Tunnel de Parpaillon s(u)

If I were lucky enough to live nearby I would have waited till later in the year for a ride over - or better through - this summit. But this is probably the only chance I am going to get, to ride through this famous tunnel. French filmmaker Luc Moullet made a film in 1992 about crossing this route on a bicycle. So I tried to do this route when I was here, early June, when there was still quite a bit of snow in the mountains

There is also a trail over the Col du Parpaillon, located above the tunnel at 2780 meters. Both routes connect the valleys of the Ubaye with the valley of the Durance. Google Maps, as well as some signs also refer to the tunnel entrance as Col del Parpaillon, as well as "Tunnel et Col du Parpaillon"

01.(00.0km,1290m) START-END EAST: la Condamine in Ubaye Valley
02.(04.6km,1691m) St Anne
03.(07.7km,1861m) bridge over le Berard
04.(10.7km,2057m) road forks; profile follows uphill route on right
05.(17.0km,2637m) TOP: southern tunnel entrance Tunnel de Parpaillon s(u)
06.(17.5km,2637m) TOP: northern tunnel entrance
07.(27.5km,1731m) fork in road. Profile follows paved road on right to La Chalp
08.(29.5km,1655m) La Chalp
09.(32.0km,1480m) upper turnoff to Praveyral
10.(36.5km,1145m) profile stays right towards le Villard
11.(41.2km,918m) START-END WEST ALT: a hard right turn leads upvalley towards Guillestre on a very nice road; profile continues straight
12.(440km,801m) START-END WEST: le Pont Peuf north of Embrun


From South. In the collection of houses at la Condamine in the Ubaye Valley, a road starts to climb to St Anne. Soon afterwards you pass a sign: "Tunnel Parpaillon - Ferme". Apparently the sign, stating that the tunnel is closed, has always been there, and - all the same - the doors have always been open. Some of the lower switchbacks afford the best views of Fort Tornoux, a fortification from the "Little Maginot" or Alpine line, an immense fortification against attacks from the other side of the mountains. After about 1350ft of climbing you enter St Anne, location of the exceptional Gite Belvedere. The road continues on pavement through larch forest, passing some old stone houses with monumental walls. The pavement ends at an informational tablet about the tunnel. Subsequently a small bridge over a side stream does a lot to restrict traffic. Past this point cyclists and hikers will not have to put up with heavy cars, just in case there were any before. A second much sturdier stone bridge crosses is reached further up, at about treeline.

Tunnel du Parpaillon
upper southern approach to Tunnel de Parpaillon s(u)

This high valley that follows has a very desolate and dry feel to it. The path turns left and then starts a traversing ascend up the ridge to the north. There is also a track following the bottom of the valley. Numerous switchbacks follow the traverse. The eyes keep a lookout where the tunnel could be, but there is no sign of it. The switchbacks slowly work themselves back towards the south, to the point where you are directly above the valley approach. By this time I had crossed two snowfields. But the June snow was soft, and kicking steps was no problem. Then the road ends, or so I thought at first. Actually the next switchback was completely obliterated by snow, and I recognized the reappearing road above. And finally - after the next turn there was the tunnel portal, surrounded by snow.

From East. These were the conditions during a first week in June. The first 20 or 30 meters were on about 40cm thick ice, but melting water had eroded a ditch of sorts into it. Past that I could see a tiny bright dot on the other side, the other portal. The ice gradually thinned as I walked and carried my bike into the tunnel, and then I was on solid ground. About halfways into the tunnel the ice started up again, with a little water on top. Several meters later, the ice broke on every step with about 6 or 10 cm of water below it. It meant wet feet, but actually walking was no problem, because the surface below the ice was flat. The other portal on the north side was completely surrounded by snow. The very top of an "icy road" sign was visible in a surface of deep snow. Somewhere below it the road was buried. From here I could recognize a partially melted out road, maybe 1km down the valley. The terrain is fairly gentle on this side, so making my way through the snow downhill was obviousely not as fast as bicycling usually is, but it wasn't any slower than walking would be.

Tunnel de

After loosing about 300m in altitude, I met the first vehicles, that had given up ascending from this side. I have to admit my "bonjours" had a special pride in them during this descent. Pavement starts back up about 2000ft below the portal.

Signs on this side refer to the crossing as "Col Parpaillon", even thought most people really refer to a tunnel and not a "pass". Here the valley looks amazingly similar to a scene from the Canadian Rockies next to the Icefields Parkway. The similarity lies in the waterfalls that tumble from sheer heights over vertical cliffs of twisted sedimentary rock layers, crumbling like a croissant. But this National Park has free access, and you can mountain bike through it. It seems sometimes the Canadian Rockies are reserved either for tourists, purchasing 40 dollar snowcat tickets, or the bears.

Following the paved path to La Chalp, an old village with a picturesque decaying attraction to it, the road soon becomes monumentally wide and straight, something I really didn't expect to see. The road descends onto a balcony of sorts, above Embrun. The profile descends to Embrun, but if going north to Guillestre, a turnoff onto D994D to the right stays on this balcony heights, and is also very scenic, just in a different way. It is a good vantage point on all the traffic below, while up here on the balcony there is none.

Tunnel de


The history of this tunnel is really the history of the border conflicts between, what is now the Italian Piedmont region and the Ubaye valley. The strategic location of Fort Tournoux was already recognized in the second century BC. The name of the fort bears testimony to this. Tournoux is derived from "Turnus", a Roman general who was sent into the alps in 219 BC to oppose the troops of Hannibal.

Repeatetly the spot overlooking the 4km at the convergence of the col du Vars and Col du Larche, became a battleground. In the middle ages it was the Lombards, who crossed from the now Italian side, then the Saracens. Countless others followed during the complicated history of European conflicts.

The 520 meter long tunnel with its approach roads was built between 1891 and 1911 to connect Fort Tournoux with the valley of Embrun. Col du Vars could also be used for this, but as part of the "little Maginot" (also called Alpine") line of defense, an effort was made to provide alternate routes for every important pass.

Cycling: An issue of Centcols describes the attractions that this pass has had even on cyclists of an earlier period, and names a cyclist who crossed the pass in 1903 - two years after its completion. By 1930 the title "legend" is used to describe it and a group of 29 cyclists visit it.



Tunnel de Parpaillon s(u) , Col du Vars: St Anne la Condamine > Tunnel de Parpaillon s(u) > D994D north > Suguet > Guillestre > Vars > Col du Vars > la Condamine > sp 62.5miles with 8680ft of climbing in 7:34hrs (VDO MC1.0 m4;12.6.7)

The last day of an Extended Tour with different start and end points was: Col de Larche

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