GR20: Ascu to Hotel Castel di Vergio

Day 3: 5.5 miles, 4100ft ascent, 4035ft descent.

During the night it poured with rain. In the morning John told me he had also heard thunder and seen lightning overnight. Since the forecast we saw last night showed heavy rain in the morning easing in the afternoon, we decided to sleep in past sunrise to be able to take a look at the sky before heading out. When we finally got up, the sky looked blue. We were totally surprised.

I was also surprised that pretty much everyone else who was staying in the refuge had left already, so we must have been the last ones to get going at 8:20am.

After getting our feet wet immediately by crossing a swollen creek first thing, we saw an amazing salamander maybe 6-8 inches long with a black body and yellow spots crawling across the path. It made me miss home where salamanders are a common sighting. This is the first salamander we’ve seen all year!

The trail got technical really quickly, and before I knew it we were scrambling up what felt like a sheer cliff. It was sometimes crucial that you follow the blazes exactly because trying to climb the wrong side of a rock could mean getting stuck like a cat up a tree. It was during one of these missed turns that I had my first panic attack.

I must be a glutton for punishment because I have a fear of heights yet I chose to do this hike knowing that it was a hard hike with lots of scrambling. John had found a way up the rock, but as I was stuck on a ledge. I yelled at him over and over that I was ready to quit. Eventually somehow I managed to get down to a solid place to stand. Then, when once the adrenaline keeping me composed eased off, I broke down in tears. Somehow John ignored my pleas to quit and kept me going in the correct direction. There were sometimes cables to help us along, but not often enough.

The whole mountain was alive with water from the rain from overnight. The “trail” was most often a waterfall, and further up, even more impressive waterfalls were visible.

The trail pushed us into a chute which of course had also turned into a waterfall, and we had to scramble up it. I had to give John a lot of space because with each step he let lose rocks fall towards my head.

The uphill was relentless, and in the end we lost track of how far up we needed to go. We thought we had 500 ft left, but after 500 ft, it turned out we had more than 1000 ft left. At this point our energy was depleted because we were constantly hesitant to take a break and east something given that the weather was holding up for us, and we didn’t want to waste it. I felt dumb for sleeping in, but with the knowledge I had the night before, it seemed like the right move.

In an effort to gain some much needed energy, we stuffed fistfuls of candy into our mouths and continued up a scree slope to the top. We had climbed just over 4000ft in under 2 miles. To be clear, there are no typos in the previous sentence.

At the top, we were in the clouds and our visibility was zero. So, we snapped a few pictures – one of a sign leading you to the highest point on Corsica, Monte Cinto, just 1km further on, and a sign for the next refuge, the Refuge de Tighjettu.

For a few beautiful moments we had an easy ridge walk before the trail resumed its natural state of being practically impossible to hike.

For the most part the decent was slightly easier than the ascent, but nevertheless, there was one spot where I had another nervous breakdown. It didn’t help that John kept yelling at me telling me how to climb down where obviously he had been able to make a step down that was taller than I was. “Just jump!” he repeatedly told me. It also didn’t help that the rock was wet and slick and we were both completely out of energy.

In the last half hour or hour before we got to the refuge, it started to mist. I was overjoyed to reach the refuge and sit down to eat some food. An American girl living in France named Katie whom we had talked to briefly the day before was sitting on the porch. We traded notes, and I was glad to hear that she was also a bit shaken from the experience of the day.

Even though we would normally hike a full day, we decided to stay the night at the refuge, even though we only arrived only 3:20pm.

My excuse was that we heard that the next refuge still had a guardian, so it wouldn’t be free to stay there. The guardian for this refuge left at the end of September, so the consensus seems to be that we can stay for free. Plus it will be nice to spend the night inside and dry out some of our gear. As I’m writing this in the comfort of the refuge, it has started raining quite heavily. I’m so glad we decided to stop. I tried to stretch a little, but in doing so, I seem to have stretched one of my legs a little bit too much.

Also, the toilets are downhill from the refuge on a trail not completely unlike the GR20, and once your knees are tired enough from the trek down there, the toilets were squat toilets. Squatting was something I barely had the energy for.

Around 8:30pm we got comfortable in our sleeping bags in one of the dorm rooms with a couple of German girls and the American girl and turned off the lights in order to go to sleep, but we heard a commotion in the main area of the refuge as apparently 9 people had just showed up by headlamp dripping wet. I closed my eyes and hoped that they would keep quiet and try not to disturb us too much, but alas, they opened the doors to all the rooms, turning on all the lights and installing themselves all over the place, while simultaneously cooking, unpacking, and generally taking their time getting settled until after 11pm. I decided in the meantime to take another adventure down to the toilets to pass some time.

A gentleman installed himself directly above me in the bunk room, moving the ladder so that it basically hit my feet, and started tossing and turning on his sleeping mat made of Mylar balloons. Eventually he stopped moving, and just as I thought I was about to finally fall asleep just around midnight, he started snoring loudly. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep, especially when people started getting up in the morning around 5am.

Day 4: 9.5 miles 2790ft ascent, 2855ft descent.

Somehow in the morning I had a sharp pain that seemed to originate from the back of my knee. It hurt to lift my leg off the ground, and of course that’s never a good thing if the goal for the day is to hike. I’m pretty sure I injured it trying to stretch yesterday evening. Sigh. Am I officially old now?

Unfortunately the pain did not go away while hiking, in fact it just got worse. It made me more cranky after not having slept well. I took several long breaks, feeling sorry for myself and letting others pass ahead of us.

Finally Katie, the American girl, caught up to us and tried to cheer me up. I was having to walk mostly with my left leg, dragging my right one up rock scrambles. Not ideal. With the distraction of conversation, we slowly made it to the next refuge where there was a guardian selling food and drinks, and if we wanted to stay the night, we would have needed to pay for that as well. It was still well before noon, but I decided to get a sandwich so as to have an excuse to ask the grumpy guardian if we could actually sit inside (he seemed to be somewhat guarding the door). Katie left us behind in hopes of getting further along.

After our meal, we continued on, and luckily the trail was quite easy. Nothing like previous days, in fact we could practically swing our arms. It was easier to walk on flat, but every time I had to take a step up or down, I had to significantly compensate.

We finally made it to the end of the section, which was at a hotel with a restaurant and a hostel. We sat down in the restaurant and ordered some wine, as I thought that may help with my problems (it never does). As I sat by the window sipping my wine, I saw a wild pig wander through the front yard of the hotel.

Then, since going further seemed to make no sense, given my physical condition, we booked two beds in the hostel. I would have preferred to camp (which was also an option), but John wanted to stay inside. The private hotel rooms were at least 4 times the price of the dorm rooms, so we settled on the dorm room even though there was a chance I’d get another bad night of sleep.

I was embarrassed that we were stopping so early each day, but John seemed quite tired too, and certainly tired of hearing me complain about the pain in my leg.

Soon after we got settled, a storm rolled in and we watched through the window as all the camping spots outside turned into ponds. I guess I was happy that we decided to stay inside and also happy that we weren’t hiking further in the storm. It’s funny, however, how the weather reports never seem to correspond to reality.

More people rolled in and settled into the dorm room with us including two French men who we had crossed several times. One of them was suffering from thigh pain and had taken even longer than us on this section. He thought maybe he injured himself on the way to the toilets the night before. Or at least that seemed like a good hypothesis. We lamented over our injuries before getting ready for bed.

Luckily nobody snored, and I slept quite well.

2 thoughts on “GR20: Ascu to Hotel Castel di Vergio

  1. I definitely commiserate with you on the fear of heights (which is why I still don’t understand how you did Half Dome!!). Once you get yourself into a panic, it’s hard to get yourself out.

    Hope the pain subsides. It really looks quite beautiful, but oh so hard.


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