The challenging unpaved road to Col du Parpaillon

Col du Parpaillon is a high mountain pass located on the boundary of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Hautes-Alpes departments, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of France.

Col du Parpaillon

Set high in the Parpaillon massif within the Cottian Alps on the southeastern part of the country, the pass is into the infamous Parpaillon Tunnel, at an elevation of 2.650m (8,694ft) above the sea level. Construction of the road to the summit finished in 1911. The pass is 39.6km (24.60 miles) long, running from La Condamine-Châtelard (in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department) to Embrun (in the Hautes-Alpes department). The road is steep, hitting a 13% of maximum gradient through some of the ramps. This is a very classic road pass in the Alps and was used in earlier days in the Tour de France race.

Tucked away on the southeastern part of the country, the old military road to the summit is called D29 (southern side) and D39T (northern side). It’s a very challenging unpaved road with narrow parts and some drop offs. It’s totally impassable from October to May. Over a century ago, for many years, this was the highest road in France. The route has fallen into disuse and roughly the top 10 kilometers of both sides are rough, stone filled roads –and the first half is very bumpy. At the high elevations part, the track becomes more tortuous, finally tightening into a seemingly endless hairpin ascent, repeatedly crossing and re-crossing a deep gully gouged by torrents of rain and melt-water cascading down to the valley floor far below. A 4x4 vehicle is required.
Pic: Vincent Ayala