Round 2 on the Col de la Cayolle – Cycling the Northern Face from la vallée de l'Ubaye

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Monday 4 August 2014

Round 2 on the Col de la Cayolle – Cycling the Northern Face from la vallée de l'Ubaye

Precisely one week after our first encounter with the 2326m Col de la Cayolle which we had cycled up to from Guillames, we decided to ascend again but this time following the road up more than 1200m over 27km from Uvernet-Fours to the north of the col. There were several reasons to choose this col again from the selection on offer in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence where we are currently based, but the primary one was that the climb started right on our doorstep and the afternoon weather forecast looked bleak so we wanted to squeeze a ride in before the predicted thunderstorms and downpour arrived.

Setting off shortly after 8 am into the decidedly chilly air, we were joined (or should I say passed) continuously by road cyclists taking part in a local Sportive challenge around 50 mile a loop from Barcelonnette over the Col de la Cayolle and onwards over 2 more, the Col de Champs and the Col d'Allos as well. That challenge, however, felt a little beyond us today on our much heavier and slower hybrid bikes given the expected deluge of rain. Perhaps another time.

The first thing that struck us as we wound our way through a magnificent gorge to start the climb relatively gently (around 2 – 4% for the first 10km) was the massive difference in scenery compared to the south side of the col we had seen the previous Sunday. Weaving our way through along the narrow road, hemmed in on both sides by vertical rock faces (which also kept the morning sun out so we stayed chilly) we couldn't help but stare upwards and marvel at the layers of rock piled above us.

Emerging from the gorge into the morning sun, the real climbing soon began with narrow bridges crossing and recrossing the river cutting through the valley. The morning sun soon gave way to gathering clouds but we pressed on determined to reach the top before the rain set in. Sweating now despite the cool air, the way-markers by the roadside indicating the current altitude and average gradient of the next every kilometre had switched from 3 or 4%, to the much more daunting 7 or 8%.

As the road wound it way up the last 6 kilometres or so, through forests we finally emerged onto the open mountainside with 1.6km to the summit. Esther was forging ahead with me trailing some distance behind by now so I put my head down and pushed on until after 2 ½ hours of climbing we came again to the top of the Col de la Cayolle.

It was strange sensation to be back here again, having the same picture taken in front of the marker we'd had one week before, this time taken by a very kind, elderly French gentleman, who'd also cycled up the col. Knowing the road now either side of the col gave us a strange sense of familiarity and belonging in this remote mountain landscape. It only remained now to make the very, very cold descent all the way back to our motorhome where we warmed up our frozen bodies by making a hearty lentil curry.

That evening, after a short doze, we took a pleasant mini-hike of some 7-8km in beautiful sunshine to Barcelonnette and back, taking lots of photos of the mountain ridges which ring the basin valley of the Ubaye as well as enjoying the old town. The thunderstorms never came leaving us wondering if we might have attempted the 3 cols loop, but perhaps another time, and now we felt fresh for another new climb in the morning.

Exploring the Ubaye valley basin

Cycling towards the Col de Cayolle

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