The GR20 is one of Europe’s hardest and most beautiful multi-day hikes.
It is one of the most beautiful mountain trails in Europe. But right at that moment we were questioning why we had agreed to such an undertaking. The GR20 (Grande Randonnee, meaning ‘big excursion’ in French) is one of an extensive network of long-distance footpaths across the continent and beyond, with a reputation for being extremely demanding and one of the most difficult. We didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park – what’s a long-distance hike without a challenge? So with bags of confidence and four thru-hikes under our belts, we decided to make it our next hiking adventure. And just to really test our mettle (and because we had a tight schedule), we planned to complete the 16 stages in just 12 days.
After the logistics of getting to the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean, travelling halfway across the island by bus, and setting off from the sleepy village of Conca in the south, we quickly found ourselves making friends and dropping into life on the trail. The rhythms of nature get you like that. We were instantly wowed by the alpine scenery and intoxicated with the scent of laricio pines and wild herbs growing in abundance along the trail. We were more than satisfied with goat’s cheese and saucisson becoming the mainstay of our diet for the next fortnight. Under the blazing sun, we were thankful for the numerous rock pools and cascading falls that we could cool off in after a hard day. But more than anything, and with every step we took, we were mesmerised by the range of light falling on the towering granite peaks that stretched off into the distance, winding their way north.
But let’s not sugarcoat it. The trail is tough! Tackling the traverse of those granite peaks day after day is not for the faint-hearted. After several demanding sections in the early stages in the south, where we had to cross a knife-edge ridge and weave between gullies without looking down at the dizzying drops, we thought we were becoming masters at scrambling and our confidence for completing the trail was high. But none of that prepared me for today. The day where we nearly gave up.
We looked down the precipice in terror and thought, ‘What on earth are we doing here? We can’t do this. This is rock climbing without ropes and complete madness!’ We tried to picture a celebratory glass of Corsican wine waiting for us in Calenzana, our end point, to get us moving again. We were just a day away from victory having already hiked almost 100 miles across the island, but with trembling knees and clammy hands, our resolve was wavering. We were frozen to the spot, wondering which was the best way down.