I started out the same way as in the GF Marco Pantani the day before down to Édolo, but now alone in sunny weather. Here I continued south until Forno d’Allione (465m), where a small road takes off up to the west and the Passo del Vivione (1829m). I have read that people think this is not a very nice climb, but I was thus a bit surprised to find out that the road was quite sweet and especially at the west descent offered magnificent views of the mountains to the south. It was also nice that there was not much traffic on the road. I only met one cyclist (looked like a pro out training on the west side).
It was never very steep, but it is surely a long and hard climb. I was happy much of the climb was wooded as it made it less hot. There is a refugio at the pass which has a restaurant (according to Zani Bike (see also for more photos)). I only stopped to take a photo. I was very intent on taking it easy today while trying to go on cycling most of the time as I knew it would be around 260 kilometres until I came back to my already booked room in Aprica.
The descent on the small nice road was delightful in the upper regions with very good views and I just had to stop twice to take photos. I stopped at the first village (Schilpario (1114m)) for a lunchbreak. Had a sandwich and Coca-Cola – the most common menu at lunch for me while out cycling and a good one.
One could climb the west side of the pass via Azzone also, but it looked to me like it would involve some extra climbing on the way down to Dezzo and I avoided it not to loose time early on. (I saw now on the salite.ch that there was not much climbing going down that road, but that it would have been hard to go up to Azzone from the south (and I could imagine it when looking in that direction on my descent).)
Down at Dèzzo (745m) I started the climb up to Passo della Presolana (1297m), which I had though of as a minor bump on the way to Passo di San Marco, but it was quite steep up here with 14% for quite some time. The old albergo/hotel at the top looks very old, but otherwise the area was rather modernised. There are mostly nice views around on this pass as well, but less interesting on the west side. (See Zani Bike for some more photos and information.) I went very quickly down here on a smooth road to the next place where it was time to go west again. I was trying to make the fastest circle around the mountains south of Aprica and this was it – 256 km (possibly 260 km or more as my cycle-computer is a bit conservative)! One goes over the village of Clusone and then further south-west to Nossa (405m).
At Nossa, the next climb started (it is rather industrial, hot and boring here for a few kilometres) up the Passo di Zambla (1270m). This is a big climb and I was dimly aware of it this time. It was good to have the Kompass map for the area with me, but not essential. There are some road choices after Passo di Zambla that would be difficult understand without a good map (but one could make it easy and take the big road down to S. Pellegrino Terme, of course). The climb up Passo di Zambla was also quite nice after escaping the hot industrial site at the bottom and never very steep (perhaps 12-13% max).
The road down through Oltre il Colle (1017m) is also very nice with odd geography here (it is like there is a valley below surrounded on all side by higher land and the valley in itself has small mountains in it (the only valley leading out has no road connection)). The road is always good. There is water in Oltre il Colle, which is both a village and another pass.
Then I went down a little after passing yet another pass (La Forcella (Valpiana) (1039m)) and took the next road west again over yet another small pass – Passo Crocetta (1051m). Ok, this is a little complicated, but at Dossena I went up through the village in order to take the absolutely first passage over to the valley that would lead up to Passo di San Marco (eventually). This first road goes over a pass called Passo dell'Orso (922m), but as an old man tried to explain to me, the road was closed ahead. I simply wanted to find out if that meant it was closed to car traffic or if it was unpassable on my own, but I later met another man with a bicycle and asked him too and he said there were no way I could walk around the closed/destroyed road ahead. So I decided not to risk descending this probably steep road further ahead and having to go back all the way again. I went back and took the first next alternative road over the ridge via la Trinita/S. Gallo (to which the road is very bad but flat, but then nice) to Oneta (ca. 425m).
Down at Oneta, I had lost more height than previously during the day and would thus have a long climb ahead up the highest pass of the day – Passo di San Marco (1985m) – which was the pass I most wanted to visit this day. Here I was only 28 km away from Bergamo. I still felt in good shape though and it was not too hot outside (it had been very hot on the Zambla pass).
First at Olmo al Brembo (556m) the real climb up the San Marco starts. From here it was easy at first, but it soon got steeper. It is up to something like 14% maximum, but not for long. (The hardest kilometre is 11% on average according to a profile and comments on salite.ch. See also Zani Bike (both Italian). Also see photos from 1982, when the road was unpaved at André Rudaz site.)
I was happy to get up while it was sunshine and was looking on my watch trying to figure out whether I could make it to Aprica before dark or not. At the top of the Passo di San Marco it looked like I would only get to Sondrio before dark (which is usually arriving around 9 p.m. in the Summer here). I also had underestimated the length of the stretch between Morbegno and Tresenda (where the Aprica climb starts). It was however a very sweet and long descent down to Morbegno (262m) (a little chilly at first).
At Morbegno I just started out full speed up to Sondrio which is flat and a road full of traffic (there are during some parts alternative roads up the big Valtellina valley, but I was in a hurry). At Sondrio the twilight was coming over me and I tried to find out whether I could take a bus from there to Aprica, but the bus station looked deserted and I did not find anyone to ask, nor did I find the schedule. After fooling around there for some time and almost not finding the way out of the town again, I decided to get on to Tresenda in late twilight. Car drivers were not happy with me driving without backlight (which I of course had forgotten to take with me) and it is a rather narrow and very trafficated road.
At Trensenda I knew there was a bus stop with time schedule, but found out the last bus for the day had left 12 minutes earlier. I tried to get a lift up to Aprica, but it was not any heavy traffic up there and finally I gave up and cycled up in the dark on the not too good road to climb in the dark without lights! I tried to go over on the wrong side of the road when cars were coming from behind, not to scare them or endanger myself, but, of course, a couple of times it happened that just then another car was coming down at the same time and I had to stop.
This was rather tiresome, but the lady at Meuble Stelvio had told me she would be back rather late and I thought that maybe it then did not matter if I was also late as I might have an easier time getting in then. It turned out to be a very rewarding climb, since I was presented with the spectacle of glowing (phosphorous?) parpaillons flying around in the night which I had never seen before and it was as if I was in a real fairy tale. Very nice indeed!
Very tired but proud of having done the whole circuit I arrived soon after the lady (who had passed me by on the Aprica climb she told me) and got a sandwich and beer at the hotel before going to bed.