Passo Gavia! (both sides)

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One of the greatest days ever on a bike. I’ve dreamed of doing Gavia forever, one of the most famous climbs in Italy (and Europe) – and it didn’t disappoint.

I am staying in Bormio, which is at the bottom of the easier, less famous side. Who knows if I’ll ever be here again, so the plan was to do both sides. Yep, I had a huge breakfast. :)

It’s cold here. Really cold. So I wore booties, leggings, full-fingered gloves, warm hat, sleeves, etc. And carried balaclava, glove liners, jackets, etc. Yep, I over-dressed again – but barely.

I started up the Bormio side before 9 am, and it took me a while to get warmed up – cold but sunny and clear – perfect day. Luckily the easiest climbing of the day is the first part of this side. It’s a lovely ride, so quiet and beautiful that I laughed out loud a couple of times.

A climb of three parts: flat to start, then steeper with hairpins through the woods, finally above the tree line — in the high mountains – awesome.

Near top is a great WW1 memorial (I deciphered the Roman Numerals, ha!) – my Italian is non-existant – perhaps a battle here?

The last couple of kms before the summit are easy ….. what a great feeling to be flying to such a famous Pass. Just short is a beautiful lake:

Lake near top of Passo Gavia

It was freezing at the top, and I congratulated myself as I put on 2 jackets and a couple of Dutch guys in shorts looked on longingly.

The descent of the south side is a little crazy. Steep, narrow, beautiful, occasionally badly surfaced. A few % grade signs including a 16% and a 14%. The tunnel 3 kms from top is truly terrifying. Dark, steep, gravelly, scary – I held my breath when a car passed me. I wasn’t looking forward to climbing it (see below for my elegant solution).

Photo in Restaurant at top Steep

The only thing going through my head as I raced downhill was “this will be hard work on the way back!”

The south side is legendary, the site of several snow filled Giro stages – the restaurant at the top has a great set of pics of various Giro visits (photo at left).

I took my time climbing it – but was pleased at how my legs responded on the narrow, fun(!?) 14% and 16% stretches.

Passo Gavia memorial

As I approached the much-feared tunnel, I noticed the old cliff road on the left. Collapsed cliff roads replaced by tunnels are a fairly common thing in the Alps, but they are usually fenced off. This looked open, so I explored.

A terrible surface, so I pushed my bike. But unbelievable cliff views. As I continued I came upon several memorials for a military truck that fell off the road in 1954 killing 20 or so young soldiers.

Amazingly the road was still passable. And as I neared the main road, three mountain bikers came flying down:

Closed Passo Gavia stretch

Above the tunnel, the last 2+ kms are steep, but superb. Hairpins, views, cliffs, etc. How can one not enjoy suffering here?

Passo Gavia

Passo Gavia

9.5 Awesome

One of the greatest days ever on a bike. I've dreamed of doing Gavia forever, one of the most famous climbs in Italy (and Europe) - and it didn't disappoint.

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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.

18 Comments

  1. WOW!!! What a day you had — love that you achieved a dream, laughed out loud and had cold enough weather for all your clothes! Awesome!!

    Love,
    Jelly

  2. Lovely pictures. What camera do you carry? I need a recommendation for something that will capture beautiful images when out cycling but that won’t weight me down.

  3. Gavin, currently using a panasonic dmc-ts1 (a ts2 is already available).

    It’s a decent quality portable that has 2 huge advantages: waterproof (huge when sweating or cycling in rain), and rugged (it withstands falls/bangs).

    (yes, I have killed a few cameras)

    Photo quality is pretty good for a portable. Cheers

    Jelly: miss you ;)

  4. hey will, fantastic! Thanks for the inspiration, i’ll have to try to make it over there some day (a warmer day, mind you).

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  7. Jason Kincaid on

    I recently finished a cycling tour with friends (self-supported with 2 cars) thru the Dolomites and Alps. Our “Queen Stage” started from Ponte de Legno (actually a campsite further West, downstream), and started with Passo Gavia. Beauty climb and seemlingly much safer on a bike than the very narrow road during the climb. I was very happy to have the 39×27 on my road bike. We stopped at the top for a quick bite, then flew down the other side into Bormio. Five of us road the climb up Stelvio, which I found easier than Gavia (nice road surface!) and noted the reduced air volume for the final 3km to the top. Then three of us flew down the pass into Switzerland and finished our day going over the Offenpass, finishing at our campsite in Zernez. It was only about 130km, but the total ascent for the day was pretty intense!

    Thanks for this website and information! I used this several times before our trip, and loved bagging the cols along the way! We hit at least 12 Cols on route, plus a smaller one on the Ironman France course near Nice. LOVED cycling the Alps and Dolomites! Will definitely return for more from Canada!

  8. What a great climb this is. We incorporated it in a loop starting in Valdisotto, near Bormio.
    Climbing the Mortirolo from Grosio, descending to Monno & then onto the Gavia.
    A truly memorable day.

  9. Ah… Was on the Gavia in June 2012.

    Monday it was FULL of snow and had to be ploughed clear. Tuesday in Bormio was 24C and I went up the Gavia. It was 5C at the top :D fortunately had just enough coins for large hot chocolate at refugio. Also got some great pictures of a group of Alpine ibex when only myself was around, and rolling swiftly back to Bormio managed to ride straight through the middle of a group of indignant, fat little marmots that were sunning themselves on the road surface before they could even scramble to their feet.

    But Hells bells!!! I had no idea the old bit of road round the edge of the tunnel in the south could still be negotiated! Time to go back there, one of our group is thinking ever harder about climbing the Gavia and Stelvio… Mind you could you get a road bike round it?

  10. Peter Bombardieri on

    Gavia is the most beautiful ride of my life . If you only do one mountain this is the ONE . No picture does this justice you have to see it for yourself . Best done from tirano-mortirolo-ponte di legno . Sometimes if you are blessed you will see marmots and the majestic ibex in the final turns. Be warned that the Bormio side is freezing especially after sunset . The war memorial (pyramid) is the Battle of San Matteo the highest battle ever in WW1 at over 3800 meters.There is a church across the road from this. The Bonetta Family run the rifugio at the pass -this is a good place to buy a jacket if you need . There are so many giro pics in here well worth the coffee stop .

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