The Col d’Izoard is like no other climb in the Alps. Passing through deep gorges and dense pine forests before reaching the unique and otherworldly ‘Casse Deserte’ – a barren and lunar collection of weather-beaten rocks, scree slopes, and scrubby vegetation – it’s a truly unique and unforgettable experience.
The only problem is that getting to the top is far from straightforward, as there’s 14km of climbing set at an average 7.3% gradient to tackle first. The ascent facing Etape and Haute Route riders starts benignly, leaving Guillestre and approaching the climb proper following a fast-flowing river shadowed by stunning cliffs. The gradient is shallow here, but as you’re almost imperceptibly climbing the legs are fatiguing.
The physical and mental challenge really kicks in as you pass through the village of Arvieux, around 11km from the summit. As you pass through the jumble of dwellings, you’re faced with 3km of almost arrow straight 8% climbing. You can see the point where the road folds back on itself and the gradient changes the whole way along this stretch, and it seemingly never gets closer. Once you’ve negotiated this section, you’re into the forests. With gradients up to 11% between the stacked hairpins, this final section is tough, but it’s well worth not getting sucked into staring at your stem wishing it all to end. Drink in the unique landscape of the Casse Deserte, and revel in completing a truly brutal climb at the end of a gruelling day.
Jim is a passionate and experienced cyclist who has ridden with us for various Haute Routes, the Etape du Tour, and La Marmotte. He keeps a blog of his musings and experiences on the bike here: https://mountainmutton.wordpress.com