Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Back to the big hills, NE to Guillestre, in the Hautes Alpes, where we've been before, when Ian did the Route des Grandes Alpes a few years ago.  Lovely site, Camping de St James, by the side of the glacial waters of the Guil.  Canoeists are keen on the river Guil with its fast flowing, turbulent water.  Saw a group from UK launching into river.  Guillestre has many very old buildings, dating back to the 17th century, with painted frescos on the outer walls of the church.  Very small, but a little more lively than it was when we were here a few years ago.  Even managed to watch the England v Uruguay match, which we lost!
Back in the big mountains with a number to choose from.  Set off separately for Col de Vars, but decided to climb to ski village of Risoul first.  It features as the final climb in a stage of this year's Tour de France.  Easier and shorter than the Alpe d'Huez, but very similar.  Climb to 1850m with stunning views of the mountains which surround Guillestre and on up to Briancon.  There's a striking Napoleonic fort on the hillside across from Risoul, perched high on a rock face.
Back down into Guillestre and then the start of the long climb up to the Col de Vars. The road twists and turns to start with, with a great view across to the Mademoiselle Coiffees, set in the forest opposite.  There known as the Fairy Chimneys in English.  Strange columns of rock, eroded over time, which stand about fifty foot tall, with darker rock caps on, shaped like hats. The tops are of one of the hardest rock, gabbro.  Once the gabbro top erodes, the whole chimney breaks down rapidly.  Had time to read about this as I stopped on a tough section of the climb to drink some water.  Can't drink and breathe heavily at the same time!
The climb up through Vars village is the hardest bit, and then it easies up a bit near a Refuge Napoleon before climbing steeply over the last few kilometres.  A great pit stop at the top, with a very friendly proprietor, a hot chocolate and then the fast descent back down the same way.  Beautiful but found it hard.  42 mls. 6906' ascent.
The following day, we went up Col d'Agnel, on the border with Italy.  At 2700m, it is the highest pass in this area.  It starts off with 10miles of gradual climbing twisting along the Queyras gorge, going through Chateau Queyras, and then through the villages and alpine meadows, past another Refuge Napoleon, built for the infantry to defend the borders.  The climb to the top is a stinker, with gradients of 10%+, for the last few kilometres.  But climbing up on a road edged with high banks of snow and mountains all around gives you such a thrill, and a real sense of how high you've come!
Freezing at the top, but time to put on as many layers as you've managed to stick in your tiny back pockets.  Nowhere to eat, so cereal bars and jam sandwich will have to do.  Sit and take in the views of the Pain de Sucre mountain ridge and Monte Viso, 3841m, and the steep climb from the Italian side.  Surrounded by Italian cyclists, chattering away, clearly delighted to be at the top.  A fast descent all the way down to Ville-vielle, where I caught up with Ian for a coca cola.  Cycled back into the brisk afternoon winds, which build up every afternoon in these valleys.   54mls and 6716' ascent.

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