Col du Grand St. Bernard Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

10.3
FIETS
15.6 mi
DISTANCE
4,920 ft
GAINED
6 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): Ard Oostra, Switzerland

INTRO

Great St. Bernard Pass is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the canton of Valais in Switzerland with Aosta in the Aosta Valley region in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest mountains of the Alps: Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass itself is located in Switzerland in the canton of Valais, very close to Italy. See this page for more information on this historic route: Great St Bernard Pass.
6% average grade.  68% of the climb is at 5-10%.  The steepest 500 meters of the climb is 9.7%, and steepest kilometer is 9.4%.

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Roadway:  Two lanes in good shape with minimal to no shoulder.

Traffic:  Moderate with trucks traveling to Italy.

Tunnel:  Two tunnels (one is six km) but with galleries.  Before the third tunnel (prohibited to cyclists) there is a turn onto the old road for the final six km to the top (Street View).  The final six km are without trucks which are forbidden - this is by far the greatest part of the ride - magnificent. 

Traffic:  Moderate, including trucks until the turn off to the old road at kilometer 18.7.

Parking:   Just before the start of the climb in a small parking area off the highway, 450 meters before climb start (MapStreet View), or the parking lot in Orsieres adjacent to climb start (Map). 
Provisions:  There are a couple cafés in Osieres. 

Lights:  Brings tail lights for the tunnels.
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
There are several World Top 100 bike climbs near this climb and you are in the greatest cycling area in the world.  See our Valais, Switzerland climb page for more information on climbing in this area.

Use the “Routes in Area” button on the menu bar to see other bike climbs in this area. 

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling Col du Grand St. Bernard (Swiss side)

Photos by PJAMM Contributor Ard Oostra, Switzerland.

The Col

Great St. Bernard Pass Is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the canton of Valais in Switzerland with Aosta in the region Aosta Valley in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest mountains of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass itself is located in Switzerland in the canton of Valais, very close to Italy.  Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Pass

This is a historical pass that dates back to well Before Common Era.  According to Wikipedia, the pass first appears in history in 390 BC when Celtic tribes of the Boii and Lingones used it to invade Italy.  Famous generals of note have used the pass for military purposes - one going north and the other south:

1.        First came Julius Caesar (or actually his top commander, Servius Galba) in 57 BC.  Galba having failed to seize the pass.  Augustus later succeeded in securing the pass for Rome and a road soon thereafter built under the direction of Roman Emperor Claudius.

2.        Next up - Napoleon from the north. In May, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte sent 40,000 men over the pass to attack an Austrian army that had laid siege to French-occupied Genoa.  See, Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Pass

So to has the French Grand Tour passed over Colle del Gran San Bernardo 5 times in the past. Great St Bernard Pass 

It appears the pass name derives from the hospice for travellers constructed there in 1049 by, you guessed it Saint Bernard of Menthon.  So to does the name for the great snow rescue dog derive! Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Hospice

“Having been bypassed by easier and more practical routes, particularly the Great St Bernard Tunnel which opened in 1964, its value today is mainly historical and recreational.” Wikipedia

The Great St Bernard Tunnel . . . is a road tunnel complementing the Great St Bernard Pass, linking Martigny (in the Swiss canton of Valais) with Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses (in the Aosta Valley, in north western Italy). . . . For most of its 5,798-metre (6,341 yd) length the tunnel runs in a straight line, but incorporating a gentle slope. The northern end is 1,918 m (6,293 ft) above sea level while the southern end is only 1,875 m (6,152 ft) above sea level. . . .

Before the tunnel was constructed, the frontier was passable here only using the Great St Bernard Pass. The pass remains an option in summer, but is normally closed by snow between October and May, and sometimes for longer. The tunnel is intended to be usable for 365 days every year.” [Emphasis added;  Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Tunnel

Our Swiss friend from Montreux, Ard Oostra, writes:

“I climbed St Bernard pass many times in the last 20 years and always went through the tunnel.
Since this road normally doesn't have much traffic and a large section is "galeries" (which means it is mostly open / windows on the right hand side when going uphill) instead of being a closed tunnel, I think that its doable.
In fact going up from Martigny towards the Col there are three tunnels: The first one, prohibited in the uphill for cyclists, can be avoided by the external parallel road (some 800m long ?)

The second one is the 6km or so long tunnel-galerie section. Before you get from the second tunnel into the third tunnel which leads to the border and into Italy (the third tunnel is tollway and prohibited for cyclists) there is an exit in the second tunnel which leads you to the last 6 kms of open road towards the pass. In fact these last 6 kms are the most worthwhile and hardest.

So, I'm aware that there are roads along the (artificial) lake, but I never took them and don't know if they are asphalted or (partly) gravel. It could be a good alternative.

Maybe next May when the roads are open again I may have a look for you:-)”

Here is a potential route around the last tunnel:

  • At the tunnel - the 15 km mark (if coming from Orsières), turn right to take the Old Road around the tunnel and on the west side of Lac des Toules - here is the Old Road route, as best we can tell:  https://ridewithgps.com/routes/26647696 
  • From the “detour” the climb is 14.9 km / 1,073 m / 5.9%
  • The “detour” point appears to be where Will (Cycling Challenge) started his climb - see quote above.

Strava members regarding the route around the last tunnel:

Juan Manuel San Juan Hi John, The route is safe. Go up to the port by road avoiding the tunnel. We made the route with mountain bike. We had no problem. The bad weather forced us to ride more than half of the route by road. The weather is very changeable in the Alps. I send you the link of ET 5/7 and the complete Tour Mont Blanc & Grand Combin Greetings, and enjoy the route. JM https://es.wikiloc.com/rutas-mountain-bike/tour-mont-blanc-giro-grand-combin-etapa-5-7-27072016-14152601 https://es.wikiloc.com/rutas-mountain-bike/tour-mont-blanc-giro-grand-combin-julio-2016-14197204  

Yvan Vouillamoz Bonjour, oui par cette route vous évitez la galerie d’accès au col du Grand St-Bernard. C est un chemin pour VTT.   Hello, yes by this road you avoid the access gallery at the Grand St-Bernard pass. It is a path for mountain bikes.

Question - can it be ridden on cross or road bike with bigger tires?  Answer: Oui je pense, mais il y a des passages où il faut porter le vélo. Actuellement ça n est pas possible, route enneigée  Yes I think, but there are passages where you have to carry the bike. Currently it is not possible, snowy road

Diego Micheloud Bonjour John,l'ancienne route est parfaite en VTT ou en CX elle contourne le tunnel par le barrage,très belle option  .Hello John, the old road is perfect in mountain bike or CX it bypasses the tunnel by the dam, very nice option.

Thank you Ard!