Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vršič - Passo del Predil

The Julian Alps of northeastern Friuli don't end at the border- they continue into Slovenia.  In fact some of the most spectacular mountains of the range are in Slovenia.  Today I traveled an itinerary through the heart of the Slovenian Julian Alps.  It really is one of the loveliest places I've ever been.

I left home at 6 AM and arrived in Tarvisio (705m) at  8 AM.  The road starts out rolling, without a flat warmup.  Finally after crossing the border the road flattens out and I got some spinning time in.  At Kranjiska Gora (810m), a ski resort, I turned right and headed uphill, into Triglav National Park,  toward the pass of Vršič.  It starts out gently enough, riding through dense red spruce forest  along the tumbling river Piscnica, then steepens and begins a series of 24 switchbacks.  These aren't too bad, varying constantly in steepness.  The one oddity is the switchback ends, which are paved with 5 cm cubes of porphyry stone pavé.  I've ridden old tunnels paved with these in Italy but never tornanti.  After about the 6th one I got used to it- not that bad when climbing but they would definitely put a damper on descending.

Higher up the spruce forest yields to some large open sunny gaps, with incredible views of the surrounding peaks.  Just shy of the pass at 1611 meters, a flagman held us up (there were a few cars and motorcycles waiting).  Finally he waved us on, and the wide flat pass was pretty hectic- a bike race (with some pro teams- I saw some Radobank and Omega Pharma riders/team cars)  and also numerous quadracycles (are these called ATV's in the US?).  I got away from this racket as quickly as possible.

Down the other side of Vršič, toward Trenta the road is equally curvaceous (with another 20-something switchbacks, though the ends are paved with asphalt, not stone).  It's a bit steeper and would be a tougher climb.  Again, eye-popping vistas of Mangart and other surrounding peaks, and the deep gorge of Isonzo and Coritenza Rivers.  At 785m you cross a roiling whitewater stream called Soča, source of the Isonzo River.  So clear and beautiful- I could have stayed and explored for hours.   

It's a long rolling slightly-downhill ride through Trenta and along the river to the junction before Boveč (450m).  Here you turn right on the road for Passo del Predil.  This heads gently uphill along the Coritenza River, up to the beautiful meadows of Log Pod Mangartom (643m).  Saw a little flock of sheep lying under a shade tree, with a cute little black lamb only a few weeks old.

The road continues upward averaging 8% or so to Passo del Predil (1156m).  The road is exposed to the sun much of the way, and rock-faces along the road intensify the heat.  Wouldn't want to try this in July-August in the afternoon.  I was able to do this climb seated (other than standing to stretch), which surprised me as I had been struggling earlier on Vršič.

After re-entering Italy, the descent was blocked for about 15 minutes by some paving work, so another waiting crowd of German motorcyclists, cars, tour buses, etc.  Lovely view of Lago del Predil on the way down  Then a long mostly straight downhill through the massive scar of an old open pit iron mine along the river Slizza.  Probably the biggest heap of mine tailings I've ever seen- a man-made mountain that stretches for miles.  Finally reached the car at 1 PM and made it home by 3 PM.  

Gotta try this ride in the opposite direction soon- the scenery would seem all new, climbing where I descended before and vice versa.  And then there's the ascent of Monte Mangart....

Porphyry stone pavement of the 24 tornanti- slow to a crawl when descending

Monte Mangart (2676m)

Clear water of Soča river

Soča river with Monte Mangart far above in background

Beautiful meadows of Log Pod Mangartom, surrounded on all sides by peaks

Looking back down Coritenza river valley

Old Austrian fortress at Predil

Mountain backdrop to the Predil fortress

Gradient from Kranjiska Gora to Vršič

Gradient from Boveč to Passo del Predil

8.5% average grade up Vršič

8% average grade up Passo Del Predil

Satellite foto Kranjiska Gora to Vršič

Vršič to Soča river

Boveč to Passo del Predil

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