, with small clouds climbing up the mountainside below us, like flocks of fluffy sheep. Above us, the sky was clear and blue, and the weather forecast looked promising. After crossing the border into Switzerland, we biked down the very first trail of the day. This, compared to its bigger brother on the Italien side, short trail, would bring us down to the Umbrail Pass, some 300 meters below. The path was build in a similar vein to the Goldseeweg. Which means to say, that it was broad, easy on the grade, without more substantial technical difficulties and all in all just great fun to ride. And we had some fun while throwing our bikes around the tight corners and speeding down some long and flowy sections.
We reached the highest point of the Umbrail Pass, where we crossed into Italian territory again, and got another reminder as to why the European Union is actually great. Riding this trail might be a headache without the Schengen Treaty. From here on, we actually had to climb uphill again, towards the Broccetta di Forcola, a mountain ridge opposite to the hotel we had slept in. The trail leading us there rose for almost the total height we had just descended. But as it was equally as easy on the gradient, it was actually ridable for most of its sections. Still, no day of this tour was complete without pushing our bikes up some mountain trails, in this case, the last leg up the actual ridge. There we met another mountain biker, also on his way to cross the Alps. But while we had slept at an expensive hotel at the mountain top, he had chosen a cheaper one, in the valley. He had actually started his ascent of the Stelvio at 2 am the same morning. Just in time to meet us, at around 8:30 am here in front of the next epically long downhill trail of our tour.
Now at this point in, all the descriptions of trails probably start to get a little samey, and even while riding them I now sometimes had a feel of déjà vu. But that is more a testament to how long our chosen route actually was then to the quality of the trails. And still, even if the days slowly started to blend together, I could basically see my skill grow before my very own eyes with every new trail. And that was a truly awesome feeling. Anyways, after reaching the conclusion of our track at a gravel access road, we found out that those can be fun for mountain bikers as well. First, it was quite a steep and fast-paced descent, and secondly, there had been concrete drainages build into the trail at regular intervals. And their form provided us with a small, fast-paced jump track.
We also got to know the harsher side of gravel roads, as we had our one and only puncture of the entire transalpine tour and this stretch of gravel. We had planned for this and brought spare inner tubes, so after just a quick fix, we were off and away again. Now close to the town of Bormio, we reconnected to the road again. From here on out it was basically all uphill again towards the city of St. Catarina Valfura. Although what an uphill it was. There was a perfectly good road leading there, but since I had chosen mountain-bike on the komoot app, it thought to navigate us over some crazy steep forest roads hidden on the mountainside. Now in pure numbers of elevation gain, there was probably not a lot of difference in the two, but for a fact, we had a very steep and challenging climb, while the normal road just gently sloped up the valley down below us. And this is why you should really check your Komoot Tracks against other sources, especially if riding in unfamiliar places. This is a lesson, I had to learn the hard way throughout our adventure.
We actually got lucky with the weather again. We arrived at our hotel for the night, shortly before a thunderstorm hit. We had quite a joke about our luck with narrowly avoided storms before we went to bed that night.
The Ninth Day
So let me start the ninth day with the big topic. Some of my more attentive readers might notice that an eighth day is absent from this text. For better or for worse, I have decided not to share the events of this particular day. Now let me just explain why. We did something stupid, reckless and to be quite honest incredible dangerous: I took a day off. Both my knees had been hurting since our first ascent of the Stelvio. But since then it had only gotten worse. And on this day I could not ignore it any longer, and since we had this hotel booked for two days anyway, I decided to stay at said hotel. And now, we get to the stupid, dangerous and reckless part: Despite this Clemens had decided to go mountain biking alone. The leg he went on, can, without doubt, be considered the single most difficult, and most dangerous stage of our tour, even if you do not think about the fact, that he was alone. Due to the difficulty, and the extra care needed because he was going solo, Clemens took quite a long time to complete his journey. In fact, he arrived back at our hotel just a few minutes before the set time limit, at which I was to inform the mountain rescue.
So all and everything I would like to share from this particular day is the anxiety I felt while watching the clock tick closer to that fateful time. May this serve as a warning to you: Do not go alone into the wilderness. Do not be stupid like us.
Anyways so now let me set the scene for our ninth day. Starting out from our hotel, we cycled up the Passo Garvia, in what I can only describe as the second most relaxed 800 – meter climb we had during this tour. Maybe it was the fact that I had rested legs, or perhaps the fact that my knees were no longer hurting so badly, or perhaps just the incredibly soft gradient. Whatever the reason, it almost felt like flying up the mountain road, and the only thing that could have improved the situation would have been the ability to ride this excellent piece of a mountain road on an actual road bike. I, for one, love me right uphill while cycling, and this was one of the better ones.
But all good things come at a cost. In this case, we paid with poor decisions. When we started our descent from the top of the mountain pass, we found our planned trail to be long abandoned. Some way-markings could still be made out, but for the most part, we just rode over grassy mountainsides with no clear direction as to where to go. We tried for a while, but more than once ended up in an untraversable field of giant boulders. So after some time, we decided to just call it quits and carry uphill a few meters, and reconnect to the mountain road just above us. There we rode downhill again until we got to the second trailhead of our day. Only to not even find something we could just remotely identify as a trail.
So with the last trail still fresh in our minds, we decided to not even attempt this one and instead use the road. Well not our brightest moment, because as we turned to look back after descending half the mountain on the road, we suddenly noticed a perfectly good trail running down the hill just a few hundred meters away from where we had guessed. But by now the weather started to worsen, and so we decided against cycling up again. Only during the last few meters of our descent towards Pezzo, we found a short and straightforward trail that in no way made up for what we had probably missed. And to add insult to injury, it started to rain shortly after we had reached Pezzo. From here it was another climb to the tiny mountain village of Case di Viso. And while we climbed, it started to thunder all around us. As we arrived at the hamlet, we realised that there was basically a singular storm cloud caught against the very mountain we wanted to cross over. It took us quite a bit of back and forth, but we finally decided to take the safe approach and abort our attempt.
Instead, we set our eyes on the Passo del Tonale, which turned out to be an entirely road-bound affair. For the entire day, we would ride no more trails, but we did not think much of it. Because after crossing the Tonale, we had reached the Val di Sol the valley of the Noce River, a place we have very fond memories of from previous kayaking trips. So we held our spirits high by recounting old stories, and also by the simple fact that we were on the penultimate day of our tour. And we reached our goal, the town of Dimaro in quite high spirits and ready to give it one last push the following day.
The Tenth Day
We started the last day of our Transalpine Adventure in as high spirits as we had not done since the first day. I have to admit that since leaving the Stelvio, I had felt like the whole thing started to drag. Do not get me wrong, the trails were great, the landscape beautiful and the people we met nice. But at a certain point, all of our clothes were dirty and smelled terrible. And despite multiple attempts to wash them in the Hotel showers, the whole situation never really improved. At this point on, we had eaten great breakfasts and dinners but had sustained us mainly on the exact same energy bars and energy gels. And if we felt them a little wired tasting at the beginning of our journey, now we could barely stomach them. Also, not having any privacy for ten days at a time can be a little taxing.
So we were super happy and stoked to be now finally on the last leg of our tour. And our good mood could not be brought down, by the first climb of the day—a brutally steep forest road towards Madona di Campiglio. We pushed our bikes uphill for quite some distance, since both of us had problems with our knees at that point, and could no longer produce even a fraction of the pedalling power we had on our first day. But we managed to get uphill anyways, cycling on this gravel-surfaced road through a deep gorge, under the shadow of the Dolomite Mountains.
We passed a few sings, alerting us the presence of a bear in the area, but we met nothing of the sort. After we had passed through Madona di Campiglio, we had the last trail of our tour. It was a steep and technical affair, but at this point, we were well prepared to mage it. After reconnection to the road, close to the town of Pinzolo, it was over with the trails.
From now on, we would only have to cycle over asphalt surfaced roads. Or better yet asphalt surfaced cycleways. Because for the next fifty kilometres we pretty much only followed one of those long-distance cycleways. I have praised the Italians in the first chapter of this blog for their long-distance cycling infrastructure, but I will now do it again. Germany could really learn a thing or two in this regard.
However, I also can not gloss over the fact that I gravely misread my GPS, which lead to some additional kilometres, and extra elevation we had to complete. However, it came at the reward of visiting the mountain village of Stenico, where we enjoyed a short lunch break in a local café. From here on out it was only a single climb left, ten kilometres, 400 meters of elevation over the Passo del Ballino until we would finally be able to see our goal down in the valley below. Clemens was in high spirits, singing and loving the ride. After some time, I had to fall back, as I could not bear it. I, for one, had reached my lowest point on the first few meters of this climb and was only fighting with my mind and body, to get over this last challenge.
Anyways we did accomplish it, and with the sight of the Lago di Garda in the distance below us, I will leave you to it. This tour was the second Transalp I had ever completed, the first one using a Mountain Bike. And looking back I would not have done it any other way. I have some other alpine crossings already in mind, although these are probably going to be a little shorter on the number of days.