The trip so far
Day 3 numbers and route map
Distance - 31.2km Ascent - 1712m Descent - 1345m Highest Point - 2306m, Col Fromage
We awoke to perfect sunshine beaming through the trees. The rain through the night had made the air fresh again after days of hot, dry weather making everything dusty, the grass and greenery felt lush with moisture covering everything around us and we felt nice and fresh after a good nights sleep…. Well Jan did, I was woken in the night several times by the rain and fixing the tarp to stop the water come in.
We didn’t have much for breakfast this morning so we got straight to it and made a b-line straight for the nearest town for food. This involved a fast swooping singletrack descent down through the forest to Château-Queyras, turning into something much steeper and more technical further down.
Château-Queyras consists mostly of a château funnily enough, it is a tiny little historic village built around an old castle which sits on a sort of buttress protruding out into the valley, with the rest of the buildings clinging to the slopes around it and one tiny twisty road running through it. It doesn’t have much but we were lucky enough to come across one shop which served quite a selection of food with plenty we could take with us.
I had my coffee, Jan had his sandwich, we bought some lunch and yet more pasta for later and set off up the col, well we set off down the road so we could start the col.
We spent a long time winding our way up the road, this was another col that we were able to use the road for a long way instead of trying to push our bikes up steep hikers trails. We started out from Château-Quetras knowing we had almost 1000m to climb however the top of the col was actually some distance from us so we though it would be easy going and not too steep, we later realised that we climbed to around 2200m of 2350m within the first few km. A little tougher at the beginning than we thought but it did mean the majority of the climbing was done in the shade of the trees and once we had our wheels rolling on dirt it was mostly rideable.
When we passed the large car park high up the mountain we realised we had been following a road up to a tourist spot called Sommet Buchar, which is a little summit that stands alone giving 360 degrees views of the valleys around. We could see over to Monte Visio, a mountain I had seen many times from miles away on the Italian side whilst visiting Turin, so it felt satisfying to finally be riding in its shadow.
By this point we had both run out of water as we hadn’t passed any proper streams on our way up so before we headed further up the valley the next plan was to refill water bottles somewhere. Our large scale maps didn’t help much but there was some indication of a stream further around the mountain side, we eventually found a water trough for the cows fed by a wooden tap, we were closely watched as we filled up from their muddy watering hole. We needn’t have been so worried in the end, passing several streams and springs on our way up Le Col Fromage, yes it really is called Col Fromage.
''We needn’t have been so worried in the end passing several streams and springs on our way up Le Col Fromage, yes it really is called Col Fromage.''
At the top of the col we met some other people that were walking the GR5 which was a sign of things to come, we ended up meeting and remeeting a lot of people walking the GR5, due to our lazy mornings meaning us getting passed by early rider hikers but our superior speed on the bikes during the day. Most were surprised we were able to do it on our bikes, most impressed and everyone happy to see us out there doing something a little different and challenging, it was nice chatting with all the different people doing the same route and their different ways of completing it, along with their different levels of comfort, us at one end of the scale with our tarp and some at the other end of the scale staying in fully catered Gîtes and hotels.
We asked for a cheeky photo before they let us head off down the trail ahead of them.
There are no photos of this descent as we were bitterly disappointed, after a 1000m climb we were presented with a very unchallenging almost ‘surfaced’ trail that felt like it had been sanitised all the way back down to the town of Ceillac. We could take it though, it was only 1 of 100s of descents on this trip plus we bought ourselves ice creams in Ceillac to eat in the sun.
Ceillac could be described as quite a large town compared to the scale of the civilised areas we had passed through on previous days, we were able to produce ice creams, coffee, all of our food for the next day and a half from a supermarket and even peruse an outdoor shop where we were able to refuel our fuel bottle for the stove, what luxury in Ceillac.
We spent quite a while sitting in the sun in the little square at the town centre, getting the maps out to see what the next days had in store for us and what kind of brutal climbs or epic singletrack lay in store. We came to a bit of a realisation that we were a bit slow, we weren’t as far along the road as we thought we should be and concluded we should probably get a bit of a wriggle on for the next couple of days, even if Jan insisted in his laid back style that there was ‘no need to hectic Will’.
The original plan for that day was to camp just up the valley from Ceillac and tackle the next big col tomorrow but pushed by our new knowledge and the fact there were still some hours of light left we decided to push on up the col and camp at Lac Miroir which was hopefully high enough to avoid any fly invasions during the evening.
It was a steep technical climb up to the lake, one that we both later agreed, maybe still a little sore from the disappointment of todays downhill, would make a fantastic descent. We marched up to the lake and arrived just as the sun was leaving us, giving us enough tome to set up camp before the light went. There had clearly been people here before, with several camp fire spots and large logs laid like benches, and we even had company that night two with two others camping across the meadow, they already had their fire going. Once we were set up and had piled the logs either side of our tarp to keep the draught out we were glad of our friends having a camp fire going as tonight was easily the coldest night so far. I guess being in the shade of the mountains early on in the evening and the altitude made the air especially chilly, we sat by the fire and chatted with our new friends from Paris, a photographer and his brother who were staying with family down in the valley for the week but had ventured out for a hike and a spot of wild camping.
The cold evening air may have been something we loathed as we ate dinner and made camp but it was welcomed as ideal sleeping conditions for us with thick winter sleeping bags, a good night’s sleep was on the cards.