Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tour de Corse

I took my Summer Holidays early this year, and had the intention of travelling to the North of Scotland for two weeks hill-walking. But, it had been such an awful Spring in Britain, so I decided to head for warmer climes and booked flights to Corsica.

The journey began late on the evening of 25 May, with a bus journey to Manchester Airport, then finding a row of seats close to the arrivals in Terminal 1, where I endured a fitful night's rest. My flight departed the next morning, and I slept far better on the 'plane than I did in the airport. Had a window seat and woke to see the mountains of Corsica on the descent to Bastia. The mountains on Cape Corsica looked magnificent and quite close-up. The big mountains of the interior appeared jagged, with plenty of snow on the upper slopes.

From the airport, I struck out along the road towards the main highway, where with my home-made sign (a card-board beer box, with the words PORTO VECCHIO inked by a marker pen), I stood on the slip-road in the hope of getting a ride. The vehicles were zooming by, and I was waiting for almost an hour (right arm getting slightly sunburnt), then a car trundled along the slip-road, stopped, and offered me a lift to Aléria, in I jumped. From Aléria, I got a lift to Ghisonaccia, and from there another one all the way down to Porto Vecchio. Found the campsite, had a wander round the town, then went for a Pizza and had an early night.

The Trek...

Day 1 - Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Refuge Paliri (Monday 27 May 2013)

Caught the 8 o'clock bus to Sainte Lucie, found a Spar shop, where I was hoping to find Coleman gas, they had only Camping Gaz. Started walking the road to Conca just after 9:00, thumbing along the way but no cars stopped for me. It took me just over an hour to walk to Conca, the start in earnest of the GR20 for me.

This first stage was a steady ascent up to a pass, with only hazy views down to the coast where I'd come from. Did see some Mouflon on the way. After a series of short descents and asents, I found the Refuge, where I encountered a group of trekkers that were completing the GR20. I also met a nice couple from the Czech Republic, Peter and Michelle. I cooked my evening meal on the gas stove in the refuge (LWWF Chili con Carne with couscous). It was raining by the time I settled into my tent for the night, but I slept quite well.

Day 2, Refuge Paliri to Refuge d'Asinau.

Packed the tent away in the rain, made some breakfast of Nairn's oatcakes with peanut butter and a coffee. Met my new Czech friends, and we set off for the Col de Bavella. Because of the wet conditions, we took the lower route, which involved many ascents and descents, and one tricky river crossing before the final plod up to the Refuge. It was misty and beginning to rain when I arrived, and with there being no suitable places to pitch a tent (just some dirt patches), I stayed the night inside the hut. Met a Canadian guy there who had come to Europe just to do the GR20. The refuge was quite cramped inside, even though it was not full to capacity. Didn't sleep to well that night, what with the wind and rain lashing against the roof just above my head, and someone in the room snoring like a pig.

Day 3, Refuge d'Asinau - Refuge d'Usciolu

Somewhat suprisingly, I awoke to a view of clear blue skies, and a vista of the Aiguilles de Bavella across the valley. So, I set off in good heart for the climb up to Monte Alcudina. But, open reaching the ridge that leads to the summit, I encountered completely different conditions - cold north winds and thick mist. Zero visiblity at the summit, and a cold, windy descent down to the Plateau de Coscione.
Things brightened up somewhat down at the Plateau, and there was good views ahead to the Arête a Monda. It was a stiff climb up to the ridge, and on facing the west side of it, felt the full force of the wind. It was strong enough to blow me off my feet if I was not careful. The path winds along the ridge, continually going from one side to the other. Involving some exposed scrambling on open rock and narrow gullies.
I arrived at the Usciolu just before 6pm. It was getting quite cold already, I had a beer, then put my tent up. Cooked dinner on one of the outdoor gas stoves, eat my food in the warmth of the Refuge, there was a wood-burning fire roaring inside. It was sleeting when I retired to my tent, I was in for a cold night.

Day 4, Refuge d'Usciolu to Cozzano

Woke up at 6:20, so cold that I had to get up and put some clothes on and pack the tent away in the sleet...hands were freezing. Had some breakfast then set off towards the Refuge de Prati, as I was setting off there were people coming back down, saying there was too much snow up there and it was not safe to walk on. I continued to see how bad it was for was slippy in places and difficult to see the waymarks because of the snow and poor visibilty...but at some point on the ascent to the Bocca di Formicula I turned back because the wind was terrible, blowing the freezing sleet and snow into my face. It had even covered my footprints where I'd walked minutes earlier. Returned to the Usciolu, had a warm by the fire, met Peter and Michelle, then we decided on walking down to the valley to Cozzano. It was an un-enjoyable descent on a steep, muddy path. It was really pissing it down when we arrived at the Gîte d'Étape, felt good to have my first hot shower since leaving home. Went to the shop with Michelle and bought some food for dinner. It was even cold in the Gîte, I slept sound though.

Day 5, Cozzano to Guitera-les-Bains to Ajaccio

From Cozzano, we set off with the intention of following the Mare a Mare centre to the coast. However after just one day, that was enough. The walk from Cozzano to Guitera was a boring trudge through  forest and crossing streams, passing by deserted hamlets along the way. We stopped for a drink at the Gîte d'Étape in Guitera, then road walked down to Guitera-les-Bains. A car stopped for us and offered us a ride to Ajaccio, so in we jumped. The driver was a young doctor, who was from Chambéry. We got dropped off in Ajaccio at about 7pm, then traipsed round the city for almost 3 hours before we eventually found a hotel room, at La Fêche. We went out, had some Pizza, then went to the Irish Pub.

Day 6, Bus from Ajaccio to Cargèse, walk to E Case.

Had to be up early for the 7:30 bus, ate some breakfast at the hotel, then made the short walk to the bus station. It was a lovely morning, and a pleasant journey on the scenic coast road, with views of the mountains inland. I bought some supplies at the Spar shop in Cargèse, then set off on the Tra Mare e Monti path. After the poor weather throughout the first week, the heat came as a shock, particularly on the steep climb up from the Bergeries de Santa Lucia to the Crête de Pianu Maggiore. Great views though, down to the spectacular coast. From here it was an easy walk to E Case, I arrived in the mid-afternoon, lazed in the sun for a while, pitched my tent and had a beer. Had a hearty dinner in the Refuge, saw a beautiful sunset before bedtime.

Day 7, E Case to Marignana.

Awoke to a lovely morning, breakfasted on coffee, fresh bread and home-made honey. After a slight descent through woods, the trail ascended steadily to the Bocca d'Acquaviva, with great views along the coast opening up the higher I walked. The view from the pass was a joy to behold, the high mountains on the Island with a covering of snow.
 The descent from the pass was not as steep as I'd expected it to be, I encountered many other walkers coming in the opposite direction. The route onwards traversed a valley with another ascent, to the Culletta a u Prunu. Around this time the skies began to darken over the mountains ahead, and I heard rumbles of thunder in the distance. But the weather stayed fine for me all the way to Marignana, where I camped at the Gîte d'Étape. After pitching my tent and taking a shower, I sat down with my guidebook and devised my onwards trek over a couple of bottles of Columba. I enjoyed the evening meal there, the Soupe Corse was particularly good. After dinner I went outside to take in the views, Marignana is a great place to see the sunset over the Spelunca gorge and the Golfe de Porto.

Day 8, Marignana to Soccia.

From the path junction above Marignana, I set off on the Mare a Mare Nord variant - a route that would take me back up to the high mountains. The path up to the Capu Sant Anghiulu ridge was very rough with over-grown trees and then aherd of cattle getting in the way. It was an easy descent to Renno, and a gentle climb up to Punto di l'Arinella. A mist had formed and I didn't get great views from here, so pressed on to make my lunch stop at Letzia, another deserted mountain hamlet. It was a long walk down through the forest to Gaugno-les-Bains, where I filled up with water from the spring and set off uphill to Soccia. It was now 4pm, and any designs I had on making it all the way to the next Gîte d'Étape at Guagno were beginning to seem fanciful. I was on the approach to Soccia at about 5pm, when it started to rain, and it was coming down heavy by the time I got to the village. As soon as I saw the sign for the Hotel u Paese, my mind was made up, so I booked in for the night, got a nice room with a view over the valley. Had a soak in the bath, washed some clothes. The adjacent restaurant did a good Steak and Chips for dinner, washed down with half a litre of red wine.

Day 9, Soccia to Pastricciola.

After the storms of the previous evening, the weather was much calmer this morning - clear in the valleys with clouds shrouding the summits. The trail out of the village followed the road, then up through dense woods to cross a spur, then descend to the sleepy hamlet of Orto, spread out on the mountainside. From Orto, the path descends steeply to cross the Fiume Grossu river on a severely damaged bridge.On the opposite side of the river, the path rises steadily through chestnut woods to a stream crossing and up to a lane that leads into Guagno. I made my lunch stop here and dried off some wet clothes from yesterday's laundry on a fence next to the church steps. The way onwards from Guagno was not clearly marked, I had to look at the route description in my guidebook and found the cemetery, around the back of which, I found the orange way-marks that lead up to the Bocca Miscigiella passing many of those semi wild pigs along the way. Somewhere along the way, on the way down to Pastricciola, I was following way-marks that lead to a clearing in the forest, but then I couldn't see any more markings or an obvious path, so I followed a bulldozed track that I believed would (eventually) lead to a road. It did, but then I wondered just how far off-course it had taken me. I followed the road up the valley and after about 1km came to the Gîte d'Étape, where I met a French walker named Jean-Claude who had walked there from Vizzavona. He told me that I had to go to the Guardien's house in the village (1km from the Gîte) to arrange a night's stay. I found the Guardien's house (it is right by the path junction for the Bocca). On asking the Guardien, I also found the village shop - an Aladdin's cave type establishment in an elderly gentleman's lock-up, which was very well stocked. Bought some supplies (some of which I drank back at the Gîte) then got showered and ready for the evening meal at Chez Guardien. It was quite a lavish spread, starting with an Apéritif (pastis) then a soup, salad and main course of Brocciu. Afters were some rather pungent local cheeses and some home-made cake. Finishing off with a shot of Grappa. Compliments to the Chef! On returning to the Gîte, I discovered that all of the clothes that I'd washed and put in the tumble-dryer were completely dry. Had a dorm to myself and slept sound.

Day 10, Pastricciola to l'Onda

Had breakfast with Jean-Claude, then set off on the way. It was a good few kilometres of road-walking to Chiusa to find the path that follows the Gruzini river, the path crosses the river several times, by means of stepping stones, then rising steeply through the forest and traversing some eroded slopes and then clamber up to the Bocca d'Oreccia - I'm back on the GR 20! Great views from the Bocca, back down the valley and over to Monte d'Oro. It was only a short walk to l'Onda, where I pitched my tent in the enclosure at the bergeries. Had a nice dinner at the Bergeries - soup, followed by Lasagne au Brocciu, delicious cheese then fruit salad.

Day 11, Thursday 6 June.

From l'Onda, I re-traced my footsteps to Bocca d'Oreccia and then ascended to the Capu a Meta. I felt good, but the descent from there was a bit tricky - down a steep snow slope, I down-climbed some of it. Then, on rejoining the ridge it was easy scrambling up to the Punta di Pinzi Corbini and a most enjoyable ridge walk along the Serra Bianca. After the Punta Murace, there was some exposed scrambling over rocks and ledges to negotiate to reach Petra Piana. It was very wet around the refuge, due to the snowmelt from the mountainside above. It cost 'only' 5 euros for a beer, and the nice lady gave me some free crisps. I cooked a Norfolk Chicken Tikka 'look what we found' meal and enjoyed that aswell as the great views from the terrace of the refuge, especially of the route I'd walked that day and beyond to Monte d'Oro.

Day 12, Friday 7 June.

From the refuge, the trail crossed the névés to a spur with great views of Monte d'Oro. Rounding the spur and going into the shade, I needed to put my microspikes on for the ascent to Bocca Muzzella, had a short break there, enjoying the views, then it was an easy traverse to the Bocca Rinosa - fine views from there down to the lakes. Continued over snow and boulders to Bocca a Soglia, then along the ridge to the Brêche de Capitellu, where I made my lunch stop. There was a dizzying view down to the frozen Lac de Capitellu, but my route skirted around a rock pinnacle and climbed up a steep gully aided by a fixed chain, a little further on there was a very exposed névé crossing - I put my spikes back on for this. Then it was a straight forward plod on the snow up to Bocca a e Porte - the highest point on the GR 20. From the pass, it was a slippery descent on soft snow (the snow-line went down quite a long way) to a boulder field. I stopped to take off my boots and wring out my soaking wet socks! It was a tiring walk to reach the Refuge Manganu, where a beer went down very well indeed. It is a nice refuge with plenty of camping spots, the refuge looks new or refurbished.

Day 13, Saturday 8 June.

I got up early and was on my way for 7:45, it was an easy walk across the Plateau di Campotile to the Bergeries de Vaccaghia, where I bought some cheese and left my pack and set off on my side-trip to the Lac de Nino armed with nothing more than some biscuits, water bottle and 1 trekking pole. Met 2 Polish guys on the way up and some Army lads stationed in Cyprus doing a bit of the GR20 at the lake. I pressed on a bit further above the lake to the Bocca â Rete for better views. from the Bocca,  I bombed up the Capu a u Tozzu in 15 minutes. At 2007 metres above sea level, and quite a commanding position, the views were magnificent - best I had of the whole trek. To the north were the high mountains of the Cinto massif, to the north-west I could see the coast and Calvi, and there were splendid views over the Lac de Nino. I returned the same way to the Bergeries and retrieved my pack and stopped for lunch. Then I set off along the trail alongside the Tavignano towards Refuge a Sega, (where I'd stayed a night on my previous trip to Corsica in 2006) had to ford a stream (requiring me to remove boots and cross the deep water - up to my knees - in sandals) and follow the faint yellow markings to the refuge. I fired a few beers down, had my last cold shower of the trip and did the last of my cooking. Few more beers and that was me for the night.

Day 14, Sunday 9 June.

Packed the tent away as it was just starting to rain, then started my last day's walk down to Corte. It was a waterproofs on and off kind of day, on my way down I met Justine - a girl who had stayed at the Refuge the night before, we walked together all the way to Corte, then went for a drink in a Café in town. I camped at the Camping U Sognu, not far from the town centre and on the way towards the train station. Went for a take-away Pizza and had a few beers, sat by the tent surrounded by the resident cats.

Day 15, Monday 10 June.

I was up at 6 am and it just started to rain, heavily. I hurriedly packed the tent away and walked to the train station. bought a coffee and some pastries for breakfast and bought a ticket for the train to Bastia. I managed to get the tent dry by hanging it out to dry on the train. Arrived in Bastia and had time to buy some bottles of  Corsican beer to take home, then I took the bus to the airport for my flights home.