Canyon des Ecouges

Distance: 54.6 miles. Elevation: 6145 ft

A ride deigned to skirt the northern tip of the Vercors massif and climb the Route des Ecouges to the tunnel I visited before, then up to the Col de Romeyère and back to Lans-en-Vercors via the eastern section of the Gorges de la Bourne from La Balme-de-Rencurel. I left at 11:30. The weather was glorious, warm and cloudless. I narrated this ride as I went along, using my phone as a dictaphone.

I’ve just done the amazing descent through Engins again. I’m now in Sassenage and have stopped at the 13 mile mark for my first ‘report’. As I entered the gorge this time, as soon as the road went between the rocks, the air was quite cold and the whole of the gorge ride was quite cool so I was actually looking forward to getting down here into the heat. Midway down this time I caught sight of a dam through the trees so I went to investigate that.

Further on I spotted this distinctive mountain top that reminded me of a walnut whip

Can you still get Walnut Whips I wonder?

I’ve just taken my helmet and neck protector off because there were lots of insects hitting me on the descent and some of them might have got in. In fact I’ve just seen that one has gone inside the neck protector.

Another update at the 20 mile mark. I’m now cycling along a main road around the northern flank of the Vercors.

The road had been following the river Isère but they have now parted ways.

Nowhere does the Vercors look more like an impenetrable fortress than here.

Huge cliffs rise vertically alongside the road. Some workers were attending to the rockfall defences. It’s only when you look closely can you see that the rock faces are riddled with spikes, wires, nets, etc aiming to avert a potentially catastrophic fall of rock onto the road below.

It’s quite a busy road with lots of lorries going by, so it’s not that pleasant. I forgot to mention the sign that says I’m officially outside of the Vercors midway down that gorge.

I’m now at the 29 mile mark and have just turned off towards Saint Gervais. The last 4 miles of that main road were very smooth, very flat and with enough room on the side of the road to cycle, so apart from the baking sun and the slight headwind it was a good way of getting some miles out of the way.

Looks like I’m officially back in the Vercors

So the climb begins here. I can see the massive cliffs of the Vercors right in front of me. I can also see a table and chairs ahead of me but it doesn’t look like a café.

I’ve stopped just a few hundred yards past that last point. My Garmin had tried to send me through what looked like someone’s garden, so decided to go round that. And I think there’s nothing much to Saint Gervais probably.

The climb is about to begin so I’m just going to eat a few things I’ve got with me and then plod up there. I’m looking up at the cliff tops now but I can’t spot the old balcony road yet.

I’ve stopped at the 31 mile mark after climbing for the last 20 minutes or so. The road is dead quiet. Only 3 cars have passed so far. Currently I can hear a cow bell clanging somewhere. Other than that it’s just flies buzzing and creatures scuttling away from me. There are lots of trees around here but unfortunately the ride so far has been exposed in many places. I’m hoping that improves. Also I’m listening out for the sound of a waterfall because I know there’s one somewhere at the bottom before the steep part of this climb.

I’ve now stopped at the 32 mile mark and the sign I see at least lets me know that I’m only 3 km from the tunnel.

Still no sign of or sound of the waterfall. The road is about 50% in the shade. The exposed bits are torture.

And I’m worried about my liquid levels, so I hope there might be a chance to get water at the waterfall.

Now at the 33 mile mark. I have reached the water fall.

At one point I came around a bend and could hear the sound of running water in the distance and now I’m here. I also spotted the old closed road a while back up on the cliff face,

and now standing at the base of the waterfall I can see it carved into the rocks.

At this point the rocks rise vertically in front of me making it seem almost like all the climbing I’ve done has got me nowhere so far. And as for the waterfall, well, like in the Ancient Mariner, there’s water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. It is totally inaccessible as far as I can make out. I was going to stick my head under if possible.

Well I’ve just stopped at another mini waterfall and it seemed so close to the road I thought I must be able to get some water.

But when I looked at it, it was still out of reach by a long way. When I looked on the other side of the road I realised I could scramble down some rocks …

… to further down the waterfall, so I did that and managed to reach the flowing water…

… and splashed it all over my head (after taking my helmet and shades off!). I gathered it into my cupped hand and then drank it. I felt like a cowboy out in the desert, crouching down by the river there, or some sort of caveman. The water tasted so good I scrambled back to my bike to get my bidon and topped it up with the river water.

The wet look

Well, after the final steep bit, I turned the corner to see that the approach to the tunnel was shorter than I’d remembered it. So I’ve now reached my old friend The tunnel Ecouges again.

My plan was to maybe walk my bike all the way around the old road but I changed my mind because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to get out at the other end, if they had moved the fences around. So I left my bike at the bottom and walked up the old road further than I had before.

I soon realised that there was no way I would have walked my bike around the whole length of the old road. There’s one section where the road has completely collapsed and I was a bit wary going past that bit. I was suddenly walking on something soft and wondered exactly what was underneath it.

I was glad to be back on the hard tarmac beyond that point

Then it started looking very overgrown and in a nutshell I lost my bottle and thought I’ve gone far enough, thank you very much!

So I made my way back.

It’s so peaceful up here though it’s incredible. Things are scuttling around and judging by the number of lizards I’ve seen I can only assume it’s those.

There’s also some sort of insects making a noise (I hope it’s insects because it sounds like a rattlesnake).

View down to the road I just came up. This was the scene of a WWII skirmish when a handful of French resistance fighters held off a whole German artillery unit making its way along that road, using this elevated position to their advantage.

And now it’s time to go up through the steep, dark, cold, eerie tunnel

The tunnel was very cold inside and very steep and it’s so black in there it’s unbelievable – definitely the scariest.

Coming out the tunnel at the top
Looking back down into the tunnel
Presumably to help pedestrians without a torch
View from top end of tunnel
Access to old road from top. See other post for details. Somebody has moved the barrier out of the way since I was last here.
Some sort of attachment for a cable that disappears over the edge. I hope it’s stronger than it looks
There’s really only one way this damage could have been caused – something heavy (and no doubt rock-shaped) has fallen from above!

I just rode from the tunnel up to the Col de Romeyère in one go. The climb went on much longer than expected. It does ease a bit towards the end but it’s still a slog. It kept looking like it was coming to end but then going up again.

Here’s the complete profile.

I can now look forward to several miles of downhill.

When I was talking about good descents the other day, I mentioned the Gorges de la Bourne, but I had forgotten about the superb drop from Col de la Romeyère down to la Balme de Rencurel, where it then joins Les Gorges de la Bourne, making the whole thing the best descent I’ve ever done. Check out this post to see a video of it, taken three years ago. This time I turned left at la Balme de Rencurel to take in the as yet un-cycled eastern section of Gorges de la Bourne. I had driven along this a couple of days ago and was stunned by it and now I’ve ridden it. In the direction I was riding it was uphill (up river), which didn’t make too much difference as I was stopping every 100 metres or so to get photos. And it wouldn’t have mattered how many I took, I was bound to fail to capture the sheer epicosity of this gorge road. But here goes.

Just as you approach the gorge


I bet that made a bit of a splash!

When I left the gorge I had it in my head that there was a downhill after that. I don’t know where I got that stupid idea from. It was uphill for the remaining five miles!

On the final part of this ride I was thinking that I need a rest day. A rest for my legs and a rest for my mind which had been well and truly blown!

Could anyone ever get used to that view?

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