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Between rocks and glaciers in Italy – Tour of Ortles by MTB

Michele Pelacci

Between rocks and glaciers in Italy – Tour of Ortles by MTB

Mountain Biking Collection by Michele Pelacci

7

Tours

36:05 h

193 mi

40,425 ft

At 3,905 metres (12,811 ft) above sea level, Ortles, which lies within Italy’s Stelvio National Park, is the highest mountain in Trentino-Alto Adige. It’s the highest point of the southern Rhaetian Alps and was the tallest peak in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the past. Part of the Ortles-Cevedale group, this relief is also historic for mountaineering: Johannes Nepomuk Gebhard, a botanist from Salzburg, and Joseph Pichler, a hunter from the Passeiertal Valley, reached the Ortles summit for the first time more than 200 years ago, in 1804.

If you follow the routes in this Collection, you’ll never go as far as the Ortler summit, but you’ll come close to it four times and hike up to over 3,000 metres (9,842 ft). You won’t climb with your bare hands, but it’s good to dispel any doubts now – you’ll have to put your bike over your shoulder over and over again. You won’t encounter snow or cold weather, but you’ll be surrounded by rocks, glaciers, streams and lakes for most of the way. That's mountain biking, baby.

First of all, as you’ll notice just by looking at the elevation profile, this is no beginner's ride. More than 300 kilometres (186 mi) and over 12,000 metres (39,370 ft) of elevation gain are not exactly a walk in the park. Many trails are technically difficult, as you would expect mountain biking at these altitudes. You'll need good trail technique on the descents and a good leg on the climbs, to avoid descending and pushing every 500 metres (1,640 ft).

But, it’s not too extreme; you'll ride along a couple of cycle paths and, by riding the Tour over seven days, you'll have excellent and well-deserved recovery time. In addition, you can avoid some points – I’ll write more about this in the description of each stage – by using a lift or taking a train. If you’re an experienced MTBer and are looking for a challenge, you could try to complete the route in just four days.

The start and finish point is Ponte di Legno, a famous tourist resort in Val Camonica, which can only be reached by car: from Valtellina via Aprica or Gavia, from Val di Sole via Passo Tonale and from Val Camonica via Edolo.

I recommend doing this route in the warmer summer months, between July and early September, to avoid low temperatures and snow-covered trails. As far as your bike is concerned, you should ride a full suspension mountain bike. Your choice of footwear is also crucial: you’ll need comfortable shoes that you can walk in when you’re carrying your bike on your back. Bring everything you need for repairs and mechanical failures (chain links, multi-tools, clamps for all eventualities, etc.), because you won't find cycle shops at an altitude of 3,000 metres (9,842 ft). Don't forget that you’ll spend some nights in high mountain huts where many comforts, like internet connection, are non-existent.

I don't want to scare you or encourage you to take risks: with calm and preparation you can do everything, even in a relaxed way. This ride is incredibly beautiful: you get a taste of it in the photos in the Collection Highlights. If you’re looking for a mountain bike challenge, this is the best.

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Tra rocce e ghiacciai – il Giro dell’Ortles in MTB

191 mi

39,950 ft

39,950 ft

Last updated: October 11, 2022

Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Ponte di Legno to Pizzini Refuge – Tour of the Ortles, between rocks and glaciers

    Difficult
    05:32
    24.4 mi
    4.4 mph
    7,700 ft
    3,075 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Once you reach Ponte di Legno, there are several points where you can leave your car in free parking spaces: I recommend for example the via degli Alpini and Nino Bixio, from which this tour starts. You immediately start to climb towards the Gavia Pass: but not via asphalt, of course. Suggestive passages

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  • Difficult
    04:22
    26.7 mi
    6.1 mph
    4,375 ft
    6,800 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Don't get scared from the start of the day. From Rifugio Pizzini to Passo Zebrù there are less than two kilometers, but they are vertical and very hard to do by bike. Pushing the bike here is anything but unfortunate. You climbed 3,000 for the first time, and it won't be the last. The view over Val Zebr

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  • Difficult
    06:03
    28.5 mi
    4.7 mph
    6,600 ft
    6,925 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Another psychologically tough start, that of the third day. Looking at Monte Pedenolo from the Cancano dams, it seems impossible that a road could climb up there, but it is indeed so. In about a dozen kilometers, a series of hairpin bends carved into a stone take you to the more than 2,700 meters of

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  • Difficult
    04:42
    34.1 mi
    7.3 mph
    4,450 ft
    8,750 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Shortly after Solda, you can choose: go up to the Città di Milano Refuge by cable car or go up the wide, tough but pedaled carriage road that goes up under the lift. The cable car even includes an intermediate station, so it is also possible to get off here and do the final part by bike. Taking off a

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  • Difficult
    06:27
    31.6 mi
    4.9 mph
    7,850 ft
    4,900 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The climb from Naturno to the hut of the same name begins on the asphalt. It quickly becomes gravel, is nearly 15 kilometers long and takes you up to around 2,000 meters, but it's not tough. Indeed, it is done all in the saddle and offers splendid views of the Val Venosta. You still find a few hundred

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  • Difficult
    04:28
    20.1 mi
    4.5 mph
    5,075 ft
    7,375 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    In Santa Gertrude, leave the Val d’Ultimo and take the Valle di Rabbi. Go up the Rio Montechiesa along a wide and beautiful carriageway, constant in the slope. In the end, just before Passo Rabbi, it becomes very hard, while remaining pedalable. The environment is severe at the foot of the Sternai and

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  • Difficult
    04:30
    27.4 mi
    6.1 mph
    4,400 ft
    2,650 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    The last stage of the Giro dell’Ortles is also the quietest. For the first 25 kilometers or so, the road climbs steadily but gently and continuously along the Val di Sole cycle path. If you want to skip it, you can take the little train that goes from Mezzana to Vermiglio. These are the timetables visitvaldisole.it/it/trasporti-pubblici

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    193 mi
  • Duration
    36:05 h
  • Elevation
    40,425 ft

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