Bicycling mountain roads and passes

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Great St Bernard Pass 2,473m
Colle del Gran San Bernardo / Col du Grand Saint Bernard

Wow! What a gorgeous pass road! Both the scenery and the sporting challenge of Italian southern ramp of Great St Bernard belong to the top class in the Alps. The pass road commences in the Aosta valley and terminates after some 34 kilometers and 1,900 meters of altitude gain at an elevation of almost 2,500 meters at the hospice of the Augustiner-Chorherren in Switzerland. This monastery was founded almost 1,000 years ago and has become world famous due to its breeding of St. Bernard dogs. However, in current days the breeding takes place down in the valley but in summer numerous dogs can be visited at the Hospice museum on top of the pass road. Equipped only with a mountain bike today, a little worried by descriptions of the lower part of the road and exhausted by the climb at Bontadini-Lift one day before this ride only starts at half height in the village of Etroubles at an elevation of 1,275 meters. The way to the pass summit still has some 1,200 meters of altitude difference and an average grade of 6.9%. Thus it still belongs to the highest category passes.

Start: Etroubles 1,275m
Altitude difference: 1,180m
Distance: 17km
August 2011

The profile shows a smooth incline up to the pass summit at almost 2,500 meters.

After some four kilometers of distance behind Etroubles the road splits: The way to the left routes via the tunnel through Switzerland and to the right up to the pass summit. On this very sunny Sunday most of the motorized traffic turns unfortunately to the right. But the traffic is still very moderate and easily not that awful as suspected.

At this point the road passes under the tunnel road. The tunnel disappears into the mountain and the cyclist will expect an awesome panorama view of the pass road.

What an amazing scenery! A first basin with wide curved serpentines has to be overcome. At the top right the end of this valley is in sight.

Low traffic on the plainly asphalted road

The tunnel vanishes into the mountain.

At the end of the first basin a second valley appears.

Again, the way leads at the left side of this second basin up to the pass area. Shortly before pass summit an avalanche half-tunnel has to be passed.

A young British cyclist is riding ahead of me carrying some 30kg baggage. Two months ago he started in the Baltic provinces, has cycled more than 5,000 (!) kilometers through Europe and traverses today the alpine main ridge. Respect!

View back to the road in the second valley

The avalanche half-tunnel has been left behind...

...and at an elevation of 2,460 meters the pass area appears with the monastery in the background.

The pass sign reports an altitude of 2,473 meters although actual pass summit is some 10 meters higher at the hospice in the background.

This is the view to Switzerland. But where are the St. Bernard dogs? Yellow foot prints on the asphalt lead the way to the museum.

While the full-grown dogs snooze in the sun in their kennels...

...the puppies lively play football...

...or jump into a squeaking ball pool.

Wonderful view from the hospice back to the Italian side of the pass area

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