This day I took the train up Sondrio in Valtellina, mainly in order to climb a nearly famously difficult road to Prato Maslino, which is one of the hardest climbs in all of this valley, which includes the famous climb to the Mortirolo/Foppa pass. There are indeed many other really difficult climbs in this valley too, but there was no time to do all and many would have snow at the top at this time.
I was in Sondrio sometime after 10 am. I noticed the tourist information near the station and thought that maybe I should ask them about whether the Passo San Marco was open or not as I wanted to get back over this pass to Bergamo if it was open. As usual no one knows about anything worthwhile in these tourist information centres, but she called the local branch in Morbegno (I believe) and they decided that it would not be open until mid-June this year. I had rumours that I might have been opened, but knew it was closed in mid-May last year. (But I have been over this pass before, so no big deal, even if it would had been fun to go back on bicycle this way and I had not climbed this side before.) The lady said it is like this in the Winter – hmm. She then asked me what I should do now. – Well, for a start, I will go up Val Malenco I told her and did not expect she knew anything about the conditions up there either (and she did not).
After a coffee I started on the long climb up Val Malenco. It was fine temperatures down in Sondrio and for a long time up the valley. I decided to stay on the sunnier left-hand side of the valley with the slightly narrower road to Chiesa. I stopped for an early lunch at a grocery near the end of Chiesa. Plenty of nice people here and I got a great sandwich, coke and yoghurt (and bought another soap). This was a nice start, but things would eventually get a bit more disappointing this day.
I went up the road and came to the location for the first photo – Serpentino d’Italia – looked like a cool name for the expected serpentine road ahead, but is just the name for the company breaking stones there. This quarry was quite big and the road goes in many serpentines up through the site. The road is less good here for obvious reasons. When this section has been conquered it started to get cooler up at the higher valley floor now reached at San Giuseppe. Here goes the road up to Rifugio Entova and this road is ending as high as around 2700 metres, but according to reports it is difficult even with a mountainbike and the road does not go all the way to the mountain pass up there (and of course it has to be Summer to climb up there). I continued in the now obviously quite long valley up here, but soon came to a parking place.
I continued after the bar across the road, but here the snow already started to appear on the road. I walked through some sections of snow to cycle on some more short stretches of bare asphalt until I came to where I took some more photos. It was still like 3 km or so to Chiareggio (1612m), which I thought was a ski resort and that thus the road should have been cleared up there. The road ahead here is almost flat and I think I was up at ca. 1480 metres height. A sign here says ‘pineta di Senevedo e Palolungo’ where two jeeps had been parked as it was too difficult to drive even with these any further, I believe. (I have a photo of this, but it is not so nice.)
I turned around and had difficulties to engage the shoes in the pedals as the snow turned to ice in my cleats. Eventually I got them engaged though. I stopped a few times on the descent to take some more photos. I had originally hoped to go up another side valley, but with so much snow I would not have been able to go far on that road to Franscia (1565m), Lago Campomoro (2021m) and Lago di Alpe Gera (2125m) and it is best to go there in the Summer, but it should be nice road.
Instead of going down to Sondrio again, I turned up to Triangia (797m) (there were a small sign where I can only see clearly the first and last number, but looks like 708m, which must be wrong – 788m seems most correct), which is a smaller climb (4 km at around 8.5%). From here I followed the high valley road which is a very nice ”alternative” to the hopeless main road down the valley. Next village is Castione Andevenno and then comes Postalesio. All these places typically has a very steep road going up the mountain. If you live near Sondrio you would have enough of hard roads to climb for weeks without having to do the same climb again. Here you have to descend some more and go over to Berbenno di Valtellina (370m).
Berbenno is the start for the climb up to Prato Maslino that I was aiming for. I just now searched for some more information on this climb and found this (translated with Google) at a page describing how to get to Rifugio Marinella: “The road is completely paved, except in a short stretch at Maggenghi Foppa and last piece. So this trip in Summer does not cost any effort.” Nice to know! ;-) Now this refers to people getting here with a car (and even that is not necessarily done without effort, I can tell you). You will climb up through Regoledo (I managed to find a steep short-cut through Regoledo). Then you come to a crossing, where one road goes to Monastero and you should take the other road. After some more easy climbing the real hardship begins. There are some concrete sections where it is most steep, but this is a mostly asphalted road. The first part up to La Foppa is pretty nice with good views out from the trees across the valley and a few houses along the way. At La Foppa (1075m) you meet a surprise – a cobblestoned straight road up through the small open area with some houses. It is not very steep, but the cobblestones are of the biggest roundest irregular type you have likely seen and are just about possible to handle with a road bike and some fearlessness!
After La Foppa you get a short stretch where it is not so steep, before it starts to get as steep as ever before and now it continues up through dense woods with no views in seemingly endless serpentines. It is never regularly steep. When I was here the road was filled with debris and the higher I got the less it looked like someone had used it the last couple of years. Just before I came upon snow there was such a lot of debris and fir cones on the road that I thought the road looked more like a forest than the forest did and it was difficult to not avoid the cones. There were also a lot of fallen trees over the road that had hastily been cut at both ends of the road to make it possible to get up with a four wheel vehicle.
Then after meeting a descending jeep I came to a bend full of snow. I decided to walk through it as I saw it was clear after that. Then two bends later it was the same procedure again and then some more until I reached a small clearing with ca. 4 more houses and a water pipe. I went up on the asphalt bends above these houses and then the road was filled mostly with snow even on the straight stretch ahead, I walked a few more metres around a last bend and there the asphalt ran out too. It became almost flat here and I thought I was probably near the end or maybe this was the end (as I had thought this climb should have been asphalted until the end). I turned around and filled up some good water and took some photos. I found out later that I was practically at Prato Maslino which is starting at the same altitude around the next bend ahead and around the woods to my right. It was a bit sad it should prove too troublesome to get all the way to the end as the views from Prato Maslino (1570m) and Rifugio Marinello (1650m), which is located at the upper end of Prato Maslino, should be very nice. I was up at ca. 1570m before I turned around according to swissgeo.ch.
On the way down I walked through the woods at most of the snow-filled bends in order to avoid them (one had almost a metre of snow). I met one jeep that went through the snowy bends and he had to reverse his jeep at every bend to get through (he might have been one of the first getting all the way up in a jeep for this season, based on the few tracks in the snow). It all took some time! Down at La Foppa I was not keen on trying my luck with the cobblestones again, but I was also not wishing to walk down, so I balanced on the concrete edge (ca. 30 cm wide) of the road (if I had lost balance there it had been almost a 2 metre fall down the side and I was hoping no one saw me doing this crazy thing). It went fine and the rest of the decent was sweet and warmer, but I got some ache in my hands of all the braking.
When I was down on the main road I was not sure if I should try and do any more climbs for the day. Anyway I was going toward Morbegno for sure and started out there in an increasing headwind. The weather was getting bad and I soon had some pretty heavy rain coming. I took cover and put on my wind jacket and feet protection. The rain soon stopped as I approached Morbegno. It was near 19:00 already and the idea of getting up another dead-end road toward TÓrtano (1140m) that I had wanted to do, did not came across as very attractive to me now. I went straight to the train station in Morbegno and bought tickets to Bergamo.
The train was not leaving for another hour, so I went shopping and decided to have dinner in Morbegno. I found a good restaurant and ordered some pasta dish and a belgian beer. Back in Bergamo I think I got an ice cream (I had that a couple of days). It was perhaps the shortest full cycling day ever on a trip, but still I had a decent amount of height metres. A bit frustrating not to entirely reach either of the two goals for the day, but there were still two more days to make up for this and at least do more than on this day. (The train rides also took some time away, esp. since I did not want to get up around 6 in the morning.)