GR20: Hôtel Castel di Vergio to Tatonne/ Vizzavona

Day 5: 10.5 miles, 2200ft ascent, 1560ft descent.

In the morning we were the first to get going (I think we’re just used to packing up quickly). The trail was so surprisingly easy that I think we may have been walking faster than 2 miles an hour. I was a complete pleasure to walk on a mostly flat path with very few obstacles. My leg felt surprisingly good. After yesterday when I was thinking that we may have to quit, I was ecstatic to be feeling better already. It seems like that never happens to me- when I start hurting, I normally only get worse.

So, the plan was to take it easy and not push too hard today so as to continue to rest my leg.

The day was terrific. I think maybe my favorite day on the trail so far. An easy climb up to a ridge and then down to a sort of meadow with cows and horses along with a little lake with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains, which you could actually enjoy without falling flat on your face.

We passed two “bergeries” which are little cheese farms, but they were both closed for the winter. I looked longingly at the signs suggesting that cheese was for sale.

We reached the Refuges de Manganu in only 5 hours, just at noon, and had the rest of the day to hang out and admire the view from the deck. I knew we wouldn’t try to continue on since the next section is supposed to take 7 hours, and is difficult with no place to stay in the middle.

I was surprised when everything was locked up at the refuge except for the main building. They even locked up the bathrooms, which I thought was a terrible idea since people here don’t seem to know the first thing about how to use Mother Nature as a rest room. I went as far as possible away from the refuge and dug a hole to do my business, but was disgusted to pass lots of human waste and toilet paper along the way. I guess there must be a lack of education surrounding backcountry hygiene around here. It’s disgusting.

We set up our tent, ate some food and watched the trail leading up to the refuge as others made their way up.

Day 6: 6 miles, 3220ft ascent, 2430ft descent.

It was slightly cold in the night, and I woke up with a slightly sore throat, but I didn’t think much of it. John’s been coughing quite a bit as well. I’m kind of wondering if we’re not fighting something off.

We got going at the break of dawn, 7am, and started climbing up to the ridge. The going was OK, except for a couple of small rock scrambles. I was annoyed because our book mentioned that there was no water along the entire route to the next refuge, but we were climbing up a stream the entire time. We got to the ridge in good time, and had a great view of the lakes below.

The trail then followed the ridge around the lakes, continuing to provide beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and lakes, but the going was a bit more rugged with some more difficult scrambling along the way. Unlike the easy miles of the last two days, today was a bit more strenuous and so the muscle that was bothering me the day before in the back of my leg started bothering me more and more. On top of that, my shoulder/neck was cramping up from my ongoing frozen shoulder, and some pain that was starting to develop in my hip from all my hip surgeries.

It became very hard to walk in so much pain, and to top it all off I had a splitting headache even though I was trying to drink as much water as possible. I was miserable, and even with the beautiful scenery, I was suddenly very depressed. I sat down and John and I talked about quitting for real this time. It’s hard to admit that I’m just not made for strenuous/technical hiking.

In order to finish the entire trail, we would have had to double up sections today, but we decided it would be best just to stay at the next refuge.

I took the downhill to the refuge slowly, but somehow we still made good time, passing a few cows along the way.

At the refuge, we tried to lay down to take a nap, but it was somewhat unsuccessful. I hurt all over, especially my head. But I didn’t have any medicine, so I just tried to keep drinking water. I knew that the big group of guys were going to show up at some point and snore, so we decided that we should really set up the tent rather than try to sleep in the refuge.

Our friends the French guys, one of which had pain in his legs as well showed up, along with two Dutch girls we had met in the last refuge. We all decided to set up tents so as to avoid the big group of snorers.

One of the guys had a paracetamol which helped me to get over my headache, and the Dutch girls were sharing “pastis,” which is a French alcoholic drink which tastes like anise or liquorish, and you add water before you drink it. The French guys had some lovely cheese, and all we had to offer to the feast was some peanut m&m’s, but I was happy and feeling much better. Having a small community of happy hikers makes everything feel better.

We stayed up until sunset and then made our way to the tent.

Day 7: 10miles, 360ft ascent, 4000ft descent

I slept much warmer than I had expected but woke up with a sore throat again. I heard from the others that they were able to get a forecast on their cell phones and there were thunderstorms headed our way.

There was s sort of shortcut to the road which involved taking the GR20 low route to a link route down towards a tiny town called Tatonne.

The going was easy and we passed several small “bergeries” (cheese farms) which were all closed. We passed cows which were happily grazing on the steep hillsides along the river which we followed down to a road which eventually led us to the deserted town of Tatonne.

We originally thought we’d be able to spend the night there and maybe even get a meal, but this town seemed to consist of only a few buildings, all of which were locked up.

We managed to get a ride to Vivariu which had an open restaurant, a small shop selling cheese, sausages and wine, and one little hotel with 5 rooms. We bought some cheese, sausage and wine and slinked off to the hotel where we got a room and had a little picnic before falling asleep. Besides my obvious leg pain which had originally taken us off trail, it was obvious now that we were both sick with a cold. My head was full of cotton balls and John was coughing up a storm. We needed to get to a town with a proper grocery store, and preferably also a pharmacy.

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