I was in Bormio to see my old Aussie friend Barry (Bazza!), so we headed up the north side. NOTE: If you have to choose, the south side from Ponte di Legno is definitely the more spectacular side of this great pass.
From Bormio, the classic big loop is as follows: Descend down the valley to Grosio. Climb the famous side of Mortirolo, descend the far side, climb the south side of Gavia from Ponte di Legno, and descend the north side back to Bormio. But beware, even the secondary road between Bormio and Grosio has fast traffic. I prefer just going up and down each side of Gavia.
The north side is longer (less steep), and doesn’t really get going until it passes the ski station at Santa Caterina. From there, it hairpins higher and the views get better and better.
Like most big Alps climbs, it gets more interesting above the tree line.
The Battle of San Matteo – formerly known as the highest battle in history occurred at and above Gavia during World War 1. Just north of the pass is a monument commemorating the battle:
“At the beginning of 1918 Austria-Hungarian troops set up a fortified position with small artillery pieces on the top of the San Matteo Peak, from which they were able to shell the road to the Gavia Pass and thus harass the Italian supply convoys to the front line.” Wikipedia.
There are two beautiful lakes either side of the summit. Lago Bianco to the north and Lago Negro to the south.
At the summit are a couple of restaurants with plenty of Giro d’Italia photos and cycling souvenirs, jerseys, etc. Lots of items, and even the sign, have the incorrect summit altitude. It’s “only” 2621 metres.
If you only have the legs to ride the north side, I’d encourage you to still descend perhaps a kilometre south to the first real hairpin and the view of Lago Negro. Stunning location.
I was tired and decided to only descend half the south side (see map at bottom), while Barry went all the way down. I was lazy, but would still climb the best part of either side.
As I said on twitter:
If you only follow ONE piece of cycling advice from me, this is it: When climbing the more spectacular south side of Passo Gavia, skip the modern tunnel and take the old cliff road. #cycling pic.twitter.com/95eSQbPttD
— cyclingchallenge (@cyclingalps) September 5, 2018
The tunnel is perhaps 3 kilometres from the summit. The old cliff road is so much fun – and the tunnel is truly awful: long, dark, and steep. It’s a rough gravel surface, but even walking it is better than the tunnel in my opinion.
The weather behaved, and after reaching the pass again, from the south, I simply descended back to Bormio. Tired but happy. Passo di Gavia is one of the great paved cycling climbs in the Alps. Big and beautiful. Just remember: the south side is the more spectacular, and even with a road bike, skip the modern tunnel and take the cliff road.
Here’s a 3D video of the climb: