Komplizentour - Bike mountaineering in South Tyrol & Co.

Komplizentour - Bike mountaineering in South Tyrol & Co.

03.09.20 05:48 3.158Text: Luke Biketalker (Translated by: Carola Felchner)Photos: Erwin Haiden, Lukas Salzer (3)Paths, climbs, solitude - flow, stumbling and carrying passages: The Vinschgau smugglers' old routes are legally worth a border crossing on the mountain bike.03.09.20 05:48 3.159

Komplizentour - Bike mountaineering in South Tyrol & Co.

03.09.20 05:48 3.159 Luke Biketalker (Translated by: Carola Felchner) Erwin Haiden, Lukas Salzer (3) Dieser Beitrag ist auch in Deutsch verfügbarPaths, climbs, solitude - flow, stumbling and carrying passages: The Vinschgau smugglers' old routes are legally worth a border crossing on the mountain bike.03.09.20 05:48 3.159

Tenaciously, we place one foot in front of the other, panting heavily as we stomp ahead; our backs are severely overloaded with heavy luggage and our bikes as we continue onward, further and further up on long abandoned paths. The last scraps of conversation have already faded away a few hundred metres further downhill. Despite the alpine scenery, the scorching midday heat drives every precious drop of water right out of our civilization-weakened bodies' pores.
It's hard to imagine how resilient the smugglers once ought to have been as we tread on their paths with mixed feelings somewhere between mania and depression; those paths, ridges and peaks high above Vinschgau Valley, deep into the Swiss mountains, used to be both the smuggler's worksite and home. Unlike us, they were not equipped with ridiculously lightweight carbon bikes but carrying 30, perhaps even 40 kilograms of weight instead.

 What a teacher earned in a month smugglers earned with a single crossing. 

Motivation enough for the local youth with a good knowledge of mountains.

Until the 1970s, smuggling thrived: coffee, tobacco and saccharin were the most popular contraband. Cattle was also smuggled, but at least would walk on its own hooves. The sons of mountain farmers knew their way around the remote heights, deep gorges and dark forests far better than the customs officers who tried to track them down.
Until noon, they worked at the local farm or elsewhere. Then, at night – with an alibi – they smuggled on both sides of the border. At dawn, they were back doing their regular work. One single crossing would earn the smugglers the entire monthly wage of a teacher; thus, it's not surprising that this business flourished in those bitterly poor years between and after the Great Wars.
Their paths and the myths surrounding them is the legacy of the accomplices (in German: Komplizen).

In reverent memory of the daring smugglers' hardships, inventor Siegi Weisenhorn named "his" mountain bike multi-day tour "Komplizentour". A tour with arduous ups and downs including many carrying passages and many more downhill passages that range between flowing and technically challenging - just as Siegi, who grew up on a mountain farm in Matschertal at 1,800 m, likes it best.
The adventurous tour begins in South Tyrol's Vinschgau valley, on the edge of the South Tyrolean/Austrian/Swiss border triangle between Stilfserjoch (Passo dello Stelvio) and Reschen Pass, with a good view of the eye-catching Ortler mountain and the Swiss slopes right in front. Siegi and his team from Südtirolbike have created a formidable three- (or optionally four-)day tour:

Day 1 covers about 48 km, with an elevation gain of 2,093 metres and 2,006 metres down again, from Reschen Pass via a detour to Sesvenna lodge in Switzerland. On day 2, the tour leads all the way from Sesvennahütte to Taufers in Val Müstair, first on foot, then on the bike, covering a total distance of 43 kilometres, 1,700 metres of elevation gain and going downward for 2,700 metres. Day 3 starts in Val Müstair, leads up to the legendary Schmugglerscharte at the crossing between Switzerland and South Tyrol, optionally up to Piz Chavalatsch, and down to Prad am Stilfersjoch. Those who are not yet done after these 35 km with 1,500 metres of elevation gain and 1,700 metres downward can add a fourth day at alpine guesthouse Tibethaus on Stilfserjoch, including Piz Umbrail and another 2,675 metres downward.

 Carrying, pushing, riding, stumbling. 

Komplizentour combines all kinds of locomotion on and with a bike.

Siegi and his team handle things just as the smugglers did during their crossings: destinations are set, but how to get there is variable. Just as shepherds, herders and farmers used to warn smugglers of the Italian "financiers" with secret signs, and the mountain cronies stuck together at any cost and spontaneously changed their routes, the guides also spontaneously adapt the tour to weather, physical condition or riding skills and underperformance.
Of course, the tour can also be done on your own. GPS data is available here. But considering the multitude of paths and route options, we highly recommend booking a Südtirolbike guide – or one from their slightly more luxury-oriented friends at Trailxperience. Also, everyone who finishes the tour is being rewarded with a badge by Siegi as a souvenir of all ordeals overcome.
There are no luggage shuttles or other luxuries like the comfort of an e-mountain bike. You’d break down under their weight in carrying passages. Instead, everyone carries their own luggage; in the spirit of the accomplice's comradeship, friendships for life are created: comradeship on the mountain has often led to a lifelong bond.

Enough with the romantic raving now. The tour starts at the top of Reschen Pass. If you don't want to ride up from Prad to the pass at the end of the tour, we suggest to park your car in Mals. Parking at the train station is free of charge and Südtirolbike’s bike point is very close.
From there, an organized shuttle takes you to the cable car Bergkastel in Nauders – the only weightless ascent along the original route. At the mountain station's exit, 2,200 m above sea level and with a view of Switzerland, the Komplizentour that traverses three countries begins on Austrian soil.

We have already taken a look at the advantages of the trails around Nauders several times and most recently this summer.
Thanks to a specially designed trail network you can choose relatively freely where to go from here on: Either to Stieralm on a flowing trail and from there across the plateau via the panoramic Plamort Trail, through the admonitory anti-tank barriers that bear witness of the once percolating rivalry between Mussolini and Hitler, and past grazing horses via the much more technical Bunker- and Adige Trail to the shores of Lake Reschen. Or you choose the more comfortable option and take the forest highway at the end of Plamort Trail, leading to the same destination - plenty of technical passages still await between S2 and S3, and you will have nailed the first border crossing by bike either way.

After this, the first real climb leads up to Reschneralm. Even if the ascent welcomes the wannabe smugglers with a moderate climb, stopping for some food and drinks is nevertheless advisable - especially since the route will soon lead you towards Swiss price levels on flowing natural trails past the lakes Schwarzsee and Grünsee.
Down in the valley flows the Inn river, confusing geographically less versed smugglers with an Inn valley on Swiss soil. Yes, Inn river rises in Switzerland, somewhere in the area of the lakes at Maloja Pass, before it travels past the Tyrolean capital – the part of its journey that we Austrians know well.
But the mighty alpine stream did not only leave geological traces. Its Rhaeto-Romanic name En suggests that the entire Engadin owes its name to Inn river. In any case, we follow its banks until our route once more shows its steep face at Sur En.
Shortly before the appealing camping site, a sculpture trail with about 100 sculptures made of wood, Lasa marble and iron invites us to take a rest. The path winding through Uina gorge, better known as Val d'Uina, has been arduously carved out of stone as well. A deep canyon once made the crossing to South Tyrol and today's Sesvennahütte almost impassable.

After the construction of mountain cabin Pforzheimer Hütte around 1900, its operator German Alpine Club was interested in finding a more direct access route via Switzerland as an alternative to the inconvenient detour via Reschen Pass and Schling up to Alp Sursass. As a result, access via the rear Val d'Uina, the so-called Quar, was decided upon.
On a length of about 600 metres, a path was laboriously carved into the rock, partly tunnelled through the walls of the gorge. A little head for heights can't hurt on today's trail, but the path is probably impressive even for experienced climbing enthusiasts. There is no way to go there by bike, you’ll have to push it. In view of the 1,200 metres of altitude difference between Inn river and Sesvennahütte, most would have had to get off their bikes sooner or later anyway.

Where the waters of Plateau da Rims, Val Cristanas and Pass da Schlinga meet, you’ll finally exit the wildly romantic gorge dug into the limestone and reach the extensive, summit-fenced pastures of Alp Sursass.
Cozy Sesvennahütte with comfortable bunk beds and a beautiful dusk panorama during dinner at over 2,200 m are within reach now.

The next day we spoon our muesli early in the morning. One or two beers less might have extended the night's rest a bit, but if you follow in the smugglers’ footsteps, you are not supposed to stay in bed for too long. Especially not when the weather forecast announces a certain probability of thunderstorms for late afternoon.
We climb on our bikes for a farewell photo only, then we take them on our backs. Tire profile and hiking trail are only to come into contact again 600 metres of altitude difference later. Along alpine paths, past lonely mountain lakes and accompanied by curious ibexes and circling vultures, we fight our way up to Fuorcla Sesvenna, the gap at the next crossing to Switzerland. Every now and then a warning marmot whistle breaks the morning silence somewhere from the slopes, which despite their vegetation look like strange moonscapes. Otherwise, the thoughts wander completely free.

Fullest concentration is only required again after reaching the top of 2,819 m high Fuorcla Sesvenna. One last look at the strangely deserted world of the Sesvenna group and over to the glaciated fields of mighty Piz Sesvenna before we head via Sesvenna valley towards S-charl on a technically demanding route.
First steep and flowing, then increasingly blocked and blessed with divine hairpin bends, and finally flat, but through coarse scree and coarse rock, we roll, pedal and push through emotional highs and lows of S3 route. Sometimes we master seemingly impossible passages, sometimes the rear wheel gets stuck in places where guide Lukas seems to glide weightlessly over, forcing some embarrassing pushing passages on us.

Definitely not a trail for riders who hardly know how to ride hairpin turns. And, as the entire original tour with its strongly bike mountaineering coined character, it is primarily intended for experienced stumble bikers.
When we get off our bikes at a high steep step that is definitely too exposed to try to ride it, smugglers of former times with their fully packed load carriers would have left us behind with a knowing and somewhat bored smile. And yes, of course there is also a "mass-compatible" version for accomplices without the urge to stumble: without carrying passage, but with a thoroughly relaxed detour via Sur Enn, Scuol and S-charl instead.

S-charl – yes, the old mining settlement is actually spelled like this in maps – is teeming with bikers. Even though the final kilometres through Sesvenna valley were really smooth and flowing, our energy reserves are longing for morning coffee and cake. We take a short break between day trippers and alpine crossers.
The surprisingly gentle gravel path that winds further into the valley from S-charl and only becomes an easy trail at Alp Astra, climbs another 450 m to Pass da Costainas and is an extremely popular transalp riders’ route into Münstertal (Münster valley). Thanks to its gentle character, it is one of the few traffic-free alpine crossings that can be managed by almost anyone without getting off the bike. A stark though thoroughly welcome contrast to our early morning ascent.

Tamangur is the name of the peculiar landscape we are cycling through now. The area is home to one of the highest pine forests in Europe, the valley floor along the meandering Clemgia is heavily marshy – unique in Switzerland. Raised bogs and fens extend up to about 2,100 m.
After crossing Pass da Costainas and following flowing trails through woods and meadows, we finally reach tradition-rich Münstertal, where we put the adaptability of our guides to the test. While according to the original route we would have spent the night there and then continued on to South Tyrol via Schmugglerscharte the following day, we "cheat" our way up to Stilfserjoch via shuttle – squeezing a four-day tour into a three-day time budget, photoshoots included, needs to resort to some kind of technical assistance from time to time. Besides, a route that was not the least flexible would neither have been in the interest of former time smugglers, nor of Komplizentour’s different versions, would it?

Therefore, we start “our” third day high above the historical serpentines at the top of Stilfserjoch. If you plan long enough in advance, you might get one of the coveted overnight stays at Tibethaus. All others should at least have enjoyed the sunset on the observation terrace there as well as a look at the slopes of king Ortler behind the parking lot.
Riding over a steep ascent and via Dreisprachenspitze, past memorials of the Second World War that advanced as far as into the Alps, we finally arrive at one of the official highlights of the region: Goldseetrail (Goldsee Lake trail). The trail to Furkelhütte (Furkel Hut) is quite varied: At first it is as flowing as often praised, but soon it gets increasingly demanding, rough and interspersed with occasional pushing passages and deep abysses.
Crashes should be avoided at any cost on many passages, but the S2 to S3-classified trail makes up for it with a breathtaking view of the Ortler massif. By the way, mountain bikers are only allowed to pass through before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. In between, the trail belongs to the many hikers on their way to and from Bormio.

We spend the next hour of our modified tour pedaling. The modified trail to Piz Chavalatsch, an optional highlight of the original Komplizentour, starts with a view of Vinschgau valley and leads over forest roads that soon turn into a steep trail. The last 700 metres of altitude difference finally turn out to be a sweaty triathlon of pedaling, pushing and carrying.
The view from the top of Piz Chavalatsch is well worth the effort, as is the prosciutto and cheese bun for lunch, which we’d purchased back at Furkelhütte. Old military paths are evidence of a senseless war fought in icy heights but allow for a thoroughly fun hairpin bend party down to Schmugglerscharte.

"Getting stuck where nobody else will even get to," was once the advertising claim of the late VW T3 Syncro. This is roughly how we feel while we, well, “mince” our way through hiking groups of senior citizens that watch us both incredulously and interestedly on the sometimes heavily blocked stumble passages.
Sometimes pushing might not only be the safer, but also the faster option. Either way, the path becomes increasingly gentle and flowing starting from Schmugglerscharte and its iron smuggler, which served as model for the Komplizentour logo.

On the way to Prad, odds are to miss the variety of vegetation zones ridden through in the course of hours and metres of depth, because of the many trail kilometres. From the again moonlike vastness of Goldseetrail we descend to the barren, high alpine meadow landscape on the slopes of Piz Chavalatsch and to lush meadows, dry coniferous forests and almost Mediterranean grasses down in the valley.
After all, Prad am Stilfserjoch and the start of our descent at the top of the pass are separated by an impressive 1,840 metres of difference in altitude. More than enough metres of depth and a worthy finish of our Komplizentour on the flowing forest passages of the lower sections of 7-Brunnen-Trail (7 fountain trail).

And what better end could there be to a multi-day tour on the former smugglers’ paths than enjoying one of the most prestigious smuggled goods – a cup of locally roasted coffee? We drink it at Kuntrawant’s, an old-established coffee house in the heart of Prad with an emphatic smuggler reference. After all, the name of the roast house is borrowed from "contrabbando", which is Italian for smuggling. Perhaps one last mischievous prank of the resourceful Vinschgau citizens and their smuggled past at the expense of the Italian "financiers"?

Good to know

Bike hotels and accommodation in South Tyrol

Groups can book the tour at any time. Individual riders must keep to the given dates. The minimum number of participants is 3.
Booking on südtirolbike.info. Further information about the tour as well as GPS tracks are also available on the homepage of Südtirolbike.


Between 425 and 695 Euros, depending on the number of participants. Surcharge for day 4: € 130,-

  • Day 1: Reschenpass – Sesvennahütte. 48 km – 2,093 hm (height metres i.e. metres of altitude difference) – 2,006 md (metres of depth)
  • Day 2: Sesvennahütte – Taufers im Münstertal. 43 km – 1,700 hm – 2,700 md
  • Day 3 Münstertal – S chmugglerscharte – Piz Tschavalatsch – Prad am Stilfserjoch. 35 km – 1,500 hm – 1,700 md
  • Day 4: on request: Overnight stay at Tibethaus on Stilfserjoch. Piz Umbrail and Goldseetrail. 33 km – 750 hm – 2.675 md
Required fitness level

For Komplizentour, participants should be able to climb up to 500 hm per hour. Also carrying passages must be mastered. An accomplice must not be squeamish. It takes a lot of passion to take home the accomplice badge at the end.

Riding skills

The tour is technically demanding. Descents are mostly classified S2, with short S3 passages.

Services included/3 days with Südtirolbike
  • 3 days on tour with Südtirolbike
  • 1 overnight stay at Sesvennahütte
  • 1 overnight stay at Hotel Tuberis Taufers in Münstertal
  • 2 times half board
  • Shuttle transfer from bike point Mals to Nauders
  • Cable car transfer with cable car Bergkastel Nauders to starting point
  • Smuggler accomplice badge
Services included/4 days with Südtirolbike
  • 4 days on tour with Südtirolbike
  • 1 overnight stay at Sesvennahütte
  • 1 overnight stay at Hotel Tuberis Taufers in Münstertal
  • 1 overnight stay at Tibethaus
  • 3 times half board
  • Shuttle transfer from bike point Mals to Nauders
  • Cable car transfer with cable car Bergkastel Nauders to starting point
  • Smuggler accomplice badge


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