GR20 - Corsica

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GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Thu 15 Nov, 2018 8:10 pm

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Bocca Piccaia, 1950m


If you love strenuous walking up and down rocky spectacular mountains then the GR20 could be for you. If you dislike picking your way up and down slabby rock routes, or cold showers, then the GR20 (especially the northern section) may not be your route of choice!

I walked the GR20 from Calenzana in the north to Conca in the south in September 2018 and wanted to share some of the experience with the Forum.

The walk is approximately 200km including a few side trips which are all marked and well documented. The must-have guide, in my opinion is (as is often the case for European routes) the Cicerone guide - in this case by Paddy Dillon and recently updated in 2018.

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Towards the forbidden Cirque de la Solitude


My walk took me 10 and a half days though its fair to say one could do it at a more sedate pace. The walk is really nicely divided up into stages with mountain huts (refuges) at every 10km or so. Many people choose to walk to route over 16 stages, which is the way the Cicerone guide describes the walk. For me, I chose to double-up a few of these stages as it suited me better. Either way, with a refuge at the end of each day you are guaranteed a cold Pietra beer (the local brew) should you choose to do so!
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Rehydrating with a cold Pietra!
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The mountain refuges are all run by the Parc Natural Regional de Corse (PNRC) and they are all very different, each one run by the gardien who manages the refuges and organises the meals. You can stay in dormitory accommodation within the refuge, or stay in one of the pre-pitched tents with sleeping mats which surround the refuge, or like me, take your own tent and pitch it in one of the many tent spots usually available. For me it was about flexibility and an aversion to noisy dormitories. To stay in the refuge or a pre-pitched tent you need to book and pay in advance and so you need to commit to a schedule for your walk. If you bring your own tent like I did you have complete flexibility and just pay the 7 Euro fee each night when you turn up. Free camping in between refuges is not allowed, and to be honest, there are not many suitable spots other than the refuges - and you wont get a cold beer at the end of the day!!

I chose to eat dinner at the refuge which was prepared by the gardien and was generally filling simple food - depending on the culinary skills of said gardien!! Usually carbo rich pasta with pasata or carbonara sauce - never hungry afterwards - and always three courses. You can order up drinks of your choice to accompany. Its always a great chance to sit side by side with other walkers from all over the world and share a meal and stories of the trail or the life people have temporarily left behind to immerse themselves in the complete walking feast that is the GR20. You can order up breakfast as well but I chose to make my own porridge and coffee in the comfort of my own tent. Lunch was usually whatever was available en-route typically an omelette and snacks I found from the refuge shops - they all have something to offer from packs of biscuits, Mars and Snickers bars, fruit or noodles. As noted by Paddy Dillon however, cash is king on the GR20, there generally are no card alternatives. I budgetted on about 70 Euro a day for my own tent and refuge evening meals and refreshments.

The GR20 is characterised by the northern and southern halves. The halfway point is also the only town on the route, Vizzavona. Many people choose to walk the northern half and finish at Vizzavona (theres a train station there so transport away from the walk is good). Many others will walk the southern half only, between Vizzavona and Conca, or the northern half only. The Paddy Dillon guide details the north to south route. The northern half is certainly quite rugged and demanding with lots of big rocky climbs and descents. The southern half still has some rocky climbs but not of the scale of the north - and there are some lovely sections of the path meandering through beech and pine forests. Both halves are spectacular and in my opinion should not be missed.

In September, in 2018, I had great weather throughout - with only one day of rain and never very cold. Night time temperatures were mild - maybe 10 degrees minimum. I carried only a thin down Uniqlo vest and thermal top and a light sleeping bag. But - like most mountainous countries where the peaks are not far from the coasts (think NZ and Tassie) the weather is clearly quite changeable. Snow has been known to occur almost any time of year. Be prepared. The refuges and bergeries (and hence pretty much all provisioning) generally shut up shop by the end of September for winter. Walking beyond this time would be a serious epic and you would need to be fully independent and be prepared for snow. No mosquitoes on the walk and the only poisonous thing on the island is the Corsican salamander which is impossible to miss with its brilliant yellow blotches and black body. Touching the salamander can lead to hypertension.

The GR20 is not a wilderness experience - you usually wont go more than an hour on the trail without coming across others - but it is a beautiful and enchanting walk nonetheless and one that is so satisfying and, to be honest, hard work!! There are not many flat spots on the walk. Highest point on the island is Monte Cinto at 2706m and you can get to this with a 30min side trip from the highest point on the main route, the saddle at Pointe des Eboulis at 2607m. From the summit you can see the Mediterranean Sea at Calvi - where many people fly in from the main land - including myself.

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Refuge de Tighjettu, 1683m


Water is widely available throughout the walk, though some days you wont find much in between refuges. I just drank from the streams using normal common sense. I also have a Sawyer filter in line with my Platypus bladder. Given the rocky scrambly terrain I think great boots are a must to protect your feet - not a runner or lightweight shoe walk. I had poles for the big ascents and descents and they were really useful for stabilising. There are some fantastic swimming holes so make sure you bring your togs! Bit busy to nude up IMHO - and Im not modest!

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Aiguilles de Bavella, 1690m
All up one fantastic walk that will challenge and will reward you with spectacular mountain scenery, simple Corsican food at the refuges and bergeries, and one that will rate right up there with the best walks you have ever done!

Happy to answer any questions for those interested in this great walk.
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby ianhopkins » Wed 21 Nov, 2018 10:15 am

looks awesome mate, good write up. do you speak french or where you able to get by with just english?
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Fri 23 Nov, 2018 6:01 pm

Thanks for that - I speak school boy survival French but you would certainly have no worries using English, sign language and some key french words (1 tent site, two beers etc)
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby keithy » Sun 09 Dec, 2018 2:45 am

Thanks for the post scoha. GR20 is on my to do list also.

With the campsites are they only suitable for free standing tents or do you reckon a hiking pole tent that needs pegging out would work?
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby Lamont » Sun 09 Dec, 2018 8:05 am

Thanks matey.
Really very informative and I loved the pictures. You covered all the things I wished to know!!
By the by, I have some very basic Italian, and long to revisit Italy, not so France.
Did you notice it being spoken/signage or was it exclusively French.
I do know Corsica is a French province, but I nearly visited there once, after I was told by friends in Florence that (especially) Corsica and Sardinia have an intermingling of tongues.
Beer at the end of the day. Yee Haa.
I am interested in your answers to the others questions as well.
mangia, mangia e mangia di nuovo
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Sun 09 Dec, 2018 7:50 pm

Keithy, all the campsites I stayed at worked with my tent pegged out - the ground was pretty good. Where it wasnt from to time I used large rocks and cord etc. Keithy you would be happy to know the Exos pack you sold me continues to delight (but Im dreaming of an Osprey Levity !

Lamont, yes Corsica is at a bit of an intersection of French, Italian and English and I think you would get by with all three. I never had an issue with language.

Any other queries, happy to respond.
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby keithy » Sun 09 Dec, 2018 8:31 pm

scoha wrote:Keithy, all the campsites I stayed at worked with my tent pegged out - the ground was pretty good. Where it wasnt from to time I used large rocks and cord etc. Keithy you would be happy to know the Exos pack you sold me continues to delight (but Im dreaming of an Osprey Levity !

Perfect! I will take extra cordage then and use rocks as well.

My exos is also performing nicely. I just have to repair a few holes I have in the side mesh where I snagged thorns and branches. I've taken it on my 6 weeks hiking the Azores islands and it is still a brilliant pack! I wasn't that happy with the updated Exos and had a gander at the Levity as well but they took away some features I use regularly on my Exos!
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby MrFaulty » Fri 14 Dec, 2018 2:58 pm

Ah, that brought back memories - I did it south to north over 13 days in 2017, started 29 May. A truly beautiful walk but unfortunately I found towards the end of the walk, as the crowds increased, so did the disregard for the place, with more rubbish being obvious.

A great write up! Now try to find a walk to top it and let me know what you come up with

Cheers
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Wed 19 Dec, 2018 6:06 pm

Thanks Ben, got my eye on the Haute Randonee Pyrenee (HRP) from Atlantic to the Med!
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Fri 21 Dec, 2018 4:33 pm

keithy et al, heres some additional photos of some of the campsites to give you an idea of the type of terrain - - usually always able get pegs in - but few times its a bit cramped or hard

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Also my most comfortable "campsite" at the half way village, Vizzavona - hugely recommended. PM me for details of the bed and brekky if interested - it was superb.

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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby biggbird » Sun 20 Jan, 2019 1:52 pm

Thanks for this Scoha, lots of great memories! It really is a beautiful walk. We did it at a similar time to you, but a few years previously (2015 perhaps?). We made some great friends, and came back with some great stories. Suffice to say, the Corsicans (or at least some of them) live up their reputation as a fiery lot!
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby MrFaulty » Wed 30 Jan, 2019 4:10 pm

Yeah, I also have been lookin gat the HRP - needs about 45 days though plus travel but am still thinking about it. SWMBO keeps telling me to just do it, think she wants me out of the house!
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby scoha » Wed 30 Jan, 2019 5:56 pm

Ive just received all the domestic and professional clearances required so its all systems go for the HRP - planning on 35 days plus two rest days - going to be amazing
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Re: GR20 - Corsica

Postby MrFaulty » Thu 31 Jan, 2019 8:02 am

Very envious, when are you going? I will be keen to hear what it is like. The only potential negative I have read is that it is less alpine with only a few days. 35 days sounds like you are moving fast. Good luck

Cheers
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