Another double-header today; first Arta Terme (506 meters) to Sella Valcalda (958 meters). Then the main event- Sella Valcalda to Monte Cristis (1934 meters).
Sella Valcalda was the warm-up for Monte Zoncolan in the 2010 Giro. It isn't bad, but has a healthy 3km stretch of 10-12% toward the top. I climbed standing on the steeper parts to save strength for the ascent to come.
After riding around a bit to cool down at Ravascletto, the ski resort at Sella Valcalda, I headed up the big slope toward Monte Crostis. It's a narrow mountain lane through wonderfully shady fir forest. The gradient dithers around 8-10% mostly, with two stretches of 13% about 1 kilometer long each. So the average grade works out to 9.1% for 10 km, taking you from 958 meters up to 1870 meters. It's strenuous but I took it easy and stood often to avoid lower back strain. Didn't seem as bad as my guidebook made it sound "Salita di estrema difficolta".
Around 1650 meters the road exits the shady fir forest and enters a grass covered alpine zone. A bit warm in the sun (even at 10 AM) but not bad. After some long switchbacks in the open, the pavement ends abruptly at 1870 meters. I read through several Italian cycling forums and opinion was divided on whether the rocky, unpaved "strada panoramica delle vette" was cyclable on a roadbike. The first stretch certainly was ok- tightly packed and mostly small red stone chips. There were some quite rough rocky stretches too. My advice is don't bring fancy wheels or tires or a bike you don't want the paint chipped. Other than that you'll be fine- I didn't fall on 6 km of this road, though I did a lot of standing and changing my line to avoid the worst stone piles.
At one point I came across a man and a cute black and white spaniel. I heard a loud whistling, like when someone puts 2 fingers in their mouth and blows hard. I figured it was the guy calling the dog, but no. I looked toward the source of the shrieking sound, and about 40 meters upslope was a big marmot standing on a boulder. I noticed the dog wasn't cooperating with the man, and I asked if the dog was scared of the marmot. The man said no, it was his friend's dog and wasn't used to him. So he put the dog on a leash for a walk up the grassy slopes. I pointed out the marmot and the man, whose vision was better than mine, noted it had a little juvenile marmot with it. So I'm presuming the mother was trying to scare off the dog to protect her baby.
Eventually the strada sterrata joined the paved road coming up from Tualis and Comeglians. This is the highest paved road in Friuli, at 1934 meters. There is a sheep and goat farm in the meadow below so you can hear the babies calling. To the west, beautiful views of the mountains toward Cortina ( though quite hazy and partly cloudy by now). It was cool looking down at the little towns along the Val Degana.
Very steep curvy descent to Tualis at 890 meters. This route would be a harder climb- maybe I'll do it someday. At Tualis I took the cliff-hanging road via Salars to Ravascletto, then down the hill to Arta Terme.
Great ride- do it on your mountain bike or a rugged road bike. You won't be disappointed.
I'm afraid many of my fotos were unusable as the sweat vapor in my jersey pocket seems to have steamed up the inside of the lens- I couldn't wipe it off. It apparently dried off on the sunny strada sterrata. Still quite hazy skies today- my apologies.
Looking down the forested slopes from strada panoramica delle vette