Italy with a difference
Follow six friends at Bike Mountaineering adventure tours in the region of Valle d’Aosta, Italy.
By: Florian Strigel
Location: Valle d’Aosta – ITALY
Also featured in Issue #8 | March 2012
Me and Tobi are sitting in the car heading for Bernardino Pass to Italy and expecting three days of biking in one of the most spectacular Alpine landscapes one can imagine. To reach our destination we have to negotiate massive traffic chaos in the Milan Area and we have to cross 30 Km of building sites with no road signs. To make things even better we are referring to a road atlas from 1996. Eventually, we ended up in the red light district of Milan instead of the highway to Aosta. Somehow, we managed to locate the highway at night and met up with Claude, Lev, Hannes Breckel of the Bro’s and Dave in our lodge. We ended up completing our crew that night.
Next morning we started with a good breakfast and a 2000m climb on which we had to carry our bikes along. We reached the start point of the tour by car. The drive was wonderful, through small winding mountain roads and ended in a large parking lot located next to a waterfall thundering into the valley.
After getting that little boost we reached an area entirely covered with vertically stacked stones. We were getting slow because of the strong sun but it got more comfortable around the 2000m mark when the terrain became level again. Unfortunately, it was only for a short time before the steep climb started again. Our group was a mix of fit people, who were fast on the climb, and the slow ones who were taking it easy. Approximately an hour later we arrived at a rocky wall where a group of hikers were descending and could not believe their eyes after seeing us with our bikes in that area.
Soon we reached a small plateau at almost 3000m leaving the vegetation zone behind and facing a massive rocky landscape full of glacier remains. The area was full of debris surrounded by vertical cliffs and a hill which dips to a mountain hut in the Italian Alpine Club. We were welcomed by a group of friendly and joyful people at the lodge who could not believe their eyes, watching us in that place with our bikes. The bikes were being observed and photos were being clicked by curious people and we were offered tea. We were definitely the first group of people with bikes in that area.
Without wasting any time, we took off to complete the remaining 500m climb ahead of us. The air was noticeably thinner as the altitude increased. We finally reached the summit ridge leaving 1500m behind us and were exposed to a stunning panoramic view from the ridge. The scenery was breathtaking with huge ice-covered rock walls and glaciers snaking down into the valley. We were almost at the 4000m summit when we heard a loud crash as few blocks of ice were falling into the valley.
We started preparing for our departure by riding the trail we had been dreaming of. The trail flows through a very large slope falling down in the valley packed with many perfect turns which were not too tight, making us surf beautifully by doing nose-wheelies. We soon entered the rocky section where trails were full of action in the high Alpine area. After discovering a big drop in the middle, our stuntman ‘Lev’ dared to attempt the first jump and joined us later as we kept on moving and shredding as we realized that sun set is not far away. The view was impressive all the way to our cabin.
After reaching the hut we got pats on the shoulder by the guests who were watching us the whole way with their binoculars and they tried to express their excitement in English which was not their language. Unfortunately, we had to say good bye to the wonderful people at the hut as we were running short of time and had to continue to raid the remaining 1500m of descent before us.
We were enjoying surfing our bikes on a hilly field with some small jumps until we reached a climb section which was not so easy to negotiate and we were extremely cautious about it as a fall could have been very fatal. The trail was flowing again and we entered beautiful meadows full of flowers and rode smoothly from each curve to pushing the bike over a small hill. This fun moment suddenly slowed down when we entered the last entry section to the valley and the light was getting dim and a herd of cows became nervous by our presence in their trail. We carried our bikes carefully without disturbing the herd and entered the technical terrain again. The boulders on the trail were crossing each other making our ride super exciting. We finally entered on the cart track on which bikes could be fast and for some reason I was amazed how well the tires were holding up at 1 bar. We spent the night at a refuge and got ready for next day.
It was not at all warm after we woke up at 900m. The scene for our climb was very inviting with a massive waterfall thundering into the valley and glaciers covered peaks rising in the background and we craved to ride down the scenery which was perfect for a postcard. Later we reached the rocky desert where we saw a tent with and a couple wondering why would we want to climb the glaciers with our bikes on the back.
We were following the trail packed with boulders that lead over a ridge and were amazed by a breath taking view – a valley next to us immersed in a wonderful light breaking through the dark like an explosion from clouds. We wish we could stay longer to enjoy the scenery, but we had to descend down in the light. As evening was approaching we were enjoying riding downhill until another herd of cows blocked our way. Claude and Tobi ended up moving slowly through the herd but the cows became nervous and chased us for a while. The group soon decided to shoot out from their territory and let them enjoy grazing.
After this action-packed escape the trail became very challenging as it went right through a boulder field and to make it even better the grass was all over the trail camouflaging the debris. We had to make a lot of effort to complete this section which was fun in the end and we wished it lasted longer. We decided to break up into two groups – guys with a lamp and guys with a lamp in a backpack that used the natural glowing stones as trail guide. The group following the rocks and stones were having more fun compared to the group locating the trail with their lamp mounted on helmets. Around nightfall we got to a village and were totally satisfied with ourselves and a broad grin on our faces and looked back at the 1700m finest downhill we ever did.
The weather was in our favor on the third day. However it was very windy and we had to reach around 3300m after having our breakfast. The trail starts with a very steep technical climb so we started the day quickly and were soon covered in sweat. We continued climbing a rock band holding the same rope secured to the first passage. It looks difficult but can be climbed with little efforts. After completing the climb it’s time to hit the super narrow trail which is approximately 2 tires wide and full of loose sand and gravel. Most of the trail was extremely difficult and most of the sections were not safe for riding. We completed the remaining climb and left our bikes just below the summit because of the narrow ledge. We observed the massive descent in front of us while standing on the summit.
We geared up for the descent after a quick snack break. The descent started with a very technical section which has a vertical frightening deep fall down to the valley and we avoided taking unnecessary risk and entered a huge stone box where you have to go over boulders and slabs. Suddenly we noticed the ground has become soft and slippery and we had hard time controlling our bikes as the wheels were slipping and bouncing away. We managed to complete the section with a lot of concentration.
The following section was full of flow and offered us mixture of small and large jumps and to make the scene looks amazing – on our background Mt Rosa Massif was illuminated by the sun setting down beautifully. The trail was a combination of technical, long and steep sections and we were impressed how our bike tires were performing. The trail winded its way down through a dense forest and we rushed down through plants and could not see what was coming next except surprises.
We finished our ride into the woods when it started turning dark and soon reached the village in the valley. We spent our remaining days with a proud grin and said our final goodbye to one of the most impressive Alpine regions we ever explored.