Col Hunting (7!) Above Serre Chevalier

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Last summer I cycled Col du Granon from Briançon and visited several unpaved cols above. During the ride I kept looking at the high mountain ridge across the valley above Serre Chevalier. I thought I could see some unexpected roads among the peaks. I made a note.

Me, in 2018, route planning for 2019 🙂

A year later, this is a fantastic unpaved ride up to and along the mountain ridge at the top of the Serre Chavalier ski domain. I would visit seven cols: Col du Prorel (2400m), Col de la Ricelle (2371m), Col de Serre Chevalier (2383m), Col de Méa (2457m), Col de Fréjus (2493m), Col de la Cucumelle (2501m), and Col de l’Eychauda (2425m). Admittedly, I would traverse or even descend to a few of the cols but what an adventure.

All the cols are labeled on the profile below the map.

I started at the McDonald’s just above Briançon allowing me to immediately be on a tiny, quiet road. After a few kilometres it becomes gravel, climbing through a mountain forest. Completely deserted. After roughly 10 kilometres I would pass into the ski domain.

I had a gravel bike, but a mountain bike would have been a better choice. I would at times follow trails, but the toughest stretches were all super steep gravel roads – including much of the final descent from 2501 metres.

The final 2 kilometres to the first col, Col du Prorel is crazy steep. How much you can cycle depends solely how strong you are. I would walk some stretches and then get back on the bike.

From the col I took a long, long, long look at the hiking trail that leads to Col de la Ricelle but finally decided it looked too tricky if carrying a bike. See photo below, Col de la Ricelle is at far right:

Instead I descended a couple of kilometres, passed a very nice man-made lake, and climbed a gravel road up to the col.

At the top of a chairlift I would take a hiking trail to traverse to Col de la Ricelle. Beautiful up high.

Col du Prorel at left in distance, Col de la Ricelle directly ahead/below.

Next, if you look closely at the map you’ll that I would take a round-about route to Col de Serre Chevalier. It’s possible to go over the ridge, more directly on a hiking trail. I decided not to as it looked tough and I wasn’t certain I could continue over the col …. but I saw later that the hiking trail continues. Note, just after the 21 km point of the route, I joined an official signed mountain bike route (#33). It’s not remotely technical, and I would follow it as it eventually turned into a gravel road to Col de Méa.

On the way, I would get a view of my route along the second half of the ridge ride – drool. The third arrow indicates Col de Méa, the 6th is Col de la Cucumelle:

But first, I would do a quick there/back to the far side of Col de Serre Chevalier as I could see it was easily reachable on a trail. Here, I made a routing mistake. I would later learn (staring at a map) that at Col de Serre Chevalier, the trail in the photo below would have led me eventually to the brilliantly named Col de la Pisse. Oh well, next time.

The next part is where the route gets great. From Col de Méa I could see the most amazing road up the Roche Gauthier:

Here’s a 360 degree scrollable photo:

I would cycle up it, though the highest stretches are crazy steep. My original plan had been to turn around at the summit, roughly 2560 metres. But when I reached the top I had another stunning view. I had a close look at a map: in the photo below along the ridge are Col de Fréjus and Col de la Cucumelle, and just beyond, lower on left is Col de l’Eychauda. And that crazy trail in the top right climbs to the summit of the well known La Cucumelle peak.

I decided to have a look. First crossing the ridge. Wow:

The below photo looks back towards the way I had come:

Here’s a 360 degree scrollable photo:

I continued across the ridge to Col de la Cucumelle and then a short descent to Col de l’Eychauda. Exactly at the col there is another road that heads much higher to Col des Neyzets (2710 metres). It looks crazy steep, but I regret not having a look. You can see the road above up high just to the right:

Instead, I began the descent to Monêtier-les-Bains. This is where I really regretted not having a mountain bike. It’s a dusty gravel road, but extremely steep and slippery. Difficult. Eventually, I would reach the valley. I took paved roads, including a long stretch on the main busy road back to the start. But it is easy to map out trails or quieter roads if you prefer. But I was tired, so for once, I chose the fastest, busiest option.

I pedaled straight into the McDonald’s and ordered three Egg McMuffins! This … was … an … adventure. Highly recommended, but all but the very strongest riders should expect some hiking.

Just below Col de l’Eychauda

A 3D video of the route:

Relive ‘7 cols above serre chevalier.gpx’

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

5 Comments

  1. Amazing ride, as always. Now, I know the Monetier les Bains ski resort very well, as I have skied there several winters when i was a kid and ever since. I know even the way down is rather steep, as much as it is a proper gravel ‘road’. Was it doable in the saddle? I remember pushing my mountain bike up that ‘road’ for very long stretches a few years ago to get to Cucumelle. Was it manageable on the way down?

    Well done!!! I wish I could try this ride this year – I opted for the Assietta first, and around the Granon, but a gpx track very similar to your ride here was loaded on my GPS last week too!

    Oh – and thanks for all this. I’ve used some of your gpx tracks ‘les yeux fermés’… it’s brilliant to just pick & choose, then ride!

    • Thanks. I walked some of the descent from Col de l’Eychauda. Too steep and slippery. But I think with VTT one could descend most of it. But yes, crazy road. Mais, je préfère monter. Je descends toujours très lentement. 🙂

  2. Wow what a ride! Thanks for providing us with a season full of adventure that we can enjoy from our easy chairs!
    I’m sure it’s not by luck that you usually seem to find good weather for your rides. I’ll be visiting the area soon and wondered if you have any favourite websites you use to obtain your weather information?
    Thanks again for being so generous with your time.
    Cheers
    Martin

    • Martin,

      Ha, yes, I can be picky about the weather and cancelled a big ride the day after this one due to storm up high. I’ve really like the Weather Pro phone app for several years. It’s a German company and just seems more accurate than other apps I’ve tried. It also gives hourly forecasts including % chance of rain, and importantly the quantity of rain. Living on the edge of the Alps I have the good fortune to be a little choosy of when to do big rides. 😉

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