Col del Sommeiller is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.993m (9,819ft) above the sea level, located in the Alpi Cozie between the Italian and French border. It's one of the highest roads of Europe. This beautiful 26 kilometre climb above Bardonecchia has it all: hairpins, alpine dams, a lake at the summit, and views to die for.
This pass is located between the Punta and Sommeiller Rognosa of Etiache and joins the town of Bardonecchia (Turin) with the municipality of Bramans, in the French department of Savoie. This road is drivable only in summers due the snow, and it’s the highest valley pass in Italy. Appropriate time slot for an uphill climb is end of August when there is neither old nor new snow on the road. It's one of the highest roads of the country.
The road is extremely challenging. Full of hairpins, the road is winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. The pass is named after Germain Sommellier, the chief engineer of the construction of the 13.7 km Fréjus railway tunnel under the Alps (opened in 1871) which starts exactly at the beginning of this climb.
It's one of the highest accessible points by 4x4 in Europe. At the summit there’s a stunning blue turquoise lake. Access from the Italian side starts from the village of Bardonecchia, in the road to Rochemolles and dirt up the hill. This way achieves the highest elevation of the entire chain of the Alps: 3,009 m above sea level. Most of the track is a dirt road, from the Shelter Scarfiotti (2,163m) to the hill, it is not easy and it takes full transitability only between July and August. The road was opened in 1962 and in the following years were the lifts open for skiing on the glacier Sommeiller. These projects were closed in 1980 due to the backlog of the glacier and the practicability of the road is always difficult.
From the French side, there are no driveways that reach the hill. On the hill was present Ambin Refuge, which was demolished in 2004. Since 2007, the city of Bardonecchia has finally decided to partially close the road to traffic from the Colle del Re Scarfiotti Sommeiller from Friday to Sunday 9:00 to 17:00 hours, and remains open to motorized traffic the stretch-Bardonecchia-Rochemolles Scarfiotti. Starting from Bardonecchia, the ascent is 26.3 km long. Over this distance, the gain is 1.711 meters. The average percentage is 6.5 %, and the maximum is around 19%. The asphalted part of the Colle del Sommeiller, just a 20% of the route, runs until Rochemolles. The next "sterrato" (not asphalted) part (80%) is not too bad before reaching the Rifugio Scarfiotti. Next however,it turns out rather unconnected in the conclusive part. Take note that this part of the road gets cleared from the snow only in late July.
The road includes a full collection switchbacks alternating with straight but steep parts. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime and can sometimes block some sections of the road, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. The higher you get the runway becomes worse but it stays continously drivable. Only the first 6 kms are paved (badly), and the surface for the remaining 20 kms can be rocky and challenging.
Pic: Markus Rahmig