Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

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Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby bigkev » Sat 14 Dec, 2013 6:23 pm

Last June I did the GR 20 in Corsica with a mate. The GR 20 is billed as the hardest way marked route in Europe, and whilst that maybe overselling it a bit its still a fairly hard walk, we climbed 13325 metres over 200 km in 15 days. The route itself has plenty of scrambling but nothing too outrageous, most of the dodgy bits have good hand holds and sometimes man made protection.

I carried a tent, but my mate slept in the refuges or hire tents, there are pros and cons to both methods, I enjoyed the privacy and the awesome camp views, however the extra weight has to be carried over some serious hills. My mate loved the social side of the refuges and appreciated having less weight. We stayed in hotels on the three occasions that we could, which allowed me to re charge my gadgets. Generally we both ate at the refuges or cafes where we came across them.

Unfortunately unseasonable snow stopped us completing the Cirque de la Solitude, however I still managed to scramble down the North side on a day walk from Haut Asco. The same snow stopped us from completing a lot of the higher side trips, I guess I've got a good excuse to head back one day.

Overall it was a top walk, and I think I could really get used to this style of walking!

I've written up a day by day journal http://hiking.topicwise.com/doc/GR20 with plenty of photos if anyone wants some Christmas reading while you are watching the cricket.
Attachments
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The suspension bridge before climbing the Spasimata Slabs
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Lac de Capitellu from near Breche de Capitellu, the highest point on the main route.
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Lac du Bastani from Mt Renosu on a high level variant.
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Crossing the I Pozzi on my descent from Mt Renosu to Refuge di Verde.
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Sunrise on Punta Tafunata d'l Palari on my last day.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby Drew » Thu 29 Jan, 2015 11:25 am

Thanks for the report bigkev. My partner and I are considering doing this walk this year. It seems that posts in the International section of this forum often go a bit unnoticed, but when you're actually planning to do a particular walk overseas it's very helpful to get an Australian perspective on it.

At the moment I have mixed feelings about the walk. The scenery looks stunning and I think I'd enjoy the challenge of a fairly tough walk, but I'm a bit put off by the photos of super crowded tent sites and the possibility of lots of climbing on exposed rock in stinking hot weather! Also, if I consider the expense, I wonder if I might be better off just going to Nepal!

A few questions:

- What sort of temperatures did you experience? How warm a sleeping bag do you think is needed?
- Did you see many good campsites away from the lodges? I understand that wild camping is technically not permitted, but it seems that plenty of people advocate it (here, amongst other places: http://besthike.com/europe/gr-20-corsica/). It would seem like a good way to avoid crowds and save some money, but you would obviously need to be more self-sufficient with food.
- Do you remember roughly how much meals cost in the lodges?
- If you do want to do at least some of your own food, are there many opportunities to restock with decent supplies for breakfasts and dinners?

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby bigkev » Tue 03 Feb, 2015 6:34 pm

Hi Drew,

Thanks for checking out my report.

I experienced temperatures that were generally in the high twenties with maybe a couple of days into the low thirties. The good news in regard to the temperature is that there are plenty of great spots to swim most days. I used a three season bag along with a three season tent, it probably got down to single figures overnight when I was up high.

Funny you should mention stealth camping as that's what I was going to do, unfortunately my mate doesn't like carrying much gear so that meant that I was stuck at the refuges. There are generally heaps of places you could camp discreetly between the refuges, some of the spots are stunning. The two things to be aware of are that the wardens that run the refuges work some kind of a concession deal with the parks, ie they collect the camping fees in return for being able to sell supplies to the trekkers. Therefore you would need to be sensible about leaving a refuge in the late afternoon if the next one was a six hour walk away as they may be awake to your cunning plan. Having said that I always found the mood of the wardens brightened up considerably when I bought something in their small shops as they weren't really interested in my camping fees, I don't think that they are making much from independent campers. The second issue is one you have everywhere, be discrete and leave no trace. To sum it up I would do it mostly stealth camping with maybe the odd night at the refuge's.

I'm sorry I can't recall exactly how much the meals cost, it wasn't totally ridiculous, and you generally got two or three courses. Which brings us to...

Supplies. As I mentioned most of the refuges have a small shop selling the basics, you know, wine, beer, cheeses, bread and sausage. Quite a few also stock some dry foods or tinned food (not as bad as it sounds as you can normally deposit the empties in a bin at the next refuge). The only town with any kind of a decent shop is Vizzavona, roughly halfway through the walk. I didn't notice any supplies of freeze dried or similar, but I enjoyed dining with and eating like the locals.

The walking is very exposed to the sun, best idea is suss out the forecast for the next day and plan your walk accordingly. If it gets to hot in the middle of the day plan on spending a couple of hours swimming. Likewise if the weather takes a turn for the worse consider a low variant. The GR20 has a bit of scrambling but it normally has some kind of protection on the dodgier sections, I didn't find it to bad. As far as comparing it to Nepal its a different kind of experience, the culture is completely different and even the topography is different. I enjoyed standing on a snow covered mountain watching the sun set into the Mediterranean, not to mention the beaches after the trek. Not that there is anything wrong with Nepal, that would be awesome too (first world problems, hey!).

I used the Ciccerone Guide the most but also had the Trailblazer Guide, either one would be adequate. There is a good forum all about the GR20 that I found very helpful http://corsica.forhikers.com/forum the site was handy when I was trying to work out conditions on the ground over there before leaving home.

I hope this answers a few of your questions.
Cheers
Kevin
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby Drew » Wed 04 Feb, 2015 8:50 am

Thanks Kevin, that's very helpful. Not sure if we'll go or not, but it does look like a great walk!
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby DaveNoble » Wed 04 Feb, 2015 3:57 pm

I walked the GR20 back in 2006, See -

http://www.david-noble.net/Europe06/Corsica/CorsicaMenu.html

I thought it was an excellent walk and I really enjoyed it. You are a bit more remote than a lot of European walks and I think this added to my enjoyment. I camped, near the huts, each night, except for two nights in the middle and south and carried my own food. I stocked up at a supermarket at the start and this was sufficient for most of the walk. I did buy a few extra items on the way - and also bought beer and wine at the huts. The beer in Corisca is excellent!

I did my walk in late September/early October and I think things are a bit quieter on the track around then. Some huts were closed for winter towards the southern end. I'm not sure - but you may have to book the campsites now? You can probably find out online.

I would highly recommend the walk. All of it - not just the more popular north part. But - in places - you do need to scramble with your pack - so you need to be fairly agile.

It is certainly a walk I would do again if I had the chance.

Dave
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby bigkev » Fri 06 Feb, 2015 7:42 pm

Hi Dave,

I enjoyed your report, it bought back a lot of great memories. I think if I did it again I'd leave it a bit later in the year like you did, I got a lot of snow and ice when I did it in June which meant that I couldn't get up some of the side peaks. It did mean more time on the beach at the end though!

Cheers
Kevin
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby vicrev » Fri 06 Feb, 2015 8:37 pm

This walk is on my bucket list,trouble is, to do all the walks I wan't to do,I will have to live to 160 yrs.... :( ....
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby biggbird » Sun 22 Feb, 2015 11:43 pm

Hey all, thanks for the various bits of info, this was pretty much exactly the thread I was looking for! Planning to head to Corsica in early September this year. I've been looking forward to doing the GR20 for a few years now.

Did you find it particularly difficult, Dave, compared to say the WAs? Everybody talks it up, but they then complain about how you only get two course meals, and how occasionally you might have to find your way via cairns... I'm sure it's strenuous in terms of ups and downs and some scrambling, but how would it compare to harder walks in Tassie?

Good news on the sleeping back front thanks Kevin, needed an excuse to buy a new sleeping bag, and it sounds like our -8 C comfort rated bags won't be needed. Also good to know that there is an opportunity to buy food halfway through, as "stealth" camping is 100% more attractive than staying at the refuges to my mind.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby DaveNoble » Tue 03 Mar, 2015 2:40 pm

biggbird wrote:Did you find it particularly difficult, Dave, compared to say the WAs? Everybody talks it up, but they then complain about how you only get two course meals, and how occasionally you might have to find your way via cairns... I'm sure it's strenuous in terms of ups and downs and some scrambling, but how would it compare to harder walks in Tassie?



The scrambling sections are far fewer and more spread out than the WA's. The walk is a lot longer however. But on the whole a lot easier than the WA's - most of it is on very good well marked tracks, and the scrambling sections are all in rocky places - small bluffs and cliffs you need to negotiate. Not very exposed except in the Cirque de Solitude. Lots of escape routes (good tracks and roads).

The track is marked by painted waymarks.

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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby biggbird » Tue 25 Aug, 2015 3:27 pm

Forgot to thank you for this reply earlier Dave. Headed off in less than two weeks, and very excited! Thanks for the original post and the trip report Kev!
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby Hallu » Wed 26 Aug, 2015 5:49 am

The GR20 is advertised as difficult to deter unprepared hikers to do it : many come for the beaches and think "what the hell this mountain thing can't be that hard...". People think Corsica isn't that mountainous, but it is an Alpine walk. So it has the same difficulties as GRs in the Pyrénées or the Alps : snowfields well into June, vertiginous moments on the track, dangerous bits in the rain, unpredictable weather etc... and then you add the heat in summer. I hear that the GR54 in the Ecrins is hard too : 12 km elevation gain over 176 km.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby shankspony » Sun 06 Sep, 2015 1:45 pm

Hi - this is rather a long post that I wrote for another forum, but thought it might be useful for anyone considering it here...

I just completed the GR20 from Conca in the South to Calenzana in the North between June 8-23rd 2015. We were an independent party of 2 for the first half, and 3 for the second half. We carried tents and made no reservations in the refuges, preferring instead to be flexible with the itinerary so that we could change plans with the weather if necessary. We did eat at the refuges however, and didn’t bother carrying food other than breakfast/lunches from each refuge for the next day. We also stayed at the two hotels in the Northern Section.
The preference for South to North was primarily so that we would have the sun on our backs the majority of the time, rather than squinting in to it, and also to give any snow in the North an extra week to melt, since we were early in the season. As it turned out we would have been on the Cirque de la Solitude on the fateful day if we’d gone the traditional North to South direction. South to North worked well, and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re considering it.
It took 6 days for us to get to Vizzavona, taking the high route whenever possible. We took a day off to go to Corte at this point, then it took a further 9 days to get to Calenzana, which included an out-and-back excursion to Monte Cinto from Haut Asco on one day, and again we took the high routes in the Northern sections whenever possible.
The Cirque de la Solitude was closed due to the landslide in early June, and to get around this section we walked from Hotel Castel di Vergio straight to Calasima (the last part being via a lovely non-GR20 link path which we picked out from the map we had. This hadn’t been highlighted or mentioned as an option following The Cirque incident as far as we knew, although there’d been very few English speaking people by that point, and we didn’t know much!. We arrived at Calisima in time to catch the afternoon bus to Haut Asco, thus getting in 17km walk and making good use of the day. That bus was by far the most dangerous part of the whole trip!!!
Despite everything you read, I found the Southern half ‘harder’ than the Northern half! I guess Paddy’s book describes the level of difficulty in terms of terrain, for example a hard day would involve more scrambling, and an easy day would be woodland paths, however personally I found the hardest days to be the longest km days, and the shorter scrambling days in the north were less tiring and easier for me (possibly because I didn’t do much training with carrying a pack, so it was carrying the pack for more hours rather than just the terrain that made a day harder). Anyway, what we did was perfect for us in terms of enjoying each day of walking without getting tired.
We were typically off by 6am and arriving at the destination camp between 12-2pm. This was definitely a good strategy for the first half when the afternoon thunderstorms happened most days. We got a choice of level campsites at that time of day, and I pitched the tent using pegs every afternoon (sometimes with hefty rocks on top of the pegs, of which there were plenty!), so all that was much better than I’d anticipated although perhaps we were early in the season and others in peak season will find it much busier. The early arrival in to camp also gave us plenty of time to rest in an afternoon, which was welcome.
I can’t think of anything that I’d take that I didn’t have, or anything that I had that I shouldn’t have taken, so no advice there! And my gear was all good, so no upgrades or changes needed. I think June was a great time to go and peak season might be a bit hot at times. I enjoyed the day’s rest in the middle, and overall thought the trek was very comfortable the way that we did it, but would be hard if you were trying to double-up on days, or pushing the pace. The hardest technical section for us was up Monte Cinco from Haut Asco due to the steep screes and longer clambering sections. This was all fine when it was dry, and with a day-pack but I can imagine it would be much more difficult in the wet with a full pack. Luckily we weren’t on any technical sections in the wet, but I’m sure some of those rocks become very much more slippery in the rain.
The whole trail was very easy to navigate as long as you pay attention, with pretty much literally a red/white flash in view at all times. However I also enjoyed having the gps on a couple of occasions to confirm exactly where we were and what was coming up. The map was invaluable when we had to find the way to Calisima though, and definitely worth carrying just in case you want to leave the trail at any time.
Some other thoughts:
Shoes – This walk is tough on shoes as others have said. I’d recommend taking fairly recently purchased ones, and in good condition. If in doubt, buy some! It’s personal preference whether you have boots or runners, if in doubt, go for the boots.
Fitness – very subjective of course, but you don’t need to be particularly aerobically fit I don’t think, it’s more important to have the stamina to keep plodding up some of the hills day after day. You’re on holiday, not doing a race (probably!). Take your time and enjoy it. If you know the party you’ll be walking with, the best you can do is be close to the same fitness as them.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby rachel_g » Wed 06 Apr, 2016 1:36 pm

I found the information already posted above really useful.
I'm contemplating doing it solo at the end of June/early July this year. I understand the scrambling is not particularly hard but are there spots where pack passing is advisable? i.e. having one person would be a bit problematic?
I'm a reasonably competent scrambler (my husband is tom_brennan a regular poster on this board, so I've done many of the same trips as him).

Previous posters asked about comparison to WAs - I've never walked there, is there any comparison (from a scrambling perspective) to any walks around NSW?

I was also concerned about crowding - we're spoilt with so much wilderness walking in NSW - but shankspony has allayed my fears on that front.
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Re: Walking the GR 20 - Corsica

Postby bigkev » Thu 07 Apr, 2016 7:54 pm

Hi Rachel,
If you've done a little scrambling before you should be fine on the GR20, there is nothing on there like The Castle for example. I spent most of the walk on my own, meeting up with a mate at the end of the day, you shouldn't need to pack haul or pass packs so you should be OK walking solo (there are a lot of people on the track so if you did get to something a bit to dodgy it wouldn't be long before someone else would turn up who could help). I haven't done the WA's either but have done Mt Anne and the GR is nowhere near that hard.

The crowds around the refuges are an issue though, I normally hate crowds but on the GR I just went with the flow a bit and embraced the lazy afternoons on the decks at the refuges eating and drinking. If you really want to avoid the crowds there are generally a lot of wild camping opportunities, although you'd have to be discreet as its not actually legit to bush camp between refuges.

It's a great walk that I really enjoyed, although very different to what we have over here.

Cheers Kevin
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