RDGA Finalé – Up With The Big Ones!

I’ve written about Col de la Bonette on several previous trips, I fact it was the first big Col that I ever took Harls up and in many ways the one that got me hooked on “Col Hunting”.

In a way it was ironic, because it’s been downhill ever since I made that first ascent of “The Big One!” Strictly speaking Bonette isn’t the highest paved pass, that honour lies with L’Iseran, Bonette lies in 4th place, but what makes it crazy-special is the Cime de la Bonette; Cime translates as “Summit.”

The Cime de la Bonette is probably the most wonderful folly that the nation of France has ever constructed. It’s a road that just loops around the mountain from the Pass and back to the Pass reaching an elevation of 2802m/9193ft and that makes it technically the highest paved through road in the whole of Europe.

On the South side the road climbs steadily from Isola, the big mountain taunting you from miles away. The grandeur of the scenery is almost overpowering as the ribbon of asphalt snakes skywards and leaves trees and waterfalls far behind.

Wide vistas open as the hairpins steadily kick in, but in a civilised way; although this is a high climb it isn’t savage.

Remains of high altitude barracks from over a hundred years ago straddle the road. Soon after comes the first Pass, Col du Raspaillon at 2513m and then things start to get really serious.

The mountain begins resemble a lunar landscape, bare black and grey rocks dominate, very little grows up here. There is always snow lying, what ever state of the summer, this is probably the hardest country that you can take a road vehicle and definitely not a place to come in bad weather, if you value your life. This mountain has claimed many unwary visitors.

It’s because of it’s unique, wild, dangerous beauty that I love the place.

The last kilometre from the Col de la Bonette at 2715m to the summit at 2802m is like taking a ski jump to the clouds as the gradient hits 15%!

I kicked down Harls side stand at the summit stone and just drank in the majesty of the place and the moment, we were back.

Looking South I could just about make out the Mediterranean Sea, over 60 miles away, we were down there earlier. All around I was surrounded by high peaks, many snow-capped and all stunningly beautiful; it made me feel both very small and also incredibly lucky to be there to enjoy it all.

It was one of those moments that make me feel so alive and glad to be so.

When you hit a high, both figuratively and also in this case literally, it’s easy to think that it’s only downhill from here. Well, ok, geographically it is, but riding amongst these mountains you’d be crazy to only look on the downside. Also I had a “rest day” tomorrow and as the weather was looking good I wanted to do a bit of exploring whilst I was up here.

First off I took a stroll to the real summit of La Bonette which stands a further 58 metres above the road. Walking in motorcycle gear is never much fun, but believe me doing it at altitude is really not to be recommended. At 2860m/9380ft the effects of altitude are very noticeable if you try to do any strenuous exercise without allowing your body time to adjust; riding a motorcycle from sea level to this height in just a few hours is not adequate adjustment, I can assure you!

I like to think that I’m pretty fit for my age, true I don’t spend hours in a gym, but I do live an active life, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke; but that eighty metre climb to the summit was something else! Never before have I found a short stroll to be such hard work and whilst I wasn’t struggling unduly it was clear that nature was giving me a gentle reminder as to who exactly was in charge up here!

It was worth it though, the view just got even better and I had the place to myself.

With a tinge of sadness I turned to start the descent down to Jausiers. RDGA had been a blast and it literally was going to be downhill all the way from here, but in the back of my mind I knew that I’ll be coming back one day.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do. Looking back on that adventure last summer much has happened since and people dear to me have been lost to this world. I sometimes wonder how much longer I can keep doing these trips, because believe me they don’t get any easier with age! I’ve got a wonderful family and small network of close friends who support my crazy yearning to travel and explore the high places, so whilst I can I’ll keep going; you are, after all, a long time in your box!

What next?

Well, if all goes to plan, I’ve got some unfinished work to do in the Pyrenees in June this year. Then whilst perusing some maps the other day, I spotted some lovely looking passes in Switzerland and Northern Italy…!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The whole of RDGA is dedicated to the memory of G, my little brother who left us too soon.

“Escaping the ghosts of yesterday,
you were behind me following closely, don’t turn around now.”

Keeping My Word

Some years ago, I’ve got to check exactly when and it may have been pre-blog days, I took Harls up Col de la Bonette.

We had a great time, but it was slightly tinged with a bit of sadness as we couldn’t quite reach the summit of Cime de la Bonette due to heavy snow.

That day I told Harls that I would bring her back and we would finally reach the summit together.

Call me bonkers if you like, but that motorbike has a personality and trust me, she understood.

I don’t think, therefore, it went down well with Harls when three years ago I took Baby Blue up to the summit before her!

Cime de la Bonette is an interesting place and only in existence due to the wonderful attitude of the French people who saw an opportunity to make their mark on the map of Europe. For some reason the French were not content to just have the highest pass in Europe, Col de l’Iseran at 2770m/ 9087ft, they wanted to go one better and make a totally pointless loop around the adjacent mountain to Col de la Bonette and add 300m to the record!
I love the attitude, though if I had been a French tax-payer I don’t know if I would have been so enthusiastic!

La Bonette itself is a formidable place. From the South, the Nice side if you like, the climb is long and at times tedious, with numerous hairpins and tricky road surface. From the North, it’s one of my favourite alpine roads; sweeping ever upwards though delightful country in lovely geometric curves. You can really get into the groove on this climb, I love it!

On both sides though , as you near the top of the climb the scenery changes dramatically; you could be on the moon! The green high alp gives way to barren frost shattered rock, scree, tortured slates and mud stone.

On top of Europe!


It’s high, cold and sterile, even the delightful Marmots, clowns of the high alps, don’t bother going up here! Get caught on a bad day and you can be in serious trouble in a very short time indeed. Today though was benign.

With altitude Harls got sluggish and I must say that I was feeling it to, sea level to over 9000ft in one go hits you…!

We chugged our way to the summit and I kicked down her side stand.

Silence.

I leant forward and patted her tank, “See, I told you we’d come back.”

At the summit Cime de la Bonette-Promise kept!


This bike of mine is amazing and I’m probably boring you all stupid saying so, but honestly she is.

Then we dropped down into Jausiers and I swear that she ran better and truer than ever before on this trip; I kept my word and as a result, she’s happy!

Let it never be said that I am not a man of my word!

“Well its alright ridin’ around in the breeze, well it’s alright, if you live the life you please.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes