Leaving the Refuge Napoleon, we have more fog. Prior to checking out, I discover tshirts in the bottom drawer of the souvenir cabinet – while the GS logo ones are all size way-too-big, this one is just perfect.
We follow the D902 to Briancon, and turn north onto the D1091 to Col du Lauteret and Col du Galibier. Galibier is a stone’s throw from Lauteret, where we have found some Peugeots on a rallye.
Near Valloire, we find giant straw sculptures.
Descending the Col du Galibier, I have maps again! Yay! We continue on the D902, still the Route des Grande Alps, and cross the Col du Télégraph. This is a little pass that counts only in the list. With little to see, we seek stickers, but no long pause. We set off again on the 902, turning off at Saint Michel du Maurienne onto the D1006.
In Lanslebourg- Mont-Cenis, we turn off onto the reappearing D902 to ride up to Lac Mont Cenis. More clouds and fog. Very disappointing from a scenery perspective. Rather than continuing to the lake, we stop at the pass and have lunch in a café that smells of gas and cream sauce. The hot food is welcome, and decidedly not Provencal.
Continuing north on the D902, we cross the lesser Col de la Madeleine (1746), then continue on to the famous Col de l’Iseran, second highest pass in the Alps and in France after the Col de Bonette. l’Iseran has one of the most photographed pass markers in the Alps, and the stone building on top is just as photogenic as the pass marker. The pass is not terribly demanding, but is steep and offers beautiful views until the clouds hit. The top is covered in wispy fog.
In Seez, we pick up the D1090 and begin ascending the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard. I am delighted to see the French spelling of “Bernard” – in French, the pass is Col du Petit Saint-Bernard. My older son is named Bernard, for Bernard of Clairvaux instead of Bernard of Menthon, but whatever. I am on the first of the three “Bernard” passes: Kleiner, Grosser, and San Bernardino. This is a delightful technical pass with rhythm that brings us over the Italian border to Strada Statale 26 and Pré-San-Didier, where we pick up SS26DIR and enter the Chamonix-Mont Blanc tunnel. The 11.6km tunnel links Italy back to France and allows significant goods traffic to cross where no roads exist. On the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard, I find some of the French “Seitensicherung” – the portable electric fences used by farmers to keep the sheep and cows off the road.
In Chamonix, we find lodging after consulting the i – the information board just outside of town. While Chamonix is largely full of multi-star spa resorts, a few smaller guesthouses exist and are easy to find if you know what to look for. Our tiny room off the D1506 on Route du Bouchet at Hotel la Source has a balcony and a private bath, which is excellent for the price. Dinner is light and welcome after the long days’ ride.