Friday, 15 June 2012

La Bonette - highest pass in Europe ( ish)

On to Barcelonette in the Ubaye valley of Haute Provence, twinned with a town in Mexico! Barcelonette was given its name by a Spanish Count of Provence, who named it after his home town. It has strong connections with Mexico, because many emigrated there between 1840 and 1955. The proven├žal flag shares the same colours as Spain, a various graffiti swear liberation for the children of Provence. The river Durance runs through the Ubaye valley, famous for white-water rafting, when the river is full, which is now! You begin to see mountains rising up towards the border with Italy, and Cuneo. It's beginning to feel warmer as we pitch the van on the campsite, Camping du Plan, which we've visited before, when Ian was doing his Nice-Geneva trip. Nice grassy pitch, with a short walk into town. The town is OK, with a square newly renovated, a lovely old church, and the usual shops. So we pitched up and enjoyed the remaining hours of our first day off! The following day was still and sunny, as we set off for Jausiers, thirty minutes cycle up the valley. We remembered pitching the tent here with Colin and Morty, way back when. We'd just driven over the Col de Bonette, in Colin's Hillman Hunter, at about 11pm. The highest road in Europe! We were fearless then, or just plain bonkers! Pitching the tent by the side of the road at midnight, and wondering why we were so cold, when we woke up, having spent the night at 1200m! As we cycled through, we tried to identify where we'd pitched all those years ago, but without success!
At the summit!
Anyway Ian pushed on ahead to finish his unfinished business, not having been able to go over the Col de Bonette on his trip, because of fresh snow on the top and bad weather generally. So today he was going to fill in the gap! I just wanted to do the best climb I could, bearing in mind this is one of the highest passes in Europe, having been surpassed now by a road in the Sierra Nevada, Spain. But either way it's a challenge. I kept company with a pleasant, young Irishman, who was on his way from Geneva to Nice, and chatting to him helped the kilometres and the climbing go by. I was climbing well, and feeling quite strong. The gradient is a very pleasant 6.7% average, over a long 28 km reaching 2715 metres. Zigzaging up the mountain-side gives a constantly- changing perspective on the mountains and valleys, and it's really quite pleasant, when you get in a rhythm and plug your way up on a "granny gear" . The final few kms are a delight, sweeping along the side of the mountain and even managing to get into second gear on the gentle climb. To the top of the pass, where the road descends to Isola and the Tinnee valley and eventually on to Nice. Cyclists and motor-cyclists taking photos of each other, complaining that they weren't able to climb the final kilometre to the summit, the cime, because of new snow, but I was just thrilled to be there in a reasonable time, feeling strong and not stressed, and most importantly not frozen! This time carried three extra tops, food and drink, to cover all possible hazards!
Desolate but beautiful
Ian passed me on the way near the top, having got there in 1hr46 mins, about 50 mins ahead of me. Well done, and really chuffed for both of us!

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