Col de la Vallée Etroite


Col de la Vallée Etroite starts at the exact same intersection in St-Michel-de-Maurienne as Col du Télégraphe/Galibier but heads in the opposite direction. The Col is almost 100 metres higher than Galibier at 2732 metres. I counted 52 hairpins. Wow.

The Maurienne valley is home to perhaps half of the most famous cycling climbs in France – see here for 15 of the best there.

Beginning of the gravel

This is a huge climb, roughly 2000 metres non-stop ascent. And it’s even tougher than the profile suggests as the majority of the climb is a rough old gravel road. But, this unknown “road” goes all the way to the Col. Even the steep last stretch is completely rideable – it is not a hiking trail. Woohoo!

I usually put the 3D video at the end, but this one is worth seeing:

It’s immediately quiet above St. Michel, with views of the opposite side of the valley and Fort du Télégraphe throughout.

And once it becomes gravel at Le Thyl (1350m) I saw zero cars but many marmottes.

I’ve done a few of other rides from St-Michel up this side of the valley:

  1. Col des Petit Encombrés (gravel higher stretches) – 2361 metres
  2. A far less challenging little road bike loop including Col de Beaune and Col de Beau Plan
  3. And just down the road, from Orelle, is the start of the first climb I ever rode that reached 3000 metres.

In the photo below, from 2010 metres, I’d already done 2/3s of the ascent yet there was still a long way to go:

I’d looked closely at some maps and wasn’t certain how far the road would continue and I was always prepared for the last stretch to be a hiking trail and involve some carrying. But the road just kept going and going.

Making progress

There is another excellent and high Col de la Vallée Etroite to the south high on the French Italian border. Here’s an excellent mountain bike loop that visits both countries and a few cols including Col de la Vallée Etroite (2434m)


There wasn’t much snow on the way up but the summit was completely covered in snow. I was looking for the col sign and found a broken panel.

2732 metres – poor sign

The far side is marked as hiking and passes Lac Lou. There was still lots of snow around as it’s north facing and I couldn’t see how rideable it was. But I believe it’s more trails than road.

The summit – 2732 metres (Les Menuires ski station down far side

I had a couple of ideas for descending back down that involved some trails, but I was tired and they seemed potentially crazy, so I simply descended all the way back to the start.

This was a revelation. It’s tough to get this high in the Alps on a bicycle but always satisfying. I love these deserted, high adventures.

Now I need to add this climb at #14 to this article: Thirty of the Highest Unpaved Cycling “Roads” in the Alps.


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Phil Millham on

    Thanks Will,
    Hope to fit this one in next year either before or after the TNR.
    Looks like a cracker!

  2. Greg Hawkins on

    I love climbing too. So nice to be able to hop on the internet and see these routes. Inspiration for future rides.

  3. Jonas Decraene on

    Great find Will! Looks fun, must be very satisfying indeed 🙂 Are there many unrideable stretches like the one in the ‘Almost’ photo?

    • I slipped off the bike/ walked a few times when steep and slippery/rocky.

      But I think you (you not me!!) could pedal 100% of the route.

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