Col Du Galibier

In terms of numbers Col du Galibier is the 9th highest paved pass road in the alps. But that is only 113 meters below the officially highest. To me the scenery "feels" the highest here. During my ride cyclists outnumbered cars by a large margin on this road.

1.(550m,00.0km)START-END NORTH ALT: Saint Jean de Maurienne
2.(720m,12.6km)START-END NORTH: profile crosses l'Arc in Saint Michel de Maurienne
3.(1566m,24.7km)Col du Telegraphe
4.(1450m,30.2km)road crosses la Valoirette in la Valoire
5.(1970m,39.3km)dirt road turnoff in Plan Lachat
6.(2642m,47.5km)TOP: Col du Galibier
7.(2058m,55.8km)START-END SOUTH: Col du Lautaret(shp)
8(720m,92.3km)START-END SOUTH: ALT: Bourg d'Oisans


From North. The profile starts way down the valley in Saint Jean de Maurienne. The pass road finally starts with a turnoff onto a bridge over the river Arve in St Jean. It goes through St Jean to St Michel and crosses Col de Telegraphe. In comparison to this huge pass, Col de Telegraphe feels like a shoulder point. But it does have more than 500ft of approach height on the south side, before the road starts climbing again to Cd Galibier. And with the help you could descend much further on the other side (according to the map all the way into valley with the help of unpaved roads)

In the ski town of Valloire the road makes a 90 degree turn to the right, in order to cut through the center of the ski town, perpendicular to the direction of the valley. All the businesses line up side by side next to the road, with great views down and up the valley. There are some curious, uncharacteristic public pieces of art at some intersections, that look like they could have been carved by a chainsaw artist, who measures proportions to the nearest length of a sawblade. I saw no war memorials in this town, as are common in less touristy small towns. Making another 90 degree left turn, the road now slowly extracts itself from ski commercialism and stays at the bottom of the valley, which is now getting ever narrower.

The road and all the surrounding mountains are now completely above treeline, and the mountains take on a stark dry look. The brilliant sunshine next to the road contrasts the icy peaks disappearing into clouds of various shades of grey. The road passes close to the daggar shapped peaks of the Aiguilles d'Arvre. These peaks are the background of the best views from Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Mollard. But from here you never see their jagged tops, and without a map the spot is not recognizable. The hiking route to the refuge below these summits starts from just south of Valloire.

At Plan Lachat the road crosses the river and now starts its switchbacks to climb the pass. A dirtroad contnues the original aim of the paved road in a straight direction. This wide track to Col de Roches (2496m) must be on countless pictures, taken by passing tourists. When you start to climb the switchbacks, it is the one motif that makes everybody with a camera stop.

Following the progress on my dimly lit GPS, it looks like I am practically there at the summit. But one look at reality and you see that it is 3 or 4km distance as the crow flies, but 10km of road between here and the top. The summit ridge resembles a giant bread loaf, compared to the comb like ridges to the south. But this bread loaf contains deep gashes with canyons.

Glancing above the handlebar, a summit restaurant appears in view far above. It comes up (or I come up to it) faster than expected. Surprise - this is not the summit, but the entrance to a tunnel. 100 meters of climbing remain above the tunnel, which is closed to bicycles, and who would want to use it anyway ? At this point the last few switchbacks are really nothing compared to what was already cycled. But it feels like much more than nothing. There are no structures at the top. But it still appears to be a perpetually busy gathering ground of people posing in front of the summit sign, which also marks the boundary between the Savoi Alps and the Haute Alps.


From South. (described downwards) At the tunnel entrance on this side is a monument to Henry Desgrange, who is thought of as the creator of the Tour de France. The monument is easily overlooked, because it is really a column with writing on it, with few "monumental" characteristics.

The best views of the landscape become apparent after rolling down a few hundred meters from the summit. It puts the exposed curves below the Pic Blanc du Galibier (2954) in perspective. The entire section down to the Col du Lautaret lies in an alpine amphitheater above treeline.



The road
was first built in 1880 with the summit tunnel opening in 1891. The tunnel was used for over 8 decades by all traffic, including the Tour de France crossings. There was no highway over the top. In 1976 the tunnel was closed because of collapse danger, and the road was laid over the top. The tunnel was reopened in 2002 as a one way optional route for cars.

The south side of the pass road down to Col du Lautaret was completely rebuilt in 1947, at the same time that the snowsheds on Col du Lautaret were installed. The new and old routes are entirely separate and never meet.

Cycling: Col du Galibier was the first pass crossed by any Tour de France. The year was 1911. A hundred years later the pass was part of the race on two consecutive days. The race from July21, 2011 ended on top of the mountain and was won by Andy Schleck from Luxembourg. The following day the pass was crossed from the north and ended in Alp d'Huez.

The post WW2 tour de France (from 1947) crossed the pass 31 times (to 2011). The 1966 race was scheduled to include both the Col d'L'Iseran and the Col du Galiber, in a 190km stage from Val d'Isere to Sestriere. But due to bad weather the stage was reduced to a 46km sprint.

On May 19th 2013 a stage of the Giro d'Italia was scheduled to go up from the north side and finish on top of the pass - that's about two weeks before the pass generally opens. So it does not come as a surprise that due to the snow the race finished 4km below the summit on the Plan de Lachat at the Pantani monument.

an earlier ride with Ralph on his recumbent with much sunnier weather

Dayride with this point as highest summit:


Col du Galibier x2 , Col de Telegraphe x2: Saint Jean Maurienne <> St Michel <> Col de Telegraphe <> Valloire <> Col de Galibier <> turnaround point 300ft below summit (this is just a little bit further than the tunnel portal): 62.8miles with 8220ft of climbing in 6:25hrs (VDO MC1.0 m4:14.6.25)

The last ride with different start and end points on this tour is on the Col du Mont Cenis page.