We reach the pass at four o'clock in the afternoon. Very late for a long ride. Given the frowned sky, the temperature of only 10 degrees above zero and recent darkness, we had to carefully consider whether is it wise to ride at all. After 6.5 seconds of careful consideration, we were in the saddle ... and into the mountain ;)
Even though Passo del Bernina is 'only' 2300 meters high, it is usually closed off from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring on account of the weather. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable storms.
Pretty soon we reach a small alpine lake from where the path leads us down through the valley between the two peaks. Somewhere around that time, our guide and my former friend announced that he does not receive any 'complaints about the trek' and that we cannot address him on this issue ... which did not prevent us to profusely spice next few hours with sentences like 'So, when did you lose all maps of this area?', 'Are we lost?', 'Where is the nearest taxi?', 'Are we there yet?' And, of course, 'F * this, we could be drinking beer instead'.
The next part of the track supposed to be the first fun downhill in our ride. From the top of the Bernina pass to the Diavoleza cable car, there are about 300 meters of height difference, so we expected a fun ride and some speed enjoyment. Unfortunately, the trail was literally littered with rocks. Snowmelt turned a demanding cycle path into a demanding footpath. It was completely unrideable. After an hour, we reach the bottom of the Bernina valley and foot of the Diavolezza cable car. Bearing in mind temperature and track condition so far, we had to decide - either we will cancel our ride and climb back to the top of the Bernina Pass via a paved road, or we will risk and continue to the Fieno Pass through the mountain. Everyone who has ever ridden with us knows how much we love paved roads, and even more - how easy we give up... so after another 6.5 seconds of thoughtful thinking, we left to the mountain.
The ascent leads us up through the valley along the wild alpine river. There was a small Refugio almost at the highest point of the track and with joy, we thought of local Swiss specialty - excellent apple pie and chocolate milk.
The steady and sharp climb ended next to a small cottage that radiated with blissful heat. The temperature was just a few degrees above the zero, the wind was freezing, and the sunset was very near.
With overgrowing enthusiasm, I enjoyed a large glass of hot milk with the best Swiss chocolate and a big piece of apple pie. Best spent ten Swiss francs in history of spending ten Swiss francs.
All cooks agree - Swiss apple pie is ridiculously simple and delicious! You will need 1 large egg, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 cup chopped peeled tart apple, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mix the egg, sugar, and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder and salt and stir just to become moistened. Fold in chopped apples and walnuts. Put into plate and bake at 180 C for approx 30 min until golden brown. Try not to eat everything in one meal.
PS. Of course I do not know this, but Taste of Home do know thing like this :)
And then, it was time to continue. Another fun part of the track was in front of us - downhill from Val da Fain to the Rifugio Tridentina. Some 250 meters of height difference. To be honest, that was the reason for all the trouble. This track is listed on numerous MTB sites as great riding experience with amazing view. It supposed to be the crown of the day.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the top of the Val da Fain, next to the climb to the Lej Grand. This alpine lake at almost 2700 meters above the sea level will stay unseen this time. My best judge was 20 minutes of sunlight until evening, and if we plan to descent, this was the literary last minute to do it. But, even though the view was stunning, the path wasn't... The view was uninterrupted to the end of the valley and small city Livigno. The surrounding peaks were steaming into the clouds, the Sun was in I-like-magenta mood. I would enjoy this scene fully if I could find a path to the Rifugio Tridentina anywhere, but...
The damn path was washed away by avalanches and all I could see was remainings and shadows of his former glory. To the left: a few hundred meters deep abyss. To the right... I must admit - someone started to build a new path, but this one was nowhere near a bicycle route. It was Via Ferrata at the beginning and then, something like narrow-be-very-careful mountain trail for most of the downslope. At the end it was narrow serpentine and rocky staircases, just for fun...
A few years before, I ride double black world championship downhill track in Tignes, France. That one with scare.. something in the name. I was scared. The frightening experience. Half walking, half pray-for-your-life-hope-nobody-watching-this-is-very-embarrassing skidding on the arse type of descending. No ride at all. That track was a childish game for this one.
In 2017 there were less fatally injured cyclists than in 2016. For the first time in the last 15 years. Great news! Unfortunately, considering MTB as a separate cycling activity, there were more seriously injured cyclists than never. With the rise of a staggering of 10% yearly, something is clearly wrong in the MTB kingdom. If you read this, you may think that anyone can do it. Comfortably. A group of people went to a fun ride into the mountains. Please reconsider! Twice at least! We are all extremely skilled offroad riders. I am a biker for more than 30 years with a competitive experience. And I am less skilled of all people involved in this little adventure. As came with survival in the wilderness, we are highly skilled in that too. One of us is mountain ranger, and rest are experienced in surviving in harsh and dangerous conditions. Each and every one of us is capable of surviving alone in the mountain. We are doing rides like this with the utmost caution and respect for our lives. Please, do not risk! Play safe and do small steps. Learn and evolve. If you plan to do something similar - Invest in equipment and knowledge of survival techniques. Nature will kill you if you give her a chance. Don't be that guy.
We decided to slowly descend towards the Rifugio Tridentina. Concentration to the max. I somehow managed to balance for a while between walking, carrying the bike and taking pictures. It was almost fun to see how everyone are making the same decision after the first few meters. Bike goes next to the abyss. This way, you can trow it if anything goes wrong. If you slip, then you have some chances if you sacrifice the bicycle. A good team! A little later, I make the decision to stop making photos. I needed all my brain just for descend. Later I realize that I made this decision subconsciously much earlier. All photos made from the beginning of this part of the trail were blurry, wrongly exposed, and completely unusable. For some of them, I'm not even sure what was the subject.
We reached the Rifugio Tridentina in late dusk. This time, we didn't even think, not even for 6.5 seconds.. Options were paved road or mountain, and you can bet that we choose mountain again. In the complete darkness, almost 6 hours after departure, we reached the end of the track and Bernina Pass. We were tired, hungry, thirsty, frozen and... completely and absolutely happy.