Another dreaded, steep climb: the Mortirolo (or Passo della Foppa) with a summit at 1,852 meters. It used to be the favorite mountain of Marco Pantani.
“If you want to die, this is where you go” – encouraging words, often found when reading reports about this climb…
However, I think the Mortirolo from Mazzo di Valtellina, labeled the most difficult, is not much worse than the Gerlitzen – sadly, the latter is, or at least it was when I climbed it in 2008, hardly known to anyone, but I can assure you it’s as tough as the Mortirolo, especially the climb from Tschöran…
Nevertheless, I only managed to not nearly give up once: the first time I tackled the Mazzo ascend in 2011.
I’m not counting the Monno route, as that is do-able any day, but I’ve choked on the Mazzo – twice – and Grosio side since then.
The only time I went up from Grosio, was after I did the Monno ascend first, so that probably made it ‘a little’ more difficult.
Described here are the three ‘most famous’ alternatives, but there are quite a few ways to the top of the Mortirolo, many of which no more than goat paths and/or hiking trails.
This means that with a mountain bike, you have some more options to exhaust yourself. One alternative that is used in at least one gran fondo, is the one from Tovo, just south of Mazzo, with grades up to 26%…
I climbed the Mortirolo in 2011 from Mazzo and in 2015 from Monno – reports here (2011) and here (2015).
I revisited the Mortirolo for a ‘Mazzo rematch’, during my ‘Tour de Suisse 2019’, but that didn’t go very well – report on that here.
Stupid is as stupid does, so it didn’t go very well in 2020 either and neither did the Grosio ascend during that Giro – report(s) here.
One other approach I cycled was from Edolo, via Aprica and Monte Padrio – this is the last alternative listed here.
But that is actually more about Aprica and Monte Padrio (last one) than it is about the Mortirolo, because once you’ve reached the ~1,850 meter mark, you just cycle on for some 15 undulating kilometers to get to the Mortirolo summit.
However, the last part of that offers better views down into the valley than either of the more famous ascends. The Mortirolo is not about beautiful views, other than an occasional glimpse…
Mazzo di Valtellina
This most frequently traveled ascend is almost 12.5 km long from Mazzo, in which you’ll gain 1,300 meters – that’s an average of 10.4% and you may “look forward” to stretches of 18, 19, 20%…
However, this climb is rather constant in its steepness – the last kilometer is a little less intense, so you have the chance to recover a bit and look “fresh” when you take a picture / selfie at the summit.
It’s during this climb that you will pass the Pantani monument – it is located in turn 11, about four kilometers from the summit.
The summit is quite desolate – like the Zoncolan, there is nothing to do, albeit that they have transformed the summit somewhere between 2011 and 2015 to contain a ‘bathroom container’ and a more worthy monument.
If you would like to raise a glass on your accomplishment or eat a snack, then ride on down towards Monno – about one kilometer past the summit, you will find the Albergo “Passo Mortirolo”…
Video from the Col Collective on the Mazzo ascend here.
Deemed a slightly easier alternative on the west flank, is the climb from Grosio, which is located just north of Mazzo.
This climb is 14.8 kilometers long, with an altimeter gain of 1,222 meters. I had seen this end twice as a downhill, before I finally climbed it in 2020.
As I already assessed during my descends, this climb is a lot more irregular, which also corresponds to what you can see on the profile card.
Despite the deceiving 8.3% average, many stretches are possibly even steeper than the ones found in the climb from Mazzo, but there are “easier” parts to recover a bit.
This climb joins the one from Mazzo at turn 8, some 3 kilometers before the summit…
From the (south) east you can tackle the Mortirolo from Edolo – this is the road towards the Tonale (Ponte di Legno) and the first couple of kilometers from Edolo until the Monno turn, can be used as a good warm up.
From there you need to overcome an 900 meter elevation gain in approximately 11.7 kilometers – relatively speaking, this may be considered easy.
That, I do not, but I did find this climb considerably less difficult than the ones from Mazzo or Sutrio.
Which, depending on other factors, like weather, probably means it could still be though, but not even close to the other two…
In particular the stretch from about two kilometers from the summit – starting just before San Giacomo – might make you swear: under shelter of the trees, you’ll grovel you’re way up as the grades rise to 16%…
A good indication of the steep nature of this part, is the fact that it has no less than 10 hairpins; numbering starts at 12 just outside Monno, about 7 kilometers down the road…
Coming up this end, you will pass the only tavern near the summit – about a kilometer before you arrive there, you’ll pass the Albergo. There’s another restaurant in San Giacomo on your way back.