Last Updated: Wed Feb 02 12:08:07 GMT 2011
Work In Progress...
Simon rang from Edinburgh, and asked me if I'd be interested in walking the Southern Half of the GR20 in Corsica in October. Simon had previously done the Northern Half several years ago, but I wasn't quite sure what I was letting myself in for, and I was slightly concerned that I would be committing to a trip that wasn't going to reduce my Munro Count, but it sounded like too much of an experience to pass up, so I said "yes".
I tried to get out cycling when I could, and I put in one training walk in the Black Mountains. I also treated myself to some new gear for the trip. I bought a new down sleeping bag (1100g), a 40l see-through dry-bag and a merino wool baselayer top. And I spent a couple of days running around trying to find enough pairs of TNF boxer shorts (3) to take with me, and managed to get Snow+Rock to order me the final pair to pick up the day before I left for Corsica.
We were out of season to get direct flights to Corsica, so for me - leaving from Bristol - the best option was to get a train to Gatwick airport, and then fly to Marseille, and from there catch a flight to Corsica. Originally we had planned to meet at Gatwick and fly to Corsica from there, but when we booked our tickets Simon managed to lose his reservation, and ended up taking different flights, so we would not meet up in the flesh until we were both in Corsica at Bastia Airport.
I found an online site with a French 3-day weather outlooks, and the forecast for Corsica was fine - until we were due to arrive - then rain and thunderstorms were forecast. I reasoned that I didn't need to take my waterproofs with me, as, since being converted to Buffalo gear I no longer take waterproofs on walks in Scotland, and surely it couldn't be as wet as Scotland in the Med?
The night before I was due to leave I packed everything into my rucksack and weighed it at 16.8kg. With additional gear I was borrowing from Simon and food and water this was going to be a bit heavier than I had hoped. I was aiming to carry a pack no heavier than 18kg.
In order to protect the rucksack I unpacked it and repacked all the gear, along with the rucksack itself and my boots into a hard case more likely to survive the attentions of baggage handlers. Hopefully we would find somewhere in Corsica near the airport where we could stash the case along with our travel clothes for the return trip.
Train: Bristol - Reading - Gatwick, Plane: Gatwick - Marseille - Bastia Airport
I was woken up at 6am by a variety of alarms. I checked the online forecast for Corsica for Friday, but it wasn't good. So I squeezed my waterproofs into the suitcase.
I caught the train from Bristol Temple Meads to Reading. At Reading station I got a copy of TGO. It had an article in it entitled Is The GR20 Europe's Toughest Trek? and a gear list for the GR20, a review of big rucksacks and LED headtorches. A little late to influence my choice of gear, but at least it reassured me that I hadn't forgotten anything crucial.
I caught the Reading to Gatwick train, but it terminated one stop short of the airport due to "techincal difficulties". Fortunately another train came along that went to Gatwick after one stop, so I was only 10 minutes behind schedule when I arrived at the station for the airport. I took the monorail to the North Terminal and checked in - I thought the scales weighed my bag in at 38kg, but I hoped I'd misread the display. I got some zinc oxide tape to augment my meagre blister repairing possibilities and then the plane was boarding. I caught a glimpse of the famous White Cliffs of Dover as we left the UK, but then we were into the cloud. So I amused myself with the first Sudoku I have ever done - which took about 5 minutes.
When we landed in Marseille I discovered someone had walked off with my carry-on bag, which had my passport, tickets and money in it. Fortunately it turned out to be an honest mistake, and they had left it with the cabin crew at the front of the plane.
My case had been checked through to Bastia, but when I saw it turn up on the carousel (it's bright orange, and quite hard to miss) I thought I'd better take charge of it. I sat around and read TGO until the check-in for my flight opened, and got processed. This time the scales reported my bag as being 24kg, which was more reassuring.
When we flew into Bastia it was very cloudy and dismal, and we only dropped out of the clouds as we were landing. The mountains of Corsica were hidden in the clouds, which was a bit of a depressing sight to arrive to. Simon had already arrived, so we met up for the first time on the trip, have done the planning over the phone and email. We attempted to get the shuttle bus into Bastia, but either we were waiting in the wrong place, or it didn't show up. So we approached a taxi driver to ask how much it would be to take us into Bastia, and he reckoned €50, which was about the same as it would cost us to stay for the night in the Hotel Poretta just up the road from the airport, so we asked if he would take us there instead, but he declined. So we shouldered our packs, and I wheeled my case, about a mile along the road to the hotel and got a room there. There was a nice restaurant next door, so we ate there, and then returned to the hotel. They had said it would be OK for use to leave my case there, with our travelling clothes in, so we had one final opportunity to lighten our load, as anything we took with us as we left the hotel tomorrow morning would have to be carried for a week.
I decided, again, to leave my waterproofs behind, and my Thermarest. And, it turned out, Simon had opted to lighten his load by leaving a bag of clothes behind in Edinburgh. We also discussed what technical gear we might need to attempt the Alpine Variants on the route. Simon had brought a short rope, but in the end, as we were both experienced lead climbers, we opted to take just a couple of slings and carabiners each. As I tested the pack for weight I tried to reassure myself that it would be at it's heaviest now, and by the end of the trip it would be lighter to the tune of six days food.
Bus: Bastia Airport - Porto Vecchio,
Hitch: Porto Vecchio - Sante Lucie - Conca
Pedometer: 0h44m, 1.92 miles, 4074 steps
We were woken up in the night by some extremely hard rain. It sounded like a herd of horses stampeding past the window. It still wasn't too late for me to add my waterproofs back into my pack.
At 6:45am we got up and had breakfast, before checking out and heading towards the East Coast main road (just over a mile) to catch a bus to Porto Vecchio. I'd made my final decision and my waterproofs were in the suitcase back at the Hotel. It rained for most of the bus journey to Porto Vecchio, and I sat in the bus wondering if I was going to regret that descision.
We arrived in Porto Vecchio at 11:30am - it wasn't raining there. We shouldered our packs and walked into the Town Centre. At the Tourist Information office we ascertained that the gite at Conca - where the GR20 starts (or ends, if you're tackling the route from North to South, as most people do) - was still open, but when we called them to see if they would pick us up they declined, so, again, we were left to make our own way.
But before we could head for the foothills we needed to acquire some supplies. And Simon needed to acquire some clothes to replace the ones he'd left behind. So we headed for a shopping centre, and managed to arrive just as it was closing for lunch, and wouldn't reopen for two hours.
We decided to adopt the Mediterranean way of life, so while we waited for the shop to reopen we had a long lunch ourselves. We found a cafe that did a nice salad, and then found another one that did nice cake. By that time the shopping centre was reopening, so we picked up some food for breakfasts, a couple of gas cylinders and some clothes for Simon.
Our best chance of getting to Conca seemed to be to wait for the bus that had taken us to Porto Vecchio to make it's return trip and get off at a place called Sante Lucie about 8 miles away. From there it was only 4 miles to Conca, so we could walk if necessary. I suggested that while we waited for the bus we could try to hitch up the road to Sante Lucie, so we found a likely spot where a car could stop and while Simon wrote "Sante Lucie" on the largest piece of paper we had (an A4 copy of the bus timetable). I stuck my thumb out and tried to look like I wasn't a mass murderer.
In 25 minutes we had got a lift to Sante Lucie. As we were sitting on a wall adjusting our packs for the walk, a car came past, so Simon stuck his thumb out, and it stopped, and we got a lift about a mile down the road to a bridge where the road to Conca split off. Again we thanked the driver and set off up the road expecting an hour or so of walking ahead of us, although when a car came past, we would stick out our thumbs. It wasn't a very busy road, but we'd only walked about half a mile when the third or fourth car that had passed us stopped and gave us a lift to the gite d'etape at Conca. It was 5pm when we arrived - 33 hours since I had left Bristol.
We got ourselves a room for the night with it's own bathroom for €36. We dumped our bags, made friends with the resident pig and walked into Conca to see what the possibilities were for food there. On our way we met a couple from Aberdeen who were just finishing their final day of the GR20 from North to South and were heading for the gite. The shop in Conca looks a bit like an air-raid shelter, but we got some pasta, leeks, tomatoes and peppers there to cook for our last fresh meal for a few days, and we picked up 2 loaves of long life bread, which while not the tatiest loaf on the planet, had the distinction of having exactly the same taste and texture after five days on the trail as it had on the first day.
We walked back to the gite, got a brew going and made our evening meal, and chatted to the chap from Aberdeen - they had done the final four stages in two days in quite poor weather.
Walk: Conca (250m) - Paliri (1055m)
Pedometer: 4h36m, 10.62 miles, 22,442 steps
We got up at 7:20am. It had been stormy in the night. In fact at 3am I was woken by the door to the room blowing open and there was thunder and lightning.
We had breakfast and got ourselves ready to set off. And once we were ready it started raining. By about 10am it had stopped raining, so we shouldered our packs (mine weighed in at 23kg according to the scales at the gite) and headed off.
It was quite hot and sticky as we climbed out of Conca, and the bushes were wet as we brushed past them, so although it wasn't raining we got ourselves quite wet. Two dogs that had followed a Dutch couple to the gite decided to hook up with us and trotted along the path with us.
Walk: Paliri (1055m) - Bavella (1218m) - Asinau (1536m)
Pedometer: 4h30m, 8.62 miles, 18,206 steps
Walk: Asinau (1536m) - Monte Incudine (2134m) - Usciolu (1750m)
Pedometer: 4h33m, 10.87 miles, 22,977 steps
Walk: Usciolu (1750m) - Punta della Capella (2041m) - Prati (1820m)
Pedometer: 3h00m, 6.11 miles, 12,924 steps
Walk: Prati (1820m) - Bocca di Verdi (1289m) - Monte Renoso (2352m) - Capanelle (1586m)
Pedometer: 3h07m, 7.68 miles, 16,231 steps
Walk: Capanelle (1586m) - Gare de Vizzavona (1050m)
Pedometer: 2h14m, 5.72 miles, 12,092 steps
Bus: Gare de Vizzavona - Calvi
Bus: Calvi - Bastia - Bastia Airport
Plane: Bastia Airport - Nice - Gatwick, Train: Gatwick - Reading - Bristol
We were walking at the end of the season. The huts were still open, but none of them were manned. The toilets were only open on the first hut we visited (Paliri). Apart from the pie at Bavella we carried all our food for the entire trip with us from the start.
I imagine that walking the route during high season is very different, with the huts being manned (and possibly full, requiring you to camp outside), and food and provisions being available, I expect the experience is much more sociable, but a lot less wild. I would also expect the weather would be much hotter.
Allow plenty of time if you're travelling in Corsica using public transport.
I got away with leaving my waterproofs behind. But we were lucky with the weather.
I bought GR20 Corsica: The High Level Route by Paddy Dillon and read it before setting off, but Simon had a much better book - Trekking In Corsica by David Abram [[TODO: check this is the right book]] which had more detailed maps, not only of the GR20, but of other routes in Corsica and useful information on towns and villages. For instance, before we even arrived in Corte, we'd been able to use this book to find a prospective restaurant that would do vegetarian food (and it turned out that it was an excellent recommendation). So on the walk itself we only carried the Abram book.
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