Section 11: Bergeries de Capannelle to refuge de Prati
Me, Alek and Arthur are pissed off. We’re at refuge de Prati and we have been chucked out into the freezing cold night: only the richer guests paying for the three course meal are allowed to stay in the communal area. We don’t like it here, but I think that’s an indication that Corsica has been spoiling us. After all, at 1,800m high, we have the most epic views: there’s really not much to complain about.
Today’s been an easy day of forest hiking for me – the pines, beeches, ferns, moss and small streams nourishing my heart.
Section 12: Refuge de Prati to Usciolu refuge
We wake up to the most epic sunrise, the deep orange sun floating above the white clouds below us. My mood lifts as we hike up to a 2,000 metre-high ridge, passing masses of hikers. I leave Alek and Arthur behind and hike at my own faster pace, in awe at the jagged peaks and forest below me.
I feel myself getting annoyed by the sheer amount of people on this trail. “Bonjour. Bonjour. Bonjour,” I say repeatedly as groups of trail running men come towards me, all competing in a race. Not one of them is actually running. I take the scrambly descent slowly, not wanting to aggravate my injured ankle.
Usciolu is one of my favourite refuges, and I pick the best camping spot of the whole mountainside. Throughout the evening, people come over to my tent to take in the epic view.
As I lay in my tent, I think about how much I love it here, on this trail. The mountains, the views, the birdlife, the trees, the lizards, the people I have shared all of this with. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
Section 13/14: Usciolu refuge to Asinau refuge (high variant route)
The day starts with a steep climb up a ridge, and lots of scrambling. I pass a woman who is part of a bigger hiking group. She is panicking, and her guide is trying to persuade her that she can do these scrambles. I feel so grateful that I gained a lot of hiking experience before doing this trail: otherwise I would certainly have been this woman. I feel a bit guilty as I skip over the rocks and pass her, then haul myself up over a boulder twice my height.
As I reach beech woods, Alek and Arthur suddenly catch me up and overtake me, seemingly with some new turbo superpower. Half an hour later, Alek twists his ankle, and their pace slows right down. I pass them and feel relieved that normality has been restored!
The trail runs though a strange section of desolate grassland and old burnt-out beech trees, and I find myself in the rubble of an old refuge which was destroyed by lightning in 1981. As I stand on the remains of the building, I imagine the thousands of hikers who would have stayed here for the night over the years.
I climb up to the top of Monte Alcudina in hazy drizzle. As I reach the summit, I am breathtaken by my first view of the Bavella mountains. My hiking buddy Rob had told me about the Bavellas on day three of the GR20, and they seemed so far away. It feels like I have completed a pilgrimage as I sit on the ridge, staring at them in awe. Alek and Arthur catch me up, and we start the hour-long descent down to the refuge together. For Alek and his twisted ankle, this descent is the most difficult part of the whole GR20, and he’s relieved when we finally reach the bottom.
I sit on a boulder overlooking the mighty Bavella pinnacles as it starts to rain. This will all soon be over: I need to take it all in.
Section 15: Asinau refuge to refuge d’l Paliri (high variant route)
What an amazing day! This is my favourite section of the GR20. I hike with Alek and Arthur for the whole day, and I’m so happy to share this stunning experience with them. We climb up through pine woods, reaching the jagged Bavella pinnacles. Wherever we look, it’s breathtaking. Arthur has a big grin on his face for hours, and repeats again and again, “it’s just incredible”.
We haul ourselves up vertical boulders, using the fixed chain to help us, before making a long descent down over rocks and pine roots down to Bavella village.
It’s a massive shock to reach the road. We haven’t seen vehicles for two weeks, and now we’re surrounded by hundreds of tourists’ cars. The noise of the engines is offensive, and the fumes clog up my lungs.
We eat a big lunch of pizza and fries in the village, before ascending and descending through pine forest to Paliri refuge.
Paliri is set in the most astounding location, surrounded by dramatic crags. The refuge itself flies the Corsican, Bretagne and Basque flags, and is instantly my favourite refuge when I spot the anti-fascist and activist stickers around.
But the weather up here is slightly terrifying. The wind howls non-stop, the 40km per hour gusts threatening to throw our tents off the mountainside. I get zero hours sleep the whole night, thinking about how stupid I was to pick the most epic – but most precarious – camping spot on the cliff edge.
It’s our final day tomorrow. I am gutted. I don’t want this to end.
Section 16: Paliri to Conca
This is yet another spectacular day, walking among peaks similar to the day before. The deep greens and jagged crags are so different to the grey granite mountains of the north. I really wish our friends who left us in Vizzavona were here to see this.
Alek and Arthur are keen to finish the GR20, and walk fast. I want to savour every last centimetre of the trail, and hike slowly, feeling sentimental that this is the end.
I make friends with a wonderful woman called Ruth, who has also walked the whole of the GR20 as a solo hiker. We swim in the final rockpools of the trail, and sweat profusely as the weather gets hotter and hotter as we descend towards Conca.
I feel elated as we finish the GR20, the sun beaming down on us. Dozens of other hikers laze around outside the GR20 bar, but I barely recognise any of them. We meet up with Alek and Arthur and eat a celebratory lunch together.
Ruth plans to spend some days at the beach with some friends, and I invite myself along. Together, we walk another 10km to Pinarellu beach. The next week is spent sunbathing, swimming and laughing with my new friends. What a perfect way to end my time in Corsica.
So, having hiked the GR20, is it really as difficult everyone says? I would say, yes, in many ways it is. The scrambling sections and the tedious, steep hour-long descents are hard. But people of all levels do complete this hike successfully.
In other ways, this trail isn’t so tough. After all, you can literally buy food every day, so you don’t have to carry a heavy pack. You can shower every day. You can even stay in a dorm every night if you so wish. The camping spots are flat, there’s gas stoves to cook on, and there’s fresh water at every refuge. I haven’t hiked another thru-hike where there is such luxury.
I would recommend this hike to absolutely everyone, but I’d advise you to train up first, do some other thru-hikes, get used to heights and precarious drops. Do some scrambling. And then when you do hike the GR20, you’ll also have the time of your life.
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