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Monte Grappa - jct SP148 - SP140

My first reaction after cycling this mountain was this: If you were restricted to bicycling on one mountain only - all your life, which one would you pick ? This one might be a pretty good choice. Actually it could be the world's best choice. A total of 3 obvious, major roads meet near the summit (actually there are at least 4, but the 4th one is not initially obvious, at least to me). But counting other shoulder summits and combinations with unpaved roads and trails the total could be very impressive. The summit is big enough to get most everybody sufficiently tired and worn out. The innumerable lower shoulder summits along the way allow for feeling accomplished with a little less elevation gain. - The weather tends to be relatively moderate and stable, unlike passes further north amidst high mountain peaks, or in the middle of continents where temperatures tend to be more extreme.

The only reason to maybe reconsider is, that traffic in the immediate front of the mountain, which invariably have to be traversed, even if only to connect climbing approaches) is extremely heavy and squeezed dangerously into very narrow roads -  much like (please excuse the hyperbolee) an overweight opera singer is squeezed into a corset.

I am going to save the "evolution of the later reaction" - after I had time to think about this for a while, for the end of the page.

So back to bicycles and bike-racing for a minute... The mountain is understandably popular with bike racers, an that even though the Giro d'Italia has been up here "only" five times. Most times the race did not finish at the summit. War cemeteries and bicycle race victory celebrations are not an ideal combination. But more about the war cemeteries later. In addition to professional races there are several cycling afficionado events, that are not restricted by this.

Just look at the variety of all these approaches. The approximately four major paved options meet within 200m below the summit, and form 2 way summits with each other. This is the highest of those. But the next one is just a few meters lower.

Since this is the highest of these two way summits, you could naturally use any of the other approach options to construct a loop that does not contain an out and back section. So here is just a quick overview of the major approach options.

1. SP 148 - the main road from the suburbs above Bassano (part of this profile)
2. SP 140 - the most popularly used climb from Semonzo (part of this profile)
3. SP 141 - most difficult direct approach over a small steep remote road (part of the SP141-SP140 page)
4. the long approach from the north, and the Feltre area (maybe some day in future)
5. approach over roads from the canyon of the river Piave to the west. This has a number of options for the lower approaches. All of these form additional shoulder summit points. (ditto)

But enough dayloop construction trivia. Maybe there is more to it, than treating this mountain purely as a cycling or sightseeing event. There is more to it, I think. I hope to convince you of this by the end of the page. But I think we all start out this way. It is natural to satisfy one's curiosity with sight seeing. So here are just few facts to start out with. Maybe they will peak your sightseeing interest, if you have not heard of this mountain already.

On the top you can sightsee to your heart's content, not only far mountain mesa vistas, but opulent fascist architectural monuments, repurposed from their service for peace, through imaginative politics for the purpose of fascism. ... It is a fascinating history blend, that has to be untangled in the hope of understanding it. Over 20 thousand dead Austro-Hungarian soldiers have been transported up here to be buried at the summit.

In addition to this sobering historical puzzle, today this summit is a multi-sporting summit. There are the cyclists of course, both denominations. The mountain bikers have their own death-wish attractions. But all are outnumbered by the hanggliders, who (at least during my visit) outnumbered all other visitors put together, as well as sea gulls at a tuna cannery.They are however forced to start their flights from the lower slopes. Again : Mega - cemeteries and launch pads are not the ideal combination. I almost forgot - but maybe it is obvious: You also have to add the motorcycle contingent to the list of visitors.

1.START-END WEST:north-west of bassano Del Grappa
2.START-END WEST-ALTRomano D'Ezzelino
3.jct with road connecting to approach from Feltre
4.jct with approach from Feltre
5.TOP:jct SP140 - SP148, Monte Grappa, 5446ft
6.jct with SP141 approach
7.START-END EAST ALT: Semonzo Del Grappa
8.START-END EAST: Mussolente

external slide show of pictures from this page +addtional
external slide show of one-way summit pictures from this page +addtional

Here is a short rationale, when combining these two particular approaches would be an appropriate choice. Like all of the loops combing only approaches from the south, this loop is short enough, so that it still allows for hours of sight seeing at the top during a dayride. The loop over the next lower summit point has to be a longer day ride, combining the Feltre and Bassano areas as low points (unless you partially double back onto the original route and utilize one of the traverse roads on the mountain - an option that expands the possibilites into something approaching infinity).


From West.
This is the most obvious way up the mountain. It is the widest of the approaches, and it was conceived as a miltary supply road for WW1 battles further up on the mountain, the Cadorna Road. Racers often describe it as the easiest and least favorite of the approaches. But it is perfect for a first ride up the mountain. It also seems to have the most frequent reminders of the war battles fought here - close to the road, along with background information. Especially this approach is a kind of extended open air war museum.

From the Valsugana main road down in the valley, signs point to the start of this climb. But approaching from the east on Via Casale Nuovo, a sign directed at cyclists details the Feltre - Grappa Loop, and appears to send the cyclists up a dead end at a restaurant.

The true climb is a little wider than this wrong turn I first took. It starts with 6 switchbacks in the forest, connected by long ramps. Soon the first far view of the summit appears framed by trees. From down here it looks like a big military fort with defensive towers. This impression will be corrected a few thousand calories later.

Further up, a sign directs riders to a viewpoint. I love view points. I am a tourist. I took the turn-off. I followed it for several km to a high point, where a cable way was used to supply troops during WW1. This road descends slightly then, and I turned around. ... Still - more loop possibilites

Back on the original Cadorna Road. Before reaching treeline, there is really only one interesting view location directly on this approach. It comes at the junction with a traverse, that connects over to the Feltre approach. This alternative goes down to Cismon del Grappa. From just before this junction, for the first time the world of massive mesas to the north becomes visible. After that it's back into the trees.

Later, comfortably above the treeline, the map starts to make sense. There is the the deep cut into the Val Sugana. Villages hang at half height between sky and invisible valley bottom. It is amazing how soft and rounded these dolomite plateaus look from here. This is canyon country. The people live in the cracks at the bottom, and the cars and trucks crowd along them in long queues. Up here nature seems to be still alive in between the remnants of efforts to turn this mountain into a fortress. With the fortress like structures at the top very close, the next highest approach option come into sight. This possible decent direction Feltre is quickly followed by another turnoff, down SP140. That is a narrower and curvier road than what we came up on this road.

At a minute walking distance from this junction (which is this SP148-SP140) stands a fascinating sculpture depicting the horrors of fascism (picture above). If all the reminders of war and death along the way didn't make an impression, maybe this will start to do it. It's origin, history and purpose are very different from what waits at the summit.

Slideshow of the SP148 and SP140 approaches

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow

From East. (described downwards). This approach is actually much more scenically diverse., and is often called the Semonzo-approach. It also does not have the climbing reprieve in the middle, and is a more popular climb, at least after the first time. In my way of thinking, it is better left for later in the day (and then it's probably going to be downhill), because the views are much better in late light. The road seems to seek out little ridges and dips above treeline to maximize the number of curves and directions of views. A junction along the way (still above treeline) again increases the shoulder summits and loop possibilities. Some of these are partially unpaved.

Once below treeline the next section hugs the cliff below overhangs, and between two short natural stone tunnels (there is a picture on the SP140-SP141 page). This is not the kind of tunnel where a thunderous batallion of cars pursues you, but the kind that are just plain fun to cycle through. Outside the mountain is made up of rock folds, that look like a bunched-up curtain. The green folds descend straight into the valley. A large number of hanggliders suddenly appear at eye's level. At the transition to the third section of this decent, they seem so close, you can virtually see them make decisions on where to turn, in order to catch the next updraft.

The third section is largely in the trees. 20 switchbacks, partially lined by cypress galleries, lead down the regular slope like a stair case. Through the cypresses you can make out a few low knolls, the last remnants of foothills on an otherwise perfectly flat plain, stretching to the Adriatic sea beyond the horizon. Some are crowned by towers or mansions, The road enters Semonzo and goes over a virtual white carpet of racing graffiti, adjacent to a small cathedral. But the racing graffiti takes a quick end. The profile now runs for a short distance on SP26 - a truly horrible awakening to the reality of traffic in this area, after this dream like decent - but then quickly leaves this nightmare road in order to find a few more meters of decent to maximize the downhill.

Sidetrip to Cime del Grappa(ow)

1.START-END WEST:north-west of bassano Del Grappa
2.START-END WEST-ALTRomano D'Ezzelino
3.jct with road connecting to approach from Feltre
4.jct with approach from Feltre
5.jct SP140 - SP148, Monte Grappa, 5446ft
7.TOP:highest point on path along summit ridge,5643ft

The out and back to the summit is so close to this two-way summit point, that not visiting there on this loop is not really a sensible option - at least once. A few more switchbacks and the road dead ends at a big restaurant, where tourists are supposed to drink their beer and lemonade and spend their money. Past the large parking lot you can go a little further on a paved path, that is a perfectly bikable narrow path, that dead ends at a locked gate, labeled as a military building of some sort - a pefectly peaceful spot to have lunch in solidarity with an incredible panoramic view. Riding a bicycle above this road on the trails near the cemetery is not allowed.

My reaction was: In order to compete with this dramatic view, whatever else is up here has to be pretty dramatic too. The answer: The remains of 25 thousand dead soldiers have been transported up here memorialized. The result is a walkable set of terraces. Through it leads a summit boulevard of sorts. Everything is larger and monolythic than life. Best to experience it first hand and try to find your own words.

Dayride with this point as highest Summit


( < Passo dei Redebus | Monte Grappa: jct SP140-SP141 > )

Monte Grappa jct SP148-SP140 , additional out and back:  Romano D'Ezzelino with detours > SP149 north <> partial out and back to high point on road to Campeggia > SP148 west > Cima del Grappa: jct SP148-SP140 <> out and back to Cima del Grappa(ow) >> down SP 140 > Sermonzo del Grappa > Mussolente > Fellette > Bassano del Grappa > back to starting point in Romano D'Ezzelino: 45.1miles with 6560ft of climbing in 5:28hrs (garmin etrex30 r5:21.10.1)
Notes: the first truely perfect day, the right temperatures with clear sunlight and no haze. But traffic in front of the mountains is heavy on very narrow roads.

Slideshow of the least section to the Out-and-Back summit:

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow


WW1: The Monte Grappa war stories date mostly from WW1. Let's face it, Monte Grappa did not have a happy childhood. Consequently it did not develop into an ordinary, peaceful and happy mountain. The area below it was first settled by the Romans, invaded by barbarians after the fall of Rome, then ruled by the tyrant Ezzelino. it was subsquently annexed by the Venetians, only to be sold to the Hapsburg empire (Austria) by Napoleon, and then annexed by a young Italian kingdom in 1866. By the 20th century Tyrol and the Austrian cultural influence was dominant from here north.

WW1 was a very bloody period here, revolving around hostilities between the Austro-Hungarian empire and Italy. Before any of the hostilities began, a major military supply road had to be constructed in 1916. It was named after general Cadorna, a heroic general who saved Italy, or a butcher who made his troops run uphill into open fire, depending on how close you were associated with the latter. That is the wester approach, described above.

Three important battles were fought between the Austro- Hungarian empire and Italy on these slopes. Italians occupied the top, but there were Austrians on the northern slopes. After the first battle, the Italians built up the summit. Today we can be amazed at the result, and what some people are capable of in war. All this fortification building paid off. The next summer's offensive (1917), in which the Austrians wered aided by the German Alpenkorps failed to take the mountain. The Italian defensive line along the Piave River, which is an unmistakable landmark when climbing the mountain on a bike further north - held.

This last battle for the mountain was the biggest. While the major battle during the summer only lasted less than 2 weeks, the time and effort invested to further turn the mountain into a defensible fortress took till the next spring, ten months to be more specific. Amongst the newly updated Grappa military structures was an undeground gallery, consisting of 5km of tunnels near the summit with the name "Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle 3". Along with that, military barracks were built at the summit, to allow direct access to the tunnel system. Today it's a musem.

The Austros tried again to take the summit, the following year, again during the summer. Again the mountain top remained Italian.  The next year it was the Italians who attacked the Austrian positions. They did not win an outright victory. But it forced the Austrians to strengthen their positions on the mountain, thus depleting resources on the strategically more important front lines along the Piave River. This marked the beginning of the end of the Austro Hungarian empire by late in 1918. Soon after that Czechoslovakia declared its independence, which marked the beginning of the end of the empire.

It was during the bitter times after WW1, which only lead up to WW2, that the surreal depository of soldier bones at the summit was erected between 1925 and 1932.

Even though roughly 10 thousand of the 23 thousand sodlier's remains are unknown, the authorities took it upon themselves to assign a military decoration to each soldier on the Italian side, and prominently display it, as part of the monument. Of the 23 thousand assumed remains, 10295 are said to be Austro-Hungarian. They are buried a little to the side of the monumental 5 gigantic concentric circles. This monument is said to "be inspired by the art of military fortifications". You can walk down a bombastic 250 meter "curtain of stone" (walkway), flanked by monumental stone blocks, listing the location of the major battles. Heading for a grand view of the plains below, you are met there by a small chapel. It houses a madonna, which is said to have been horribly disfigured by the enemy in 1918, und thus deservers this special veneration, amongst the thousands of dead soldiers. If it is not obvious, it might be worth mentioning that these have been disfigured even worse. Still - the madonna inside this small chapel has been the subject of blessings from pope to caridinal, and is still subject to pilgrimage every August. Making this place holy helps justify what happened here, and it helps avoid uncomfortable questions. If it is religion, questions are not called for. Faith and acceptance are called for. The madonna also seems to place a an exclamation mark on this statement: This is our lost land, and if other sacrifices are demanded to reclaim other lost lands - we the facists - will make them. This is not the only bone depository along old Austrian front lines in Italy. But I suspect Monte Grappa is by far the most impressive. You cannot beat this location.

It was also during these bitter times after WW1, that the allies decided to give South Tirol, an area that is German speaking and culturally Austrian to Italy. Monte Grappa is not part of South Tyrol, but it is not far away to the north.

South Tyrol was now part of Italy, and speaking German became illegal for a while. But South Tyrol proved impossible to be culturally appropriated by Italy. Facist architecture was supposed to help a little. It was employed to help say "this is Italian and it will stay so. The sons of the Romans have returned". This monument marked the "new" Italian territory and the monuments were sentinels on its borders. They were employed to also help justify the lives lost during the acquisition.

WW2:  Oh how alliances can change in just a few years. The Austrians were now part of a German led effort, headed by an Austrian, working hard to convince the Italians do be on the same side in the next war. Everybody unite for fascism !  During this time the summit area was used by the Italian anti-fascist Partisans to disrupt fascist transportation lines down in the valley. During this episode of history, the fascists killed Italian Partisans in a nearby cave. At the point where SP140 and SP141 come together stands the only monument, that I could find on this mountain, that commemorates this period, pre WW2 fascism. The name of the tortured sculpture is Al Partigano, and it could not be more different in sentiment to the bone-depository. You might expect that this is a more recent addition, and you would be right.In 1974 Augusto Murer added this monument (1st picture on this page). The sculpture happens to also stand near the entrancce of the Galleria Vittorio Emmamuelle 3. It seems this mountain is so crowded with remnants of war, sooner or later each one has to vie for its own real estate.

Cycling: After these long historical hostilities and their consequences, a bike race becomes a very friendly hostility indeed. In 1968 the Giro d'Italia ventured for the first time up the slopes of Monte Grappa. They chose the relatively wide old military road (western approach shown above). A relative newcomer by the name of Emilio Casaline won over favorites like Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi. There have been 5 subsequent visits by the Giro (as of 2017). During those times they chose smaller roads with steeper approaches from Semonzo (eastern approach above) and from Caupo.

So now ... continuing from the introduction: Recap: My introduction was also my first reaction. But now my reaction, I'd like to think is this:

This is an area where tragedy, history and interests collide to form something, that is much bigger than its individual parts. Yes - there are endless and beautiful road climbs. Yes - hanggliders love this place. But - thousands of people have died here. Monuments to war and politics are all over the place. Some of them have been built for cinical, political reasons. Much of this remains unexplained in the abundant forest of signage along the way. And still - this is a kind of pilgrimage site, where all kinds of people meet, along with all kinds of interests and intelligence levels. Sometimes they not only meet, they collide. This place makes you ask questions about history, people and their motives, diametrically opposing world views, and the tragedies that ensue from all this. ... and a great place for a bike ride ... because what could be more important than that ?

So back to the beginning. There is one more sneaky reason, why this just might be the best cycle climbing mountain ever. As hinted above, there are actually many more climbing and riding possibilities on the north side, from the valley and canyon of the Piave. Grappa is actually a "massif" not just a "Cima". And as a final "by the way". The name apparently does not come from the variety of wine, comprised of stems and wine-making leftovers (also named Grappa), but has something to do with the limestone cliffs in this area. - Happy biking.