Today, I am taking you to one epic trail and amazing cycling experience through Passo del Bernina between Italy and Switzerland. This pass at 2,328 m (7,638 ft.) is the place of beautiful views and untouched nature, wild and stunning at every step. Bear with me for this voyage, especially if you are planning to ride or hike this area.
As I usually say - epic days starts with epic disasters. This one confirmed that rule. In previous days we had bad weather, few major problems with our equipment and one crash which almost put one of us out of any further actions.
We managed to ride through ice cold rain and blistering wind, we succeeded to get some hard-to-find parts for our bikes and our friend had a lot of luck to escape 10 meters drop into the canyon with only a few scratches and bruises. In the morning, while having a coffee in front of our small camp, we comment that days were surprisingly challenging and that we really, really hope that we have seen all bad luck we could.
That morning, we decided to do something easy and slow, just to break bad luck and gain some confidence for days to come. We were planning some long rides in following days, very complicated and demanding, so we really needed to settle down and regroup, or our vacation will be partially ruined. Climbing one 'small hill' next to our camp and having coffee on its top seemed a good way of gaining positive vibes again. A decision was made - we are going to climb Passo del Bernina.
While preparing my bike, I remembered that I didn't like how it responded in some of the previous rides. I gain some weight and my rear spring was bottoming too much, causing me to feel uncomfortable and out of control. Problem easily fixable by adding some air to the shock absorber. It is basically a 2-minute process of connecting the high-pressure pump to the valve and adding some compressed air to the shock absorber. An easy and straight procedure I performed a million times before.
I connected the pump to the intake valve and pushed pump... big deafening bang made me almost deaf and I found myself sitting in the dirt on my bottom in the complete shock... my bike suspension decided to explode. Afer a few minutes of swearing in complete silence, since I could not hear anything, I found the problem - sealing of air chamber broke and let 180 bars of compressed air in one very noisy second. Damn!
The bad news was that my rear shock absorber was broken. The good news was that repair was an easy task, all I needed was a new seal. The bad news was that I didn't have one. And the good news was that my bike was bought from a pro rider. It had the top of the range components. Rear and front suspension came with something like 'lifetime warranty'. Not really written, but the manufacturer didn't like when some of those suspensions are broken - they consider it a very bad reputation.
After finding a local repair shop, I enjoyed some fine Italian coffee, while few guys repaired shock absorber in front of me. I had the impression that they considered me an ex-pro rider and I did nothing to change their opinion. Why should I?!? I had treatment of royalty, and they had something to talk about - an older pro rider was here and we fixed its older pro bike in no time. Everybody was happy.
After having excellent coffee in local Fox repair shop, my hearing was much better and we were finally ready for that ride. In meantime, the weather decided to change from bad to worst, but I really didn't care. We all needed something to break bad luck, and we decided that Bernina is the place to do it. Later than planned, we climb our bikes and went into the mountain. Passo del Bernina - here we are.
The boring part of the ride was reaching Albergo Ospizio Bernina - hotel and restaurant at 2309 m. We decided that we will have a tea there after the ride. Our path from that point was a huge circle around Piz Minor, 3049 meters high Swiss mountain. Without hesitations, we went into the rocky mountain path and technical part of the climb. The first point to reach was small lake Lej Minor. Some 250 meters of climb in less than 6 km distance was hard, demanding, very technical from time to time, but really fulfilling.
My shock absorber worked better than before. Other bikes were moving without any new problems, for a change. The weather was a shitty combination of light rain and heavy clouds. Typical weather in the mountain. I could not find any difference between riding through light rain and riding through clouds. I was wet and sweety. My knees were hurting and crying for rest and my cyclo-computer was warning me that I should not exceed my max heartbeat anymore. In short - my mind was singing, my heart was full, I was smiling and happy as a man can be. Perfect.
We reach Lej Minor, a small lake on our path within an hour and it was a time to rest. This is the central point for many hiking and biking trails in that area. If you are visiting this lake, you will have a lot of options where to go next. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that area is very geologically alive and that your path may be partially damaged by avalanches and flash floods from melted snow. Especially if you are planning to ride a bicycle.
As we started our descent to the Diavolezza cable car station, we were witnesses what those geological activities can do to a nice mountain path. It was not so nice anymore. A very fast downhill track, once perfect for a nice and enjoyable ride, now was a rocky mess of boulders and crevasses impossible to ride. Most of our travel to Diavolezza was pushing and carrying bikes instead of smooth ride. A few attempts to ride that route ended with some minor crashes and few fresh bruises.
But, I must say that this part of the track was pure beauty. Rocky mountains around us, heavy clouds, small lakes and bumpy road which lead us to the green valley full of cows with a distant view of legendary red Bernina Express train was a pure joy. Our descent to Diavolezza cable car station at the 2093 m altitude was very enjoyable. Diavolezza cable car can take you to 2973 meters high peak of Munt Pers where you can enjoy some of the most beautiful views this part of the world has to offer. Keep that in mind when you are planning a visit to this area.
Our trail climbed from Diavolezza cable car station up through the mountain, following small alpine river named Ova da la Val da Fain, which is not actually a real name... more like an explanation since as far as I understood it means "small stream which flows through a fain valley". This is exactly how this area looks. Pure enjoyment, if you can forget that you need to climb again to the 2500 meters to reach Alp la Stretta and Passo del Fieno passage on the very Swiss-Italian border. There, almost at the top, we reached small rest house, where we finally warm ourselves, rested for few minutes and refreshed.
Our host was a little surprised when cyclists emerged from clouds. With the temperature of just a few degrees above zero and evening on the way, he didn't expect anyone. But he very soon found his grip and offered us excellent apple pie and hot choco milk. While smiling at my comments that I feel like I am in Switzerland, he informed us that Passo del Fieno, a path we are planning to ride, is not really... possible to ride...
Just a few minutes later we found what he meant when he said to us 'good luck' while we were leaving. The trail is a narrow path on the very edge of the steep cliff. When I say narrow, I mean - really narrow. When I said steep cliff, I mean - very steep 100 meters drop cliff. But do not worry, for most of the path, you have chain and cables to secure yourself to the rock and not to fall down to the glory. Which is very useful if you do not have a bicycle. If you have one... well make sure that you decide to throw damn thing at first sigh of losing the grip.
But, let me say that it is worth. We were there at sunset and view was completely stunning. While you descending to the Forcola Pass, you can enjoy some of the most beautiful views of the Alpe Vago valley and surrounding peaks Piz la Stretta and Piz Paradisin. Even though descend may sound and look scary at the first moment, it was enjoyable as something so thrilling can be. The path will take you to the Passo del Forcola at 2.315 m, which is the official border pass between Swiss and Italy. Actually, the path from Passo del Fieno to Passo del Forcola very precisely follows border between these two countries.
We were at Forcola after the sunset. Exhausted, frozen, wet and hungry we had another decision to make - climb to the Passo del Bernina via regular paved road or climb through the mountain to the lake Lej Minor where we were a few hours earlier. While we watched a race between one Ferrari and Lamborghini through the valley, we turned on our lights and went into the mountain. Simple choice.
With lights of our lamps, we reached Lej Minor late that evening, and end of our trail at Albergo Ospizio Bernina one hour later. It was almost midnight and too late for that tea we planned at the beginning of the travel. Our circle around Bernina was about 26 km long. It took us almost 5 hours of moving time to complete it - an hour and a half more than we planned. A total time spent on the trail was more than 8 hours. Total ascent was 900 meters.
More important than all those numbers are views we enjoyed and bad luck we ended on this trail. I am telling you, from that day further, everything was perfect and we fully enjoyed rest of our alpine vacation... except for the fact that I fractured one rib few days before we left... But that was just me being cocky, to be honest. One day I will probably tell you a story about that broken rib, but until then - enjoy the beauty of Passo del Bernina.
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