in 6. asides

Cycling and hiking in the High Alps

Covid-19 made the world small but as travelling opened up again in 2021, me and my dad visited France in early September to cycle at the grand alps. We ascended the Col de Madelaine (2000 m) in 2003 and the Mont Ventoux (1909 m) in 2015 during holidays in the region, but this time we’d dedicate the entire trip to climbing mountains.

My dad loves cycling ever since being a child, he listened to the tour the France on the radio and one a rare occasion got to visit the French mountains as a teenager as a fan of the Tour the France he was inspired to train with his friends to cycle up the French alps in the summer. Many years have passed, and it was fun to hear him share stories about those days. Cycling with him here was a great experience.

After the drive down France and after a good night rest, we started (DAY 1️⃣) cycling up the Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer from Bourg d’Oisans. The weather was beautiful as I started going up one of the toughest climbs in the region. It was a hard, but beautiful ride I will never forget. Some parts are quite steep with 15.5% inclines and continually changing gradients with majestic scenery and Tour de France history. Once up the Col du Glandon, it’s a short ride to Col de la Crox de Fer. We celebrated on a terrace and the first climbs were in the pocket. There were a lot of Dutch, Danish and Belgians on bicycles, turns out a popular mountain race – the Marmotte – would happen in just a few days. As an amateur (climbing my first mountain on a racing bike that very day) speaking with the participants and coaches who prepared themselves all year for this event, got me excited about cycling in general. In the evening, I realized my neck and upper back were sore — compared to cycling in the Netherlands (no mountains) I definitely was using some new muscles here. (crooked back while riding) – still I felt great!

DOWNHILL COL DE LA CROX DE FER TOWARDS COL DU GLANDON

The morning (DAY 2️⃣) we left the bikes in the valley and went hiking down La Meije. Yes, our rest day involved hiking, but the idea was that we would use different muscles and enjoy the sceneries. We took the cable cart up to a freezing 3211 m and enjoyed the Girose Glacier sights. Then we took the cable car a little down to the mid-station at 2400 m and walked back to La Grave from there. First only rocks, then slowly through the trees, and finally at the river and town. We hardly met anyone on the way down and got on wrong tracks (mountain bikes) but besides map reading, the walk was serene and beautiful.

LA GRAVE LA MEIJE

Charged up to cycle, the next morning (DAY 3️⃣) we drove the car up Col du Lautaret (2058 m) and cycled up the 9 km to Col Du Galibier (2642 m). On day 1️⃣ I wasn’t really sure what to expect but today I felt rested and more confident, ready to push myself a bit. However, the weather turned windy and cloudy I still went up that mountain about 30% faster than I went up Col du Glandon on day 1️⃣. I was enjoying myself, the climb was magnificent with wide views far-reaching views over green valleys flanked by grey spiky mountain giants and the road like a silver snake in between. On top of the mountain, I enjoyed some snacks and just observed other cyclists young and old arriving at the top and celebrating. It’s a funny sight.


The next day (DAY 4️⃣) it was time for another ‘break’ from riding bikes, so we went for a hike at the 160,000 hectares Écrins National Park. We wanted to get a sight of the ‘white glacier’ walking a rocky road past glacier noir (black glacier), then over the glaciers ridge to the glacier blank. The path started getting smaller, and the ridge steeper. At one point we saw enough and turned around back down into the valley. At first, I just saw rocks (at this scale I found it hard to get a sense of distance — a rock in front of my feet looks similar to a boulder next to the mountain) but a fellow walker pointed out some mountain goats in the distance, suddenly we spotted birds, marmots and flowers. The patch on the edge of glacier up to the cliff, looks like it would fall off the mountain any time.

ÉCRINS GLACIER NOIR AND BLANC

Next morning (DAY 5️⃣), we left early to cycle up Col d’Izoard (2360m) from Briançon. The blue skies had returned and I felt like I could push myself even further. I liked this Grandes Alpes road a lot, the rolling landscape ascending and slightly descending and back to ascending, through the forest and suddenly I got this beautiful view of the Pic de Rochebrune (3320 m) amidst a mountain landscape beyond words. There was this other cyclist we kept passing each other at times, it seems both of us understood what was going to happen in the last ‘moonscape’ (no trees) steep climb. Both of us made a run for it, and we had fun reaching the top. This final climb was pure bliss and a great conclusion to this trip. After recovering back in the valley, I felt like climbing more mountains but unfortunately it was almost time to go home.