The trip so far
Day 3 numbers and route map
Distance - 29km Ascent - 1648m Descent - 1229m Highest Point - 2476m, Col Des Ayes
You may recall that the night before we had found ourselves an idyllic camp spot for the night, exactly as we were hoping - not too far form the town but far enough that we could leave our things hidden without the fear of someone stumbling across them while we went into town for dinner, not to mention with a fantastic view down over the town, literally on the edge of the trail and situated on some great switchbacks. Unfortunately the night’s sleep was not comparable to the quality of the setting, we were sheltered from the wind, it was warm and a clear sky so we did not put up the tarp during the night which probably proved to be a mistake. One problem was simply that we were too hot! We had both brought sleeping bags that were rated to somewhere between 0 and -10 degrees however it was the middle of the summer and and the temperature at this altitude did not get any where near that, this led to the second problem. We wanted to sleep with the sleeping bags open but this meant any creepy crawly in the area could just waltz in and have a nose around, not helped by the fact that they could shimmy or drop down from the overhanging trees above us, very disconcerting in the night when you feel something drop on you from above then a small tickle down your back (that may have just been Jan though)!
So after a rather warm sleepless night, interrupted by several bug incidents we eventually got up towards 10am to be greeted with perfect weather seen through bleary, sleepy eyes. Jan told me he had seen two runners comes by at around 7am who I am sure got more than they bargained for on their morning run, finding two guys sprawled out in only their boxers with sleeping bags wide open at the side of the trail!
Hunger finally got the better of us so we got up, packed up and climbed on the bikes only to teeter down the steep, tight switchbacks in to town at snail pace, a great challenge first thing in the morning before you have woken up.
The night before we had not taken enough water with us up to the camp spot and was the point we realised that managing your water supply and making sure you always have enough during the night and for the morning after was very important, I think we both woke a little dehydrated so we stopped at the first point possible to refill the bottles.
Down in Briançon we managed to find a fantastic rustic old boulangerie, exactly what we had fantasised about only an hour ago in our hungry state, I managed to get myself a coffee and we both made ourselves far too full on sweet pain au chocolats and croissant aux amendes that morning, sitting heavy in our stomachs for the rest of the day.
We bought a decent amount of food in Briançon before we headed off, lunch and dinner for that day, along with breakfast and lunch for the next day. We didn’t thank ourselves for the heavy backpacks but it was necessary given that the map indicated we wouldn’t be passing any more than a few houses and ‘mini’ villages for the rest of the day.
By the time we had done all this it was easily after lunch before we actually got on the road, we started to understand we were experts at faffing around and neither of us were early birds (I had always had Jan down as an early riser but proved otherwise on this trip!).
After a pit stop due to a lucky wild raspberry find in (what looked like) an uninhabited garden we were on our way up out of the valley. I think it was a combination of the overindulgence at breakfast, the sleepless night and our ridgeline quest the day before but going was especially slow today. Oh and the heat! it was exceptionally hot and we were trying to stay in the shade as much as possible whilst climbing up the road. I would suggest that even though it seems ideal, cycling up a 700m col with a large backpack in early August in the midday sun in the alps is just as challenging as doing the same in the wind, rain and mud.
We stopped for a very french lunch break a couple hundred metres from the top of the col consisting of baguette and comté cheese, all chopped with Jan's french Opinel knife in the french alps in France.
...And Jan had his daily nap.
At the top of the col we were able to look back and survey the dramatic Massif Des Écrins which, even though we had been riding up above 2000m over the past couple of days, we were still riding in the show of with the range sheltering several 4000m + peaks and several glaciers.
The trail down the other side looked promising, snaking its way down the alpine meadow that greeted us to the wooden chalets we could see sitting on the plateau below. 2500m down to 1800m was the forecast however it wasn’t quite what we experienced. The first section of the Col Des Ayes is fantastic with huge open switchbacks on perfect singletrack, some technical sections to keep you on your toes with some fast flower sections where you can open it up. We descended around 350m on this trail before meeting the chalets we could see from the top, I guess at one point these were only accessed by a tiny hiking trail however recent times seemed to have brought a wide gravel road up to the plateau and this was to be our path for the rest of the descent into the valley.
We rode down a little disappointed but made the most of the open woods and multiple trails that had developed in between the trees further down due to the popular campsite at the head of the valley, chasing each other through the woods before arriving in Brunissard.
Once again giving in to my coffee addiction I managed to persuade Jan to stop for a coffee and cake at the only café that seemed to be open in the village. We had decided we wouldn’t go too much further that day so say for a while, charged our phones and cameras and had a chat with the locals.
With a little caution we asked about a camp spot for the evening as we were still a little unsure about how bothered people would be about wild camping however nobody seemed to mind as we ended up with about 5 people all giving advice. We were told we could probably camp up above the town at Lac de Roue however we shouldn’t camp too close otherwise we would be invaded by midges as the evening drew in. The guys at the café also told us that a thunderstorm was on it’s way so we should camp close to the Gite up there in case we needed to abandon ship in the night and sleep inside.
We made our way up and were quite picky about our spot after last night’s sleepless night disturbed by all of the ants, there were hundreds of flies wherever we went but after half an hour of cycling around and around the lake we decided on a spot that was windy enough to keep the flies away but not too windy we would be freezing.
Camp was set, including the tarp for the incoming rain, a huge dinner was cooked and with the prospect of our first wet night we made sure everything was in waterproof bags or under the tarp. No bugs tonight so off to sleep we went, although the night would not be a quiet one being awoken in the night to fix the leaking tarp, made extra spooky by the heavy mist that had descended on our dark forest…