Corsica – The Tough Way
Apart from fleeing a storm and having to don our wet weather gear hiking between the Refuge de Petra Piana and the Refuge de Manganu on day eight, today was the most eventful day on the trail. We were glad we had hiked the trail in the unconventional direction of south to north, leaving one of the most terrifying parts until last, as we had improved our fitness and stamina by then, so were more prepared for the harder sections in the north. We also think if we had faced the slabs on day two or three, we might have considered turning back and spending the rest of the week on a Corsican beach… but there was no turning back by day 11! In general, hiking south to north meant that some of the scrambling ascents, for example on scree, were far more enjoyable than they would have been if we had been coming down them.
All of our anxieties melted away after making our way across the Spasimata River on a metal suspension bridge, and reaching the Refuge de Carrozzu. After a celebratory soft drink bought from the little store, we set up camp in a secluded copse at the back of the refuge. It was our final night under the stars, the Spasimata slabs soon forgotten.
In contrast to the day before, where we had left camp in a subdued mood, on our last day we were both in high spirits and full of energy, more than ready to tackle any obstacle the trail threw at us. Technically after the Refuge de Carozzu there should be two stages left to complete the GR20. However, as we were on a tight schedule, we joined together the last two sections and took the low-level ‘yellow’ liaison route to Calen- zana, which was both shorter in distance and quicker in time, enabling us to walk the final section in a single day.
After leaving the serenity of the mountains it was a long downhill walk into the village. Both teasing yet spurring us on, the structures of Calenzana could be seen from quite some distance away. At least they were below us, so they looked a lot closer than any mountain refuge did when we were facing a long ascent. Snaking our way down the mountainside, we seemed to reach the village quickly, where it was time for celebrations. Rather than being sad that it was all over, we were all smiles as this long-distance hike came to an end. We were proud to have completed the GR20 across Corsica, me very relieved to have done so without injury or incident.
Although the GR20 is not considered ‘technically’ challenging, it involves plenty of steep ascents and descents, scrambling and the occasional use of fixed chains and ladders, so be prepared to push the limits of your comfort zone. It is the first long-distance hike we’ve done where days or stages are measured in number of hours as opposed to mileage, as navigating the terrain can be so tough. A case in point is the Spasimata Gorge itself. The 3.5 miles from Haut Asco to Refuge de Carozzu over Bocca a i Stagni (2,010m), Bocca Muvrella (l,980m) and through the Spasimata Gorge, according to the guidebook, takes approximately 5.5 hours. Add in a couple of rest breaks and a half-hour lunch stop and this short distance took us seven hours and the best part of a day to complete.
After accomplishing the GR20, we came away with the view that it’s not easy, but if you follow all of the common sense rules related to long-distance hiking, then it’s not dangerous either. Be well prepared, do your research and know what to expect. The rewards are to experience a trail that leads ordinary walkers deep into the sort of terrain usually only visited by mountaineers, and to witness the most spectacular parts of this magical island in the Mediterranean. The scenery is incredible and the sense of solitude you feel out there on the trail more than makes up for a few scary moments. Plus there’s always that glass of Corsican wine waiting for you at the end.