Thursday, October 7, 2010

Passo Cason di Lanza da Pontebba

The climb from Pontebba to Passo Cason di Lanza is a mystery- I've read it's unrideable on a road bike, the road is closed, etc.   But that's out of date information- it's very rideable, but be ready- it's steep!

I got a late start- the front tire was flat (I checked it a few days ago and it was fine).  So with the long drive to Moggio,  I didn't start riding until 1115.  I planned to ride up the main highway SS13 to Pontebba, climb to the passo, then return to Moggio via Sella Cereschiatis.  The ride up SS13 was great- perfectly paved wide road, with a gentle upgrade along Fiume Fella through beautiful mountains.  Traffic is light because most vehicles use the autostrada.

At Pontebba the climb proper begins.  It's a wolf in sheep's clothing- starts out as a lovely lane through green meadows along Torrente Pontebba, with rustic mountain houses, waterfalls, surrounded by mountains.  The road eventually gets a bit steeper and climbs along the side of the gorge above the white water.  At around 900 meters, everything changes.  A series of long twisting tornanti, many in excess of 20%, carry the road steeply up to 1400 meters.  It was one of the toughest climbs I've done- standing in the pedals trying to breathe deeply enough to continue, the only chance to sit and catch my breath at the next 180-degree turn.  The surrounding forest is dense larch, fir, and some colorful Autumn hardwood trees.  The only sound is the white water far below in the gorge.  To add to the difficulty, there are metal drainage grates across the road every few hundreds meters.  For each, you must angle your approach to avoid having a tire fall through the grate.  Worse still, the metal is damp from the clouds and mist, so the rear wheel slips, disrupting your momentum and threatening to send you tumbling.  The gradient finally lessens a bit in the meadows surrounding Casarotta around 1400 meters.  Then comes the final push at 10-13% on broken pavement up to the pass at 1560 meters.

I stopped briefly and quickly got quite cold, so donned my Windtex jacket and headed down.  I descended cautiously because of the grates, several very bad slumps of the roadbed (6-8 inch vertical drops all the way across the road), small streams crossing the pavement, and a large rock landslide that's had a narrow path plowed through it, but is still very rough.  Other than these the pavement is quite good except near the summit.

At Pontebba I noted the time (1415) and cancelled the climb over Sella Cereschiatis.  Instead I rode as fast as I could down SS13 to Moggio, arriving 45 minutes later.  Felt great cruising down that steady grade.

If you get a chance, ride this.  The scenery is wonderful and the over-20% stretches are a serious workout.  You won't be disappointed.

Waterfall down in the valley above Studena Bassa 

Another waterfall further up the valley

Looking up toward the pastures of Cason di Lanza (1100m)

Dolomite spires, meadows above the valley

Autumn colors above Casarotta (1400m) 

More Autumn color on the north side of the valley

The gradient showing 20% stretches

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