The pass of the Col du Galibier (2,645 metres) is located in the southern region of the French Dauphiné Alps. The tunnel at 2,556 meters used to be the only through road until 1976 – when the tunnel was closed for restoration, a loop around the summit, similar to the one over the Bonette, was constructed, reaching the ‘official’ summit of 2,645 meters.
With this loop included, it claims 9th spot in the highest paved European roads list and is listed as 5th highest mountain pass. – without it, it’s ranked 11th and 6th respectively.
Like all passes in the area, it’s closed during winter, roughly between October and June. I cycled up the Lautaret side June 9th, 2012 and found the final loop closed from the Valloire side – luckily, I could still cycle up from my end. When I tackled the other side in 2014, it was two weeks later and the road was free of snow.
What makes climbing the Galibier hard, is the distance. It can only be reached via the Col du Télégraphe from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and via the Col du Lautaret from either Briançon or Bourg-d’Oisans (Le Clapier).
At 11.8 kilometers in length, with an elevation of 856 meters (7.3%), the preceding Télégraphe is not to be mistaken as a merely a warming up for the Galibier.
After a short descend into Valloire, the actual ascend of the Galibier starts: 18.1 kilometers, with 1,245 meters of elevation, or a 6.9% average.
That may seem almost friendly, but the final 8 kilometers of it average around 8.4% and the final kilometer – the loop over the tunnel – has an average of over 10% – you may need a few seconds to recover, before being able to fully appreciate the incredible view you have from up there.
To the summit of the Lautaret, the approach from Briançon (south-east) is 27.8 km long, with 853 meters of elevation at an average of 3.1% and only the final 10 of those have grades that are worth mentioning.
The ascend of the Lautaret from the south-west, starting at le Clapier*, is 34.2 kilometers long, with 1,312 meters of elevation gain (average 3.8%). This is a little deceiving, as there is a drop between kilometers 4 and 6 and like from Briançon, there’s a lot of false flat.
However, also here, the grades do not exceed 6% very often.
The final stretch of the Galibier itself, from either approach, is 8.5 kilometers from the summit of the Lautaret – with an altimeter gain of 585 meters (6.9%) it’s similar to the the ascend from Valloire, including a steep final up the loop: a last kilometer at an average of 9.6% and a final 200 meters of near 13%…
*In 2015, the Chambon tunnel partially collapsed and was subsequently closed. Later that year, the (temporary) ‘escape route’, along the south side of the lake, was opened.
So, until the tunnel reopens, this means you can still cycle up the Lautaret from le Clapier.
During 2016, construction of a new bypass tunnel started, but it is not clear when this will be completed. When I cycled up the Lautaret in 2017, I still had to use the detour…