Col de Carabès (pronounced ‘Carabess’), is one of those cols you would miss if you were looking for names on your IGN Top100 map (like the not-distant Col de la Haute Beaume), but it’s a real gem. Standing ay 1270m, it’s higher than most in the area, including Col de Rousset. And maybe its not being on the map is the reason for one of the pleasures: you’ll hardly meet a soul, either side.
On the minus side, the col itself has virtually no view, and parts of the descent either side need great caution (more of that later). It’s also hard to decide where the proper ascents start either side, if these things matter to you. Starting at Die, you have about 48km of ascent, from 400m, but it only kicks up 10km from the col, and you climb all the way from Serres, but again it only really gets going from 9km from the col (from just before La Piarre).
On the plus side, the ascent from Serres is truly stunning (a good one for geologists), and if you are returning to Die, once you’ve got the top twisty bit out of the way (including lumpy road surface at present), you’ve got a long, safe descent. (One curiosity on this descent is where the road dives down quite steeply to the left: as you come up a slight rise, you might notice the crumbling bit of old road on your right. I can only assume that this section was subject to some irreparable failure, hence the ‘bypass’.)
So, a few notes…
Firstly, an admission: I’ve never ridden this col west to east, as the descent through the gorge to La Piarre looks like no fun at all – too much to look at, and too many sketchy corners on a steepish gradient to allow you to enjoy it. The same bit is a fantastic ascent. (Incidentally, the col will be shut in winter, and anyway should never be attempted in icy weather.)
As you ascend from La Piarre, after the gorge, look up and ahead for the scar on the top of the hill facing you: that’s the road as it turns the last corner towards the col. You’ll know the bit when you get to it, as you can look back down on a large part of your ascent: a classic view indeed.
You can fill up with water at fountains in La Piarre or Le Chateau (a little settlement near the big rock whose base you pass earlier). But best of all is the source of the Drôme at La Bâtie-des-Fonds, where crystal-clear cold water flows generously from a well-marked fountain (see photo).
The only other note is that you won’t find any cafés between Serres and Luc-en-Diois, so do take supplies if you need more than water for sustenance.