Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Stelvio last week

During my latest trip to Süd Tirol the weather forecast for Wednesday the 23th of September was rather bleak. The forecast was persistent and heavy rain. As it would be to wet to do something else I decided to find me some snow on one of the various mountain passes in the area. The previous day had seen some frost in the morning at an altitude of around 2000 m, so it was a safe bet that above that the rain would fall as snow. And as I am never to ambitious, I chose the highest pass available, the Stelvio :-) With an altitude of 2758 m there should be plenty of snow to test the traction of my new Land Rover.
I decided to tackle the Stelvio through its Swiss back door, the Umbrail Pass. And not long after I started the climb the rain turned into wet snow. Needless to say that the higher I went the thicker the snow fell. Luckily the Swiss had the snowplough in operation, making the climb fairly easy ...


After the snowplough passed us, the car in front pulled over to let us pass, and not much later we reached the top of the Umbrail, the Swiss-Italian border and the last bit of the southern slope of the Stelvio. Here the fun really started. While crossing the border to the Italian side another snowplough was preparing for another run up to the top. He was clearly surprised when I didn't wait for him to clear the road for me ...


It came as no surprise the we had the road all for ourselves. Still in normal road mode (so no diff lock or low gear) the car pulled ever higher without much drama. But after a few kilometres we saw a small dark blob moving slowly in the distance ...


Turned out to be a Mercedes G(ay:-) with all traction aids added, including snow-chains. Luckily the chance of any oncoming traffic was negligible, so I overtook him. The conditions including visibility didn't improve, but the car soldiered on bravely to the top. But by the time we reached the first buildings we were greeted by a vast white emptiness. Chances of having lunch here looked grim ...





But we saw some lights shining in one of the buildings which looked promising. There were also some cars parked at the top, although they looked like they wouldn't move for a while ...


We did manage to lay our hands on a cup of coffee, but lunch wasn't to be. The (not very friendly) staff immediately retired after the coffee was delivered and paid for, not to be seen again. So nothing much left to do than to carry on, down the northern slope. Turned out that side was closed for obvious reasons, but it wasn't stated on the various signs we had encountered en route to the pass, or even at the foot of the pass itself. Only one option left really, return the same way we came...



Although conditions hadn't really improved while we were at the top, this went pretty smooth. Also thanks to our guardian angel of course :-) Till we were about 450 m lower on the Umbrail that is. Here we found the road blocked by a German campervan, standing in the middle of the road. Turned out he couldn't control the van any more due to lack of proper tyres and/or snow chains. In short he was scared shitless and wouldn't move the van, afraid of sliding of the mountain. And he had managed to block the road properly with no way around it on either side ...


So not much we could do but wait till the snowplough came up to clear the road a bit. Which took well over an hour, luckily the queue was rather modest, one Land Rover and a Jeep Cherokee. But with the occupants of both cars starting to get rather impatient. Well over an hour later the snow plough turned up and cleared most of the snow, but even than he didn't dare to drive down. In the end I managed to persuade him to move his vehicle over to the side off the road so that at least the cars behind him could carry on. It took him almost 10 minutes to cover 100 metres to a small lay-by. But it showed us that he was a rather useless driver. Every time the van moved a bit he immediately hit the brakes, resulting in four locked wheels and a campervan slowly and uncontrollably sliding down. Quite funny to watch, but in case he managed to block the road again I decided to squeeze past him as soon as possible. And with that hurdle taken I stopped a little further down, to see if he needed any further assistance. He clearly wasn't in a mood to drive any further in these conditions. So I suggested to take him, his missus and the dog down to the nearest village, were they could make arrangements to get their campervan down. But he didn't approve of the idea. In the end he managed to convince a local garage owner in coming up with a set of snow chains, at € 520,- for the service ...


We didn't wait for that, and headed down in search for a late lunch and something to drink.


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