Saturday, September 3, 2011

Giro di Lago del Vajont

North of here in the mountains there's a strange lake.  It has the fourth tallest dam in the world (262 meters), a little pond a kilometer upstream from the dam, and in between, a mountain sitting where the lake is supposed to be.  In 1963 when they filled up the lake, it undermined the base of steep Monte Toc (1921m) to the south, and half of the mountain collapsed into the lake.  The water was instantly displaced and killed over 2,000 people in surrounding villages and downstream at Longarone, on the Piave River.

I've driven or ridden many times along the main road on the north shore of the lake, but always wondered about the little villages I can see on the opposite shore.  Today I decided to check it out.  After the easy climb up Valcellina to Cimolais, and the brief ascent over Passo San Osvaldo (827m), I arrived in the valley at the top of Lago del Vajont.  I rode along the north shore by Erto and on toward Casso.  There was a turn off to the left marked Pineda.  It climbs across the huge mass of rock and dirt which split off from Monte Toc, along the heavily-eroded hillsides where the surging water gouged tortuous channels into the earth.  Then finally it reaches 800m, begins to descend and enters another world.

Instead of sun beating down on scrubby trees and arid grass, you're now immersed in cool green forest as you descend steeply to Pineda, a small group of farmhouses.   Then you cross a high bridge over a gorge with white water stream.  I guess this would all have been underwater if the lake had remained.  You ride through several unlit tunnels, luckily short or with side openings to admit light.  Eventually you arrive at Liron, a semi-level location on the hillside with meadows.  As I approached I noted an older man on a bike balancing a 20-foot long skinny tree on his shoulder (maybe 4 inches in diameter at the fat end) while pedaling along the twisty narrow lane.  By the time I caught up he had already dismounted and was carrying the tree uphill to the back of his house.  Those are some amazing bike handling skills.

After more forest riding you arrive at Prada, another big meadowy area overlooking the gorge.  Continuing, you ride a hundred meters or so of dirt and gravel, then the pavement resumes before reaching Marzanna.  You begin to descend and the road becomes permanently strada sterrata, though no problem even with 23mm tires.  Along here I encountered the only other cyclist on the giro di Lago del Vajont, a pretty girl on a mountain bike.  After some more short tunnels you arrive at a modern concrete bridge over Torrente Vajont.  Took some pictures here and after a brief climb out, arrived back on the main north shore highway east of Erto.  Easy ride home from here.

Definitely want to try this again, possibly the other way round.  It would be a great workout climbing the section near Pineda.

Remnant of the lake, viewed from atop the
landslip which now fills the basin

Close up of lake remnant, with mountains
above Cimolais in background  

Tributary entering from the south,
viewed from high bridge after Pineda

Meadow at Liron

Big meadows at Prada

The eroded gorge of Torrente Vajont
before it enters the lake basin

Torrente Vajont tumbling westward toward the lake

The town of Erto on the cliffside to the right

Monte Toc (1921m), with shining rockfaces marking
the landslip's origin  

Satellite view of Giro di Lago del Vajont

Left- Passo Sant Osvaldo, center- hilltop above Pineda


  1. Your pictures are beautiful as usual! I got a little dizzy going thru this post!