Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mt Tremalzo, la grande salita!

Halfway through our Italy trip, we have arrived on the northern end of Lago di Garda in the small town of Torbole. This is our 5th visit to Torbole, and 4th attempt to climb Tremalzo. Last year we were successful in finding a route that took us up from the town of Vesio. It was one of the most memorable rides we have ever done, and we wanted to do it again.

Only this time, we wanted to approach the climb from the west side, and we wanted to start it from the hotel door. No shuttling and no driving to a trail head. Tremalzo is THE ride to do, but many folks take the bike shop shuttle up to the summit and ride down the other side. It is touted as a ride for advanced riders and for the more extreme cyclist. Why? I don't know, honestly. There are some tricky single track sections and it is a long descent, but as long as you have a healthy heart, legs, and lungs, you can do it.

I would have preferred to have been on my cushy full suspension Blur for the descent, but was happy to have the hard tail for the climb. In fact, for the first 3+ hours of the ride, all you do is climb.

We rolled out the door at 10am to clear blue skies.
The beautiful bike path we're pedaling on takes us by morning windsurfers and an eager class of soon to be windsurfers. This end of the lake is a very popular surfing mecca, thanks to the winds funneling up from the Piedmont through this valley of very steep mountains.

If you look closely at the cliffs in this picture, you can see where the trail is cut into the side of the mountain. This is the Ponale Path, dating over 150 yrs back and used strategically during World War I. We are heading up to the Ponale Path to cut our way up and over through the Ledro Valley to Lake Ledro. The little "holes" you see are the many tunnels the path goes through as it winds up the side of the mtn. It is one of the coolest paths on the planet, hugging one side of the steep cliff while dropping off to stunning views of Lake Garda over to Mt Baldo.

I don't know why, but riding through the tunnels is one of my favorite aspects of this ride. There are at least 7 tunnels on this route that I can think of off the top of my head, probably more. The path is also shared with walkers, therefore you are supposed to ride an easy pace. With these views, I am happy to lolly gag as long as possible.

The path turns to rough pavement and climbs quickly with the aid of tight switchbacks up the cliff. It pays to turn around ever so often to see the view from whence you came. The path from this view seems more daunting than it is (look about 1/3 of the way up the side of the cliff). The town of Riva del Garda seems so distant on the shore, and we haven't even made a dent in the ride for the day.

We pop out on a real road for a short jaunt until signs direct us off to the bike/pedestrian route. How convenient and considerate that towns have the sense to provide a safe and scenic way with which to get about by bike. Novel concept. Now we are on narrow lanes, dirt paths, and steep loose rocky climbs winding through back yards and gardens. Quietly, we cycle by a man tending to rows of flowers and vegetables. I can reach out and pick a lovely pear, but have to be content with a picture instead.

After a steep grind, our path ends on a tiny cobbled street in the town of Ledro. Little arrows on the brick lead us through a maze of streets climbing up to Lake Ledro and directing us around to a peaceful path around the south end. All the while constantly passing cyclists of various types.

I realized the sky is almost completely clouded over, making it rather chilly. We stopped, layered up, and continued the journey onward. Being outside of any town, we had no choice but to get on the road leading west, southwest to the base of the climb for Tremalzo. But it is no problem riding on the road. There are few cars and the ones that come by are friendly.

Here there is no feeling like you're in constant danger of being run over or hit by a flying brick from Buster. Cycling is a way of life of which everyone participates. That driver going by will probably be riding his bike later this afternoon as well. Enjoying the view, we tail behind a group of cyclists that seem to know where they are going.

After what seemed a while, we reached the turnoff for Tremalzo. Our lead group stops, but we continue. In retrospect, we too should have stopped. They were shedding clothes for the climb, a valuable lesson I learned. It was a beautiful, peaceful climb through a canopy of towering firs and pines and who knows what other kind of foliage.

Each switchback would offer a sneak preview of views to come.

I kept waiting for some of the group that had stopped to be overtaking me. It took a while, but finally here came one. He was strong, and passed by no problem. Five minutes later, his buddie, (I call him Hans), came laboring up. I took his picture as he worked his way up the serpentine road. Raja and I were each climbing separately, having long since settled into our own rhythm. So I was happy to have
a riding companion.

Not being sure what to make of me, Hans and I rode along in complete silence. His strange pedaling stance entertained me, and he seemed to be putting out a huge effort. I expected him to falter soon, but it was not to be. I suspect having a female rider pacing behind you gives a male some new found energy.

We came upon a number of cyclists. It always intrigues me how they carry these gigantic packs. What's in there? A tent? Strudel? Chocolate? A spare bike?
(This is one of the routes for doing the Transalp, a 6-7 day self supported ride. Our Austrian friends just completed this route, so I imagine those are the 8 kilo packs they were telling us we'd have to carry if we had done it with them.)

I watched my heart rate climb up a notch or two, and decided I better keep it in check. Besides, Hans would be happier if I were not with him. There wasn't much bonding going on between the two of us. I could cut the tension with a Swiss Army knife. Time to enjoy the scenery instead and take time to snag some photos.

The cows along the roadside made for better company than Hans, and the clanking of the cowbells were soothing to my soul. I knew the top had to be near, but just where was it? An hour and 20 minutes had passed since we started the climb. I had no previous knowledge of how long the climb was or any mileage, no statistics whatsoever. Just my eyes and common sense telling me that soon I would be pedaling into heaven if the rifugio wasn't around the next corner.

Plenty of cyclists were coming down, having climbed up from the more heinous difficult dirt route. Bundled up from head to toe, they looked to be freezing. It was extremely cold without the bright sun to warm me, and I longed for the warmth of the hut (rifugio). Finally, there it was!!!!

Bikes were everywhere. I was not alone; hikers, cyclists, bikers, and those who had come in the ease of their car.

There are a thousand different views to enjoy from this vantage point, but I was too cold to google long.

I went inside and grabbed the last table available to get the ordering process started. I wanted Raja to have some warm food when he arrived.
If you have ever traveled to Europe, you know that "fast" and "service" are foreign concepts in the dining arena. Every table was packed with groups of cyclists chowing down as if it were their last meal for the next year.

Clothing and gear were draped strategically on chairs for maximum drying efficiency. I had my revelation. Oh!!! That's why you don't wear every piece of clothing you have when you climb. Doh! I was soaking wet from sweating my way up the climb, and now I have nothing to keep me warm for the descent. Uh oh. 20 yrs of cycling, and I've never learned this lesson? I normally never climb for 1 1/2 hrs either.

Ms. Grumpy of Italy plopped down a place mat and napkin. She wasn't amused that I wanted a menu, nor was she about to help me with any German translation. Even though we're in Italy, this was Austrian territory a good bit of the 1900's. German is still the language of communication. That's also why strudel is so killer here!

Last year we were sunning outside on the terrace when we ate here. This year we were huddled inside wanting to dive into our plates of warm pasta. I learned some handy tricks from the rifugio. Those paper placemats make a great wind shield to tuck in your jersey. I tipped Jeff off to that trick 2 days later when we descended the Stelvio, and it worked like a charm. Also, the paper holder that the silverware comes in makes a wonderful shield to slip over your toes inside your shoes.

We downed a plate of gnocchi and 2 servings of apple strudel before suiting up and heading out. Afraid I would be frozen and unable to pedal, it wasn't too bad on this side of the climb. From the rifugio, there is still another little grunt of a climb you must make before popping through a tunnel to the other side. But now we are officially mountain biking, it's all off road from here!

This time, there was no snow through which we had to pedal. Last year, we had to hike a bike through banks of white powder. Now I could pedal along while looking back down at the stream of cyclists coming up behind us.

The last view of this side of the mountain before we tunnel through the mountain to the other side.

When you exit the tunnel, you are greeted with the most stunning view you can imagine. It is overwhelming and grand, so much that you cannot really take it all in. We, along with other random cyclists, stand silently staring, changing stance to see all the different viewpoint angles.
The neat aspect of this descent is looking down and seeing the trail wind itself up and around through tunnels and down switchbacks. This is my favorite view of the mountains, lake, and the trail leading into a tunnel.

Our pictures from last year are much more stunning than these, but in person it is no less dramatic whether the sun is shining or not. Going through more tunnels I feel like a child playing the ultimate fantasy game, only this isn't fantasy. It is real! On this side of Tremalzo, the temperature was pleasant and I no longer needed placemats or windbreakers. Yahoo!

I guess after I've done this descent a few 100 times, I could let 'er rip. But it is so difficult, no impossible, to resist the temptation to stop every 2 feet and stare at the beauty before you. As we started descending, I said to Raja, "we have plenty of pictures of this already so we don't need to stop too much."
HA! That didn't last long. We laughed after taking the upteenth photo.

It reminds me of riding in Crested Butte. You either ride or you enjoy the view. I can't do both at the same time.

These folks climbing up had plenty of time to enjoy the views. I would not want to climb Tremalzo from Passo Nota as they were doing. Plenty of riders do it this way, as we passed tons. The rocky track is very loose with a combo of coarse, powdery granite and plenty of steep pitches. You earn your lunch & dinner that way.

You are never without a view, be it the mountains or lake, or all of the above. We were ecstatic to be treated to a clear shot view all the way to the end of the lake. That's something we've never had in the 5 times we've been to Lago di Garda.

The descent goes on for decades. After what seemed forever, we finally reached Passo Nota. Our last trek here, we took the descent down to Vesio which would have quickly ended our journey. This time we would continue on towards Passo Rocchetta. This entailed a little bit more climbing. I was so stoked from the ride so far that it did not bother me in the least.

Then the trail becomes singletrack literally hugging the side of the mountain. Time to pay attention. It wasn't super techy, but enough so that I did not need to be day dreaming.

We had to hike a bike a short steep section to reach Passo Rochetta, a place we've cycled to many times before. Only we've always reached it from the other side, the Pregasina side, of which we would descend to now. This meant we had about a 3 mile section of pretty rocky technical singletrack descending. I have enjoyed it in the past on 4-5 inches of suspension. Uh oh, this time I have a thudbuster for the rear and a Fox 100 that Raja has too much air in for my 115 lbs. Time to break out the mountain biking skills and stop relying on the bike.

Here comes one of our "Hans Group" riders. He bombed this switchback pretty good and pulled it out at the last second. Where's our friend Tweety to show up these Germans?

We still had more descending to do. The singletrack dumps out onto doubletrack and it's down, down, down. Some parts of the path are so steep that it's concreted with breaks in order to get traction, thank you. All along, we're treated of course to views of Lake Garda unfolding before us. As we near the tiny town of Pregasina, the church bells are tolling. It's 5:30!

From Pregasina the route hooks back up with the other end of the Ponale Path that I love so much. Like I said, it's one of the coolest stretches of bike path in the whole world. Raja took a short video while descending. I'm impressed he did this while riding!

You can see the climb in the cliff we did earlier in the beginning of our ride up to Ledro. But now we are heading back down to Torbole, so at that intersection we will continue downward to Riva. 6 hrs later we have traveled 46 miles and climbed 7,000', well exceeding my goal for 5,000'!!!

One more stop on the way home. We stopped by the Coop and bought all 20 of the chocolate gianduia bars they had in stock. Then it was back to the hotel, shower, and out to dinner on the lakeshore to celebrate another incredible day of riding!!!

And yet we had even more to add to the enthusiasm. A call from our friends, Jeff and Becky, in Zurich had us already making plans for another epic ride with them up the Stelvio Pass on Saturday. This trip was getting to be over the top uber fantastic! And we still had 2 more days of adventure riding left!!!

I can't get the embeded slideshow to embed, so here's a link to the photo gallery.
Check out the videos in the public gallery too!
Tremalzo, Lake Garda

1 comment:

Becky said...

Wow, what an incredible experience all around. Thanks to the pics and descriptions AND video, I feel like I've been there myself now! Definitely will have to check it out sometime - and will apply your trick of using the paper items from the mid-ride meal for warmth on the descent (this has already come in handy many times!).