Monday, July 9, 2012

Pale di San Martino Loop

Pale di San Martino (2982m) first caught my eye while descending Passo Duron toward Agordo last year.  With its spires and towers and sheer cliffs it seemed like a craggy castle from Lord of the Rings floating in the sky above Agordo.  Then I read several accounts of rides around the Pale, similar to Sella Ronda's circling around Gruppo Sella.  When I looked closer at the climbs I realized riding it clockwise would be easier than counterclockwise, so I chose the easy route.

I started by warming up from Cencenighe (774m) toward Agordo.  The long busy Listolade tunnel is on the route, but they've retained the original road along the river bypassing the tunnel (just watch for falling rocks).  At Agordo (611m) turn right toward Passo Cereda.  You're going to Forcella Aurine first, but the 2 passes are close together, like Falzarego and Valparola, so they just list one.  The climb is very gentle and an excellent warm up.  Gorgeous views of little villages with flowers in window boxes, rolling green meadows, and towers of the Pale high above.  Clouds were already forming around the peaks so didn't get many pictures.

After Forcella Aurine (1299m) you descend briefly and continue along false flats to the start of the climb to Passo Cereda.  This one was a bit steeper, but still not bad.  After the pass (1369m)  a steep curvy descent toward Fiera di Primiero, with great panoramas of Vetta Feltrine across the valley.

At Fiera di Primiero (716m) turn right toward Passo Rolle.  This was the longest continuous climb I recall ever doing- 22km.  The gradient is easy (averaging 5.6%) but the unending effort is quite tiring.  Traffic was pretty heavy until San Martino di Castrozza (1452m), but luckily most people stay in these tourist centers, leaving the mountain roads to the rest of us.  I had a flat tire here, which was both annoying and restful at the same time.  Around 1800m the beautiful spruce forest thins out and soon you're climbing a stack of switchbacks up a grassy bald (1973m).  Wanted to take a foto of the Swiss  cows (with bells) munching on the grass and multicolored wildflowers but worried I would spook the cows being so close.

Great looping switchback descent, soon returning to spruce forest with white water streams.  Take another right at the Passo Valles sign (1552m) and begin a gradual climb through wonderful Parco Paneveggio (see .  This would be a great place to picnic, walk along white water streams, etc.  After 3 peaceful km the inevitable steepness begins, never extreme but much 9-12%.  Again you exit the forest and enter the treeless pass area, topping out at 2033m.  Now begins the long descent, first steep and fast (85kph) to the junction with San Pellegrino climb, then down to Falcade and eventually Cencenighe.  There's another long fairly busy tunnel (galleria le Anime) just above Cencenighe, but I used the old road bypass along Torrente Cordevole, like last year.  It also has a shorter, carless tunnel, which they've now installed lights in for hikers, bikers.  This is great because last year I was terrified riding through the blackness here (you couldn't see daylight from the tunnel entrance or exit because of curves).

Great ride, though tiring.  Now I've got to build the endurance to climb it counterclockwise.    

Farmhouse on road to Forcella Aurine,
with Pale di San Martino above

Vetta Feltrine (2334m) mountain range above Fiera di Primiero

Southern end of Pale di San Martino above Passo Cereda

Grassy bald of Passo Rolle

Shrinking glaciers of Pale di San Martino, smaller every year for decades.
Continued global warming will likely eradicate them soon.

Torrente Travignolo in Parco Paneveggio

Cloudy spires of the Pale from Falcade

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