GR20: Quick guide and final thoughts

The GR20 is a 180km or 112mile long footpath that runs roughly the length of Corsica from Calenzana to Conca.  It can be hiked in either direction from about mid-May to late October depending on the weather.  The trail can be hiked in 5 to 16 days with most hikers taking around 11 to 14 days (the fastest known time is 31hr 6min).  The local language is French, and it helps to know some.  The local currency is the Euro, and it helps to carry a fair amount of cash as not every place accepts credit cards.  There are huts or “refuges” along the way, which you can pay to stay in.  These huts are open for reservations during the high season: http://www.pnr.corsica/.  You can also pitch a tent next to these huts for a small fee, or even rent a tent.  During low seasons, the huts are still open, but toilets may be locked, and no reservations are available.  Camping between huts is not allowed.

The GR20 is very mountainous and rocky and is often touted as the hardest “GR” trail, or perhaps even the hardest trail in Europe.  Although I really cannot speak to those claims in particular, as I haven’t done enough hiking in Europe, I can say that the GR20 is one of the more difficult trails I’ve walked on.  But, having said that, not all of the GR20 is actually so grueling.  It’s really only a few sections that make it live up to those claims.  The trail is exposed in many areas making it dangerous to hike in thunderstorms which are common in the afternoons.

Getting to the GR 20:

Flights can land in one of several airports: Ajaccio, Calvi, or Figari.  The trail goes very close to Calvi, and so that airport seems like an obvious choice.  Ajaccio is the largest city in Corsica, and so traveling to and from the airport is possible.  Figari is tiny, and although close to the southern terminus of the GR20, it is difficult to get there.

Ferries also go to Corsica from France and Italy:  http://corsica.forhikers.com/ferries

Public transport in Corsica leaves something to be desired.  The train works, and that’s about it- but check the timetables as they change from the high season to the low season.  The train does not go along either coast, so if you wish to go somewhere not serviced by a train station, you will need to find a bus.  Buses on Corsica are run by many different companies, and information and timetables are very difficult to find, but here is a good place to start:  https://www.corsicabus.org/

Hitchhiking works OK in Corsica, but it definitely helps to know French.  Keep in mind that Corsican drivers are crazy, and the roads are narrow, steep, and twist all over the place.

The GR20 Stages:

The GR20 is divided into sections, or “etapes”.  What surprised me was that not every guidebook breaks this trail up into the same sections, so while the English book that we were using broke it down into 16 stages, someone else with a German guidebook had the route in 15 stages.  It’s not a big deal, but a lot of people talk about “stage 3” or whatnot, and you’ll have to compare guidebooks to make sure you’re actually talking about the same section.  People tend to hike one or two sections a day, depending on weather and fitness.

The most difficult section of the GR20 is the northern half, and in particular, these are the hardest sections (in my opinion), in order of difficulty:

Stage 4: Haut Asco to Refuge de Tighjettu. This section used to go through the Cirque de Solitude, but this route was closed after a deadly accident in 2016 killing seven people when rocks fell on them from heavy rain.  I know the old route was notorious (for being the hardest section), but having never done it, I cannot speak about how it compares to the new route, but I found the new route very challenging, with the most difficult rock scrambling sections of the entire trail.  There are several metal cables to help you along the way, but I thought there could have been more (although I have to admit that I do have a fear of heights).

Stage 3: Refuge de Carrozzu to Haut Asco: The fact that this section is only 6km long suggests something about its difficulty.  In those 6 km, the route goes up 860 meters and down 710 meters.  The scrambling was difficult and time-consuming, but not as scary (in my opinion) as Stage 4.

Stage 2: Refuge d’Orto di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carrozzu:  This was the first really difficult section we encountered, and the scrambling was challenging but fun and rewarding.  There was at least one section where more than one path around some rocks had markers, and so we wound up going in a circle before finding the way.

Hiking in October:

Although online resources seemed to give mixed advice about hiking in October, we found it to be the perfect season.  We hiked during the first two weeks of October, and locals told us it would be rare to see any snow accumulation until the second half of October.  There is much more precipitation in October compared to summer months, and you can definitely expect to encounter thunderstorms with downpours in the afternoons.  For this reason, many hikers were getting up early and only hiking one stage per day, finishing around mid-day or early afternoon on any given day.  However, I do think that it is entirely possible to double practically any two series of stages on the GR20, weather permitting.

In October, the places where you will be able to find some supplies to resupply:  Haut Ascu, Hotel Castel di Vergio, Vizzavona (from here you can take a train into bigger towns for a full resupply), and maybe Bavella (I cannot say for sure as we did not pass through here).

Advantages of hiking in early October included:

There were obviously fewer people on the trail.  This is a very popular trail, and even in October we found there to be quite a few hikers, but I can only imagine the chaos of peak-season.  From what I’ve read about hiking in summer, we definitely experienced cooler weather.  In the summer, temperatures can be oppressive, and the exposed nature of much of the trail means that there is little to no shade in the most difficult sections.  In October it was still warm enough to be in shorts and a t-shirt practically every day, but at night it would cool down significantly.  Because October sees more rain, water is easily found along the trail when the guidebook suggests there will be none.  We did not have to worry about making reservations at the refuges, in fact, many times there was actually no way to pay.  Only occasionally there would be a “guardian” still working at a “refuge” whom we would pay for spending the night or for pitching our tent.

Disadvantages of hiking in early October included:

Most of the bathrooms at the huts were closed and locked up meaning that scores of people were left trying to find a place to go to the toilet in exposed rocky terrain often with several streams running near the hut.  The result was disgusting with toilet paper, poop, and other trash everywhere.  Because it is low-season, no meals can be purchased along the route at any of the “bergeries” or “refuges” (the farms and huts).  This means that late-season hikers will miss out on some really good cuisine in favor of lightweight, calorie-dense backpacking food.  Packs will be heavier as a result.  Weather is fairly good but definitely wetter than the summer months, and the days are of course a bit shorter.  This means that water is easily found, but afternoon storms are likely.  Thunderstorms are dangerous in exposed areas, and rocks can get dangerously slippery when wet.

Final thoughts: what I liked and didn’t like about the GR20:

What I liked least about the GR20 was the lack of leave no trace education amongst hikers.  I assume this must be the case, or else perhaps we were just seeing the effects of a waaaay overused and under-loved trail.  I’ve never seen a trail so covered in toilet paper and trash.  It doesn’t help that they accept and burn trash at the refuges (huts), and it certainly doesn’t help that they lock the toilets at the end of the peak season when there is no longer anyone working at these huts.  In any case, what I would wish for would be one or two pit toilets at each hut which would be kept open year-round along with some education on proper backcountry hygiene and Leave No Trace Principles.

What I liked most about the GR20 was the food in Corsica.  It’s great.  Cheese and sausages have never tasted so good along with french bread, a little wine, and a few pastries… my mouth is watering just writing about it!  In order to eat well in Corsica, all you need to do is buy food.

The trail itself was beautiful and rewarding, but probably a little beyond the challenge that my body was willing to accept.  I have a unique situation, physically, but I think a lot of people are not physically perfect human beings and would find that this trail exposes some of their weaknesses.  I was far from the only one with injuries on the GR20 with other people having knee problems and other leg problems.  Usually, these over-use injuries are more commonly seen on longer trails, but given the difficulty of the GR20, I’m not surprised by the injuries we were seeing.

The history of this area is also fascinating and old, which is refreshing after hiking mostly in places with comparatively little history.  In Corsica, cows have been grazing there for over 1000 years, which is difficult to fathom.  However, when you find out that the soil beneath your feet makes your shoes smell incessantly of cow shit, no matter what, you realize that most of the soil is probably made of centuries-old cow manure.

Thanks for following along on this adventure, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the GR20, and, as always, please don’t leave any toilet paper behind!!

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GR20: last attempt

Day 8:

We slept in and made our way to the train station a kilometer downhill where we could take a train to Corte, a large town where locals actually live. We figured we would be able to get to a proper grocery store and stay there until we felt better … trying to travel while we are both sick is very challenging.

Days 9-10:

We spent two nights in Corte, dragging ourselves around town to get food, find lodging and get medicine so as to start feeling better. Corte was a big town, but also had an old part of town on a hill with a fortress. After two nights in Corte, we made a plan to try to head back to the trail in search of less expensive lodging options (camping).

Day 11: 10miles

We took the train back to Vizavona, roughly where we left the trail a few days earlier. We had a gentle 10 mile hike climbing up through beech and pine forests to reach the camping spot we planned on stopping at. Our plan was to hike for three days, and make it to another road and try to take a series of buses out to the airport from there. The trail was surprisingly busy, and we passed several people headed in either direction. The fall foliage was beautiful.

We made it to camp in good time and set up our tent and started eating dinner. We were carrying some orange juice (for the vitamin C), and John had just taken a sip when I noticed that he had a drop of orange liquid on the end of his nose.

“You have orange juice coming out of your nose!” I told John, and he wiped it off.

Moments later his nose was dripping again, and we realized that in fact it was not orange juice, John’s nose was simply running an unmistakably bright orange liquid. It was immediately obvious that John probably had a sinus infection.

We immediately started to rethink our plans – deciding to retrace our steps tomorrow to get back to the train station to get to a town to find a doctor rather than continuing on. Unfortunately tomorrow is Sunday, so seeing a doctor will have to wait until Monday.

John also soon realized that I had inadvertently left his fleece jacket in the last hotel room we stayed in, in Corte, because I was using it under my pillow to make my pillow bigger. Today is just not our day!! Except… it actually kind of is our day because today is our 6 year wedding anniversary. Oh well, this is what marriage is all about right?

Days 12-14: 10 miles

We tried to sleep in and then walked back the way we came. Which despite the circumstances was great because we enjoyed the views we had missed the day before while walking through the clouds.

We were able to camp in Vizavario for 7 euros each rather than pay for another expensive hotel in Corte. The next day we took the train back into Corte and managed to find Johns fleece at the hotel we stayed in several nights earlier before searching for a doctor. We wound up being sent to the local hospital where we had to wait a couple hours to see a doctor. We were both prescribed antibiotics along with a few other medicines and were surprised when the bill to see the doctor was only 25 euros per person. God I wish we had such affordable heath care in the USA!!! We immediately started taking our medicines and then started hitchhiking towards the airport. Public transport barely works in Corsica. The train works great but busses are somewhat of a nightmare. Surprisingly, we have only had one experience where hitchhiking didn’t work well for us (when we had to wait 4-5 hours), so if you know any French, this is probably the way to go… just expect it to take a while!

As we walked to the airport, there were amazing cork trees on the side of the road!

We made our flight and were slightly relieved to finally be leaving Corsica despite not having finished the GR20.

We get to stay with trail friends in Germany next where we can eat home cooked food and enjoy not carrying our backpacks for a few days!! I’ll write up some final thoughts on the GR20 soon!

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.

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.

GR20: Calenzana to Ascu

Day 1: 12.5 miles, 7,545ft ascent, 4,215ft descent.

We attempted to get an early start just in case we had the energy to complete two stages. The GR20 is broken down into stages, of which there are 16 according to our guide book. Some stages are much longer than others and each stage ends with a refuge where you can spend the night. You’re technically not allowed to spend the night camping along the route – just next to the refuges where you usually have to pay to do so. During peak season you can also get meals and supplies in these huts, but none of that will be available for us since the peak season ended at the end of September. We now have 12 days on the island before we leave, so we will be doubling several stages, plus we need some extra time in case of bad weather – we have been warned that 3 days from now looks like a lot of rain.

We managed to start hiking by 7:30AM, and slowly made our way up the path marked with white and red blazes indicating the GR20. I knew we had to climb a ridiculous 5000+ feet before the first refuge. I was surprised when the trail was actually not that hard – a steady uphill climb, but well graded. For the hardest “GR” trail, I suspected this wouldn’t last long. We were, however, carrying too much water and too much food as we kept crossing water sources when we thought there wouldn’t be any. Oh well. The guide book was obviously conservative on water sources.

We climbed and climbed, and it actually took quite a while before we hit the first section with any rock scrambling, but I was enjoying it so far.

We reached the first refuge before 1pm, so it took us quite a bit less time than our guide book advertised, so we felt confident that we could make the next section before sunset.

At this point we had passed only one person, a German girl. There were a few French men hanging out at the refuges and they were too busy joking around with each other to make much conversation with us, so we simply made it a quick stop.

We carried on and soon heard the sound of cow bells in the valley. I couldn’t imagine a cow in this environment, and moments later my thoughts were proved right when I heard a bleat and saw a goat running up the hill followed by several others. They were using the trail too, but were happy to climb a sheer cliff to let us pass.

We climbed up to a ridge with an amazing view of the mountains we were about to enter. These are some of the most rugged, pointy mountains I’ve seen. I couldn’t imagine how someone had the idea to build a trail through here.

In fact the trail was not at all obvious to follow and often curved back on itself to avoid treacherous rocks.

The scrambling got harder, and in several places it was best not to look down but rather concentrate on the necessary moves, which sometimes got elaborate especially with our bulky packs. We were soon exhausted, and wondered how far we had come. Clouds started to roll in making it seem later in the day than it was, and I started to panic a little not knowing if we would make it down off these exposed ridges before sundown. I was surprised when we passed two French girls going extremely slowly. I asked them when they left the refuge, and they told me 8AM this morning. I was totally confused.

Luckily we soon passed a sign indicating where we were, and I could look at the guide book, and indeed we had only two more hours of hiking left. Phew. By this point though, our legs felt like mashed potatoes. The views continued to be awe inspiring.

Finally we saw the refuge down a valley and started the decent towards it. It felt like the distant buildings were not getting closer as time passed, but I knew my mind was playing tricks on me.

We made it, and found the buildings surrounded by many tents. We wandered inside to see what there was to see, and the whole hut was full of loud French people eating and taking up every available seat. one or two people said hello, but otherwise nobody asked us any questions. So, we walked out and found a place to pitch our tent. We made dinner and got into bed and wondered where the two French women were behind us. The sun had already set (it gets dark around 7pm at the moment), but at 8pm we heard voices and saw headlamps coming down towards us. It was them. I can’t imagine doing any of this trail in the dark – I hope that won’t be us in days to come!

Day 2: 3.75 miles, 2280ft ascent, 2330ft decent.

We slept quite poorly given that we were on a tiny sloppy campsite, but when some loud French voices passed by our tent before 7am, we knew we weren’t going to get any more sleep.

We started our day by crossing a river on the scariest swinging bridge I’ve ever been on. This is saying something seeing as earlier this year we walked the length of New Zealand. The guide book referred to it at “a very wobbly bridge”, but I would describe it as walking on grated metal steps (see-through) with way too much space between them with a long long way down if you were to fall. The river below was more of a gorge, and we were dangling way above it- much too high for comfort. The sad thing was that because you could almost fall through the gap between each step, you were forced to look down at your feet and try not to concentrate on what was below.

Once across, the trail climbed up several thousand feet through steep rocks. I knew when we started the day that this measly 3.75 mile section was going to be difficult, because according to our guide book, it was meant to take 5 and a half hours and climb up 2280 ft as well as down 2330ft.

My legs were so tired from the day before that each step took considerably more effort than it should have. There were tilted slabs of rock to walk across were falling would have been dangerous, but often there were metal cables to hold on to. Luckily we had a clear morning, and we didn’t have to contend with wet rocks.

When we reached the top we had lovely views and we stopped for a break. Heading down, the rock scrambles were more technical than the day before and I often had to take off my pack in order to find a way down. My knees weren’t happy about losing 1500ft in a matter of a 1km either. There really aren’t too many ways that a trail can go down that steeply, and as you can imagine, we spent quite a lot of time sliding down steep rocks on our butts.

It took over an hour to go down that last kilometer, but once we reached Ascu, it was only just after noon, and I knew that we couldn’t really plan to go any further since the next section was supposed to be 8-9 hours long (and as I mentioned earlier, you can’t camp between sections). Ascu is a ski station with a ski lodge (closed), and a restaurant (open). After a short rest, we wandered over to the restaurant and ate a somewhat expensive but much appreciated meal. John got a burger and was surprised to find an enormous piece of smelly Corsican cheese was part of the sandwich. We also figured out that we actually had to pay to camp here, and that there were also lukewarm showers available.

We also befriended a group from the UK who were headed in the opposite direction and they had managed to get a weather forecast that we copied down from them. One young Brit bragged about how fast they were hiking, he seemed to have conveniently remembered everything incorrectly in terms of time, claiming the last section took them only 5 hours when an older (and obviously more experienced) man in their group admitted that it had actually taken them 7 hours. At this point in my hiking career I have absolutely nothing to prove to a bunch of young dudes on trail, and in my mind I was rolling my eyes at his arrogance. I congratulated them on their journey and hoped that would smooth their egos for a short while so we could talk about the weather – a topic I was actually interested in.

Unfortunately the weather forecast didn’t look pretty. Our good weather was over. In fact, by 2pm it already started to rain. Heavy rain is predicted for tomorrow, which we’re nervous about since we’re crossing over the highest point on the island, and then high winds and more rain predicted for the next day. The extended forecast didn’t look any better.

We retreated to our tent and planned to continue on tomorrow despite the weather. I wonder if this is a bad choice, but waiting could mean waiting forever. Hopefully the weather wont be quite as bad as predicted, but who knows.