Corsica’s GR20 – Europe’s hardest long distance trek, 112 miles, 15 days walking, 40,000 ft of elevation, 500ft drop offs on trails the width of a bank card – with an outside chance of premature death why bother? Well over a Christmas beer with my brother in law in 2012 it seemed like a brilliant adventure. “How bad could it really be?”
August 2013 filled with ignorance and bravado we left Calenzana in the north of the island and headed into the sun and Corsica’s spiky mountains that form its spine. Two days in and the full reality of the GR20 hit us. On the plus side it was easy to navigate – red and white daubs serve as trail makers and the panoramas were astounding. We had though encountered near vertical scree slopes, boulder fields, precipitous rock faces and no more than 10m that you’d vaguely call flat. Day 3 took us 7 hours to cover a paltry 6km!
Days start at sunrise to avoid the heat and generally finish early afternoon. By that point you’re ready for a hot shower, and a hearty local meal in a rustic farmhouse. Reality is an Alpine hut with stinking walking boots, cold showers and the most primeval toilets you’ll ever encounter. All the food has to be taken up by donkeys so is very limited and quite expensive. Generally, we had a choice of goat’s cheese, dried pork, canned meat of unknown origin and bread, lots of bread. Without being stereotypical the French (Corsicans) like bread. Lights go off at 9pm. The sleeping arrangements are cramped dormitory bunk beds. The snoring starts at 9.10pm.
Day 7 and we faced the bit we’d most dreaded, the most notorious section of the GR20 - The Cirque de la Solitude. The night before a couple of German lads trekking south to north told us how the 3rd member of their team had fallen in the Cirque broken his arm and had to be air lifted out by helicopter.
I have to admit to being petrified the night before. The Cirque turned out to be both stunning and terrifying. After 300m decent we had 800m of sheer rope free climbing up. Our only aid being some chains bolted into the granite rock race. The reward that night was the usual bug infested hostel with gut wrenching food, but one with stunning views and surrounded by rock pools that we sat in drinking Pietra beer bought from a shepherd en route.
The terrain got a lot easier in the second week. We found ourselves walking through oak forests and lush pastures with herds of wild horses and boar. On day 14 we arrived at the finish in Conca. Tired of hostel life we said goodbye to the friends we’d made and decided to head straight to Porto Vecchio, a beach resort on the southern tip of the island for a couple of days’ rest.
I’m not sure I’d ever do it again. Hiking isn’t much fun when you have to risk your life on a steep icy mountain or summit trail that requires perfect footing. It was though an outstanding adventure.
We are climbing Snowdon on 18th May, to raise funds for Buddy's for children with autism.
Please click here to visit the charity's Go Fund Me page if you would like to donate.
You can read the other team blogs here.