The Corsica GR20 — intro and day 1
From Calenzana to Ortu di Piobbu, May 24 2022
This is a series of articles and audio conversations from my trek on the legendary GR20 in Corsica, between May 24 and June 5, 2022. A special thanks to my friend Anthony David Adams for suggesting that we do a podcast from the trail!
The GR20 is laid out in 16 stages (16 walking days, 15 nights), and we completed it in 13 days by doing double stages a couple of days and using the original route between Usciolu and Asinau, which cuts a day off the route. I was surprised how many people we met along the way were doing the route in less than the originally-designed number of days, either because their vacation time was limited or simply because they wanted to move faster. Based on my experience, I’d say that it’s hard enough as originally designed, and there’s no need to rush. If you have the time, take it easy—and/or move faster but use the time to add peaks and side trips. It’s also true however that there are plenty of options and there are ways to move faster, especially if you are alone or in a small group that moves quickly together. The terrain is very rough and very steep, and for my part, I wouldn’t have wanted to go any faster than we did.
As I mentioned, the GR20 has become hugely popular and because the normal trekking season coincides with European summer vacations the simple result is that it’s usually overcrowded. One of the things I love about hut-to-hut trekking as it can be done in Europe (aka “slackpacking”) is that you can sleep and eat in the huts (refuges, gîtes, inns) and thereby avoid carrying food, cooking gear, and a tent. However, because the GR20 is so popular, the refuges are usually booked solid, crowded and (so I hear) often dirty, and so most people end up doing it as a backpacking trip, carrying their own tent and food, or buying simple provisions at the huts instead of availing themselves of the accommodations and meals. Fair enough, but it’s a little bit of a shame to miss out on the hut experience—and also to have so many people camped around each refuge and sharing just a very few primitive toilets and showers.
Fortunately, because I was already in Corsica having just finished the Mare a Mare Nord, I was able to catch the GR20 at the very beginning of the season in a year when there had been very little snow, and so there were still very few people on the trail and in the refuges. I imagine that I was able to experience the GR20 closer to the way that it was intended, not as the ultra-popular and overcrowded modern norm. When I passed through, the refuges were not even full, and many of the gardiens (rangers) told me that they often have two to three hundred people camping on any given night, when the most I saw was about twenty-five. I’m very grateful to have been in the right place at the right time this May!
We recorded audio after every stage, and so here I am presenting a bit of a trip report along with photos and the edited audio conversations.
Day 1 — Calenzana to Ortu di Piobbu
On the morning of May 24, 2022 the three of us met at the post office in Calenzana and mailed a few unneeded things back to Bastia. We left town about 9am and quickly gained 700m (half of the day’s ascent), and then stopped for lunch at Boccu u Saltu at 1250m. We finished the day with some beautiful walking through tall pines and granite to find our first refuge perched on a slope with views all the way back down to the coast and the bay of Calvi. We had hot showers, enjoyed a great dinner at the refuge and slept in rented tents—a great first day!
Audio conversation / GR20 podcast
How the three of us came together to do the GR20 this season, and the process of how we each decided to do the route.
How we ended up being in the right place at the right time to start the GR20 so early in the season.
Going from the Mare a Mare Nord to the GR20.
How I had avoided doing the GR20 in the past because it’s often so crowded.
Favorite Corsica-brand sheep milk yogurt. Lunch and frisbee at the Bocca di Salto.
The experience of walking, and what are we thinking about as we’re moving along.
Long distance hiking routes all over the world.
Using a physical challenge to work on psychic material—“overlaying” another challenge on top of the physical challenge.
Looking for metaphors in movement → If you’re not sure you’re on the trail, you’re probably not on the trail. The trail is where you expect the trail to be. The more you practice navigating outdoors, you gain an intuitive sense of where there should be a trail, because it’s where it makes sense to want to go. Reading a landscape, and knowing where the trails will be, without knowing beforehand where they actually are.
What we learned about each other. The freedom, flexibility, and the will to be able to do a trip like this. Combining two unlikely areas of expertise to become the master of a unique niche.
I also highly recommend Dorothy Carrington’s excellent book about Corsica called Granite Island. Very well written and great insights into the history, culture and unique spirituality of Corsica! For another take, you can’t lose with Asterix in Corsica.
Boreas Lost Coast 45 liter pack (not longer available)
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