Tunnel (Col) du Parpaillon !!


I’ve dreamed of doing this gigantic climb for a long time. With 1900 metres of ascent it’s easily the biggest single un-interrupted climb I have done in France.

The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys. The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long – at 2643 metres. The geographic col is above at 2780 metres.

Tunnel du Parpaillon

The route has fallen into disuse and roughly the top 10 kilometres of both sides are rough, stone filled roads – the first half is VERY bumpy — worse than in photos. My hybrid was not really sufficient. This requires a mountain bike.

As the 2nd little photo above shows, the route is signed each kilometre as the Montée du Parpaillon for road bikes with the “summit” being the start of gravel at 1860 metres – still a big climb from Embrun

Believe it or not – me, the tunnel-coward, – went through the tunnel just to see the other side – and then return. A friendly stranger accompanied me and the super-bright bike light that Eric gave me as a present helped immensely.

As did the camera flash:

Tunnel du Parpaillon

The other side of tunnel is a rough road too:

Col du Parpaillon

Edit: See here for a 2017 ascent of the south side. Also great!

Just below the tunnel on the Embrun side is the Col de Girabeau. For some bizarre reason, I decided to take the steep hiking trail over the top, descending roughly 700 metres in 2.5 kilometres until reaching a gravel road far below – near Les Orres ski station. It was a lovely hike ….. but don’t do this unless prepared to walk/carry the bike for a good hour.

View of Lac de Serre-Ponçon in distance from Col de Girabeau (2480 metres). I hiked all the way down to road next to my bento box on bike. #idiot

Col du Girabeau 2480 metres

9.1 Awesome

This is the harder side of one of the legendary roads in France - formerly the highest. the top half may not be paved, but the upside: it is deserted.

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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill.


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  4. Bravo! I’ve tackled this one myself, but from the southern (Ubaye) side. It’s much rougher and feels endless and very isolated when you’re climbing, so I’d agree 100% about the need for a mountain bike.
    Yes, the tunnel is glacially cold even in the height of summer, so you’ll need a warm fleece and a decent light to get you through it – plus steady nerves. There’s quite a sense of achievement when you pop out the other side, though. Makes me shiver just to think about it…
    Here’s my account with images of the experience:

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