A wild, stunning and remote climb, the Gavia in the Italian Alps is best known for the 1988 Giro stage in the snow and is one of the classic cols in Italy. Often this is ridden as the last climb of the day in a circular loop from Bormio taking in the Mortirolo first or along a route across the Italian Alps & Dolomites. Either way, it is a tough climb made harder by doing it with miles in the legs and in the afternoon heat: while the Stelvio & Mortirolo are normally thought of as the hardest climbs in the area, the Gavia is not to be underestimated.
When to Ride the Passo Gavia
The elevation change in the climb is massive so expect very different conditions at the bottom and top of the climb. The Gavia typically opens in late May depending on the amount of snow over winter unless the Gavia has been featured in the Giro in May. It can be ridden until around the end of September (though if the weather is good you can ride in Oct). We avoid trips to the region in mid July to mid August as the weather can be hot but more importantly the roads are too busy with tourists in cars & motorbikes. One major thing to note, there is a dark tunnel on the climb so make sure you have a good front & rear light for this climb.
The Start from Ponte di Legno
The lush ski resort town of Ponte di Legno is a nice spot for lunch or a coffee stop before the climb. If you are coming from the Mortirolo there is a long false flat just to get to this point. The start of the climb is fairly tame and a good way to get the legs spinning before the harder stuff ahead. This section can be quite dark in the forest surrounded by tall trees and often with a big wall on one side of you. Very soon the phoney war is over and the meat of the climb begins with a section of 10 hairpins in 5km.
Out of the Woods
This hairpin section is punchy with gradients ranging from 7 to 12%. Mostly the corners are flat & sharp but the straights can be very rampy. Half way through this part you get out of the treeline at around 1800m and into a wilder landscape with snowcapped mountains visible most of the year. The road also changes from a modern two lane to an old mountain pass, barely wide enough for a car to pass. This is what the Gavia is all about, it’s old school, rugged & absolutely beautiful.
To the Summit
There is not much let off from steep gradients in the last 6km. The road surface is mostly very good for the next 3km as the road heads straight up towards the summit. With just over 3km to go, at around 2,300m you hit the dark tunnel. This is steep at 9% and goes on for around 500m. It has no lights so is VERY dark with the exit round a left turn so you can’t see the “light at the end of the tunnel” until you turn that corner. You will be in the tunnel for 2-4 minutes and it can be very disorienting. Bring a good front light so you can have some idea of what is ahead of you and a good back light for peace of mind. Your reward for getting through the tunnel is a stunning (but steep) last 2.5km passing a beautiful Alpine lake with snow capped mountains all around. Eventually you see buildings for the first time in the climb and ahead of you is the summit at 2,621m. The cafe at the top serves a great hot chocolate and cake. Take a picture at the summit sign and then layer up for the long & fun descent.