Colle della Rho, Refuge du Mont-Thabor, Col de la Vallée Etroite

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Another great unpaved climb over high passes on the Italian French border.

This route starts in Italy, enters France at Colle della Rho (2541 metres), then spends roughly 14 kilometres in France, visiting a couple more cols, several lakes, and a refuge – all well above 2000 metres, finally descending back into Italy. Beautiful. (Detailed map at bottom).

A 3D video of the ride:

Starting in Bardonnechia, it’s almost immediately quiet, and after 3 kms the road becomes gravel – no autos for the next few hours. Yes, it is another old military road that continues to a barracks roughly 2 kilometres from the summit of Colle della Rho. It’s slippery gravel, and sometimes quite steep (short stretches in high teens, lows twenties). But always rideable, even if I did slip and unclip several times. Deserted and beautiful. So much fun.

Approaching the barracks is a short, old tunnel. Part of the roof is collapsed, but no worries. Just after is a collapsed but passable old bridge.

At Granges les Rho the route splits, both ways reach the barracks, but you should take the right-side option as it is completely rideable. As the map shows I initially chose incorrectly and turned around to scout the other, much better option.

Old Barracks built in 1937 –

Just above the barracks at perhaps 2300 metres or so is Piano dei Morti – apparently, it’s named for an avalanche in 1655(!) that killed a group crossing the pass. The road ends at the barracks. The final two kilometres to the pass is a decent hiking trail, with the last stretch unrideable: Very steep, and a slippery mess.

Here’s a distant view from a couple of days later:

The far side of the pass – in France – is a hiking trail. At first, quite steep, but lower very rideable. In fact, the balance of the route is on well-worn trails not “roads” (until well into the final descent).

French side, descent. Looking back up above to Col de la Roue (Rho)

Traversing

The route then takes a steep trail up to Col de la Replanette (2338m). Some pushing:

Steep stretch to Col de la Replanette

Next is a quite rideable segment to Col de la Vallée Etroite (2434m) – below Col in the distance:

Refuge du Mont-Thabor in distant view:

My plan was to just descend Vallée Etroite down back into Italy and call it a day. But, I saw a sign to Refuge du Mont-Thabor (2502 metres) pointing along a rideable looking trail. And my Garmin’s map showed that there were two lakes there, so I decided to do a there/back. Warning: some pushing, but it’s not far.

The lakes are great (Lacs Ste-Marguerite). And views of the interesting looking Le Cheval Blanc in the distance:

After visiting the lakes, I doubled back and had a snack at the Refuge and then began the descent down to Bardonecchia.

View of route taken from near the Refuge

The descent from Col de la Vallée Etroite is tricky until below 2000 metres. Sometimes flat, sometimes very steep, carry-the-bike stuff. But not dangerous, one just needs to enjoy the occasional walk, and be careful. But the surroundings are fantastic.

Descending Col de la Vallée Etroite

Eventually, the road crosses back into Italy and a road appears. It’s a beautiful descent, finally joining the main road (just below the road to Colle della Scala) and heads back into Bardonnechia.

I absolutely loved this ride, but a few points:
1) I chose the correct direction. Much more rideable.
2) But there is pushing involved. This doesn’t bother me in a beautiful environment. But I want to be clear.
3) Gravel bike? Possible. But there is so much rough descending that a mountain bike is more comfortable.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

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