[ blog » 2020 » 08_Tour-Alps ] d06: Chianocco to Bessans – Col du Mont Cénis (by Philipp Gesang, location: Bessans campsite)

Thunderstorm Post-Mortem

Some decisions emphasize they were the right ones by gratuitously adding a series of exclamation points; yesterday’s early run for cover was such a decision. From around 16h to 21h the Susa valley was bombarded by thunderstorms. It didn’t really stop pouring until long after that. As a bonus there was another thunderstorm around 5h in the morning that woke up the whole campsite. As a result, the tent, my sandals, the panniers, everything was covered in mud. And wet. Loads of moisture I had to carry around with me all day and up the hills.

I guess the silver lining is that I didn’t drown in my tent after all. Cheers to that!


Rolling out of town at half past eight I headed back to Susa to the bottom of the climb. Around five hundred meters of elevation in I caught a fellow tourer from Torino who I traveled with for some kilometers. Between my broken Italian and his broken French we had an entertaining conversation. I got advice on how to travel to the Nordkapp via Finland (bucket list item). When I shared my story about how I mistook that activist camp for a campsite yesterday, he informed me that those NoTAV protests were most likely orchestrated by the mafia. That of course explains the irrational train hate!

The road up to the French border is mostly quiet and lined with trees that keep the sun away; the gradient is fine, nothing compared to the Galibier, so I was making good progress. From the border on the scenery is dominated by old military installations and, above all, the gigantic dam that supports the artificial Lac du Mont Cenis. The last few hundred meters of elevation up to the top of the dam are the toughest to climb, with frequent switchbacks, hairpin corners and a steep slope. Worth the effort though, as the view from above the Lake is just spectacular.

Returning to Vallée de l’Arc

The descent from the Col du Mont Cénis down into the Arc valley is steep-ish with switchbacks so no real respite. Luckily the elevation difference to the bottom of the valley is a mere 500 m so it wasn’t that big of a deal. From Lanslevillard it is only a short ride to Bessans, the destination of today, but it includes the Col de la Madeleine, the iconic prelude to the Col de l’Iseran. On the short stretch I encountered two German tourers who were heading in different directions -- one into Italy and Switzerland, the other to the Mediterranean. This was definitely the day of the touring crowd, I probably met more of them today than in the previous five days combined.

At Bessans I called it a day but had to wait for the campsite reception to arrive after a long and I’m sure well deserved sieste, so I spent two hours on the town square eating ice cream and drinking coffee. Free Wifi, so this was time well spent.

The Bessans campsite is incredible: wide, open spaces, spacious pitches on soft ground, and 3000 m peaks looming over it from three sides. All for just 8.50 euro. The sanitary installations are minimalistic but everything is there, even toilet paper. Best campsite of the trip so far, easily a 10/10.


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