Calvi to refuge Piobbu - 29 August 1998 (day 1)
Up, breakfast (continental). We realised we had
completed our preparations, purchased our supplies and we're rearing to go so we donned sacks, which were feeling rather heavy (10 day's food and all that),
retrieved the money for the next nights stay we had already paid for at the hostel in Calvi (with some
difficulty. In fact Lee just stood next to the guy on reception until he relented
and reimbursed us.), Jumped in a taxi to Calenzana (GR20 start) and set off.
One day early and very pleased with ourselves.
I was aware that we had a long day ahead of us,
but was not prepared for the level of physical exertion required. From the moment
the route starts it goes up! I mean UP, UP, UP!! I thought I was going to die.
Perhaps I should have taken a lead from Rob and gone to bed early last night lol.
At one point, about 3 hours after the start,
there was a particularly steep section of smooth granite slabs. Attached to
the rock on the right was a cable, placed there for use as a handrail or safety
line. I pulled on this and one of its securing pitons popped out. Oho not a
sign of things to come I hoped, climbing up not bothering to touch the cable
We all rested several times today. There were loads of small lizards,
about 8 inches long, scurrying under bushes and rocks, trying to avoid our footsteps,
they were cute little things, no bother at all. Some of them would even take
small pieces of food from your hand.
Finally, over a crest we caught our first sight
of the refuge Piobbu, approx. 1km away along a fairly level path on a steep
wooded mountainside. I for one was very pleased to see it!!
8 hours after we started, 9000ft total ascent, day one over,
only 15 more to go!
The hut is full when we arrive so we bivvy nearby. Lee's basher is erected as shelter. I head off for a douche (shower). It's better
than I expected, a small wooden hut and barn door effort (private). A hose pipe
hangs from the roof with a shower head on the end of it. The water, being directly
piped from the mountain stream above, isn't at all warm!! The shock however brings welcome relief to my aching body (and hangover).
Lee douche's later and overhears 2 American guy's discussing the toilet system.
"What I gotta squat like a bitch!"
The night is clear. Stars are out like a blanket of white snowflakes hanging in the air, so
Mick and Lee sleep outside the basher in their bivvy bags on the ground. I leave
the door to my bivvy tent open, so I can fall asleep staring up at the spectacle.
A great night's kip, despite the Saturday night party going on near the hut, involving many people who didn't appear to have walked up the GR20 (there must
be another path!).
They couldn't quite believe how badly I fared today, weak legs, breathing heavy, sweating buckets, but that all went away in the evening when we stopped. The scenery during the day and the stars at night were amazing. This was going to be a fantastic adventure.
Piobbu to Spasimata - 30 August 1998 (day 2)
Up first, make tea for everyone. Breakfast at bivvy site looking down a huge valley in the shade
of steep surrounding cliffs (would be nice to have climbing gear, loads of opportunities, not so nice to have to carry that as well though!).
Set off, steep uphill for about an
hour to a sharp ridge, which was long and technical in places,
involving some hands on scrambling. Especially when I went off on
the GR21 (NB: GR21 a term we came to use to describe going off
route by mistake) and ended up scaling down a moderate 100ft
cliff in the mist.
Mick and Lee waited for me at the bottom, on
the real path, to make sure I was safe. Very considerate I
On one scrambley hands on section
of the ridge there were numerous tissues and a handkerchief
strewn about the floor. All were soaked in fresh blood. Somebody
must have been injured. The guide book says from the ridge a
steep knee killer decent leads to the refuge Spasimata. I wait at
the top for the others before heading down. Micky counts at least
5 people in front of us in the distance. So I head down as fast
as possible overtaking them to try to secure beds for the four of
us for the night. Successful four beds together.
Nice hut with veranda, set amongst
large boulders and pine trees, with craggy cliffy outlook. We sit
on the veranda for dinner(dehydrated) and some vin.
The injured person who bled on the ridge, it transpires, was a French middle aged man in a party of 3. He had several large gashes in his head bleeding profusely.
Luckily for him a Dutch couple (Mirella & Kees) are on hand,
she is a doctor. So, whilst we eat our scoff Mirella cleans him
up, shaves his head, and stitches his wounds,at the end of our
dinner table with blood pouring on to the floor. Still it doesn't
put us off eating one bit we're all starving.
When Mirella is
finished fixing the mans head he poses for a photo with his stupid looking bandage. Tthe Dutch couple and the injured man receive a round of applause.
Another douche, this time not
private, just a bit of hose pipe attached to a branch amongst the
trees. Still covered with sweat and salt crystals. I strip off
and spray the freezing water all over me soap up and rinse off
quickly. Ahh much better!
Meet our fist English people,
Amanda and Annette, barrister and merchant banker (2 English
girls doing the trip on their own). They go to bed at 7.30pm.
They have walked the low level GR20 variant path, a 7.00 hour
journey! The high level route which we have walked, takes 2 long
day's. Still we're all pleased to have done it and wouldn't swap.
The four of us stay up drinking wine and chatting with Mirella
and Kees, who turn out to be from Amsterdam (great fun) bed about
Not much sleep, hut is noisy and
smells of crammed in sweaty breathing bodies. People start
getting up at dawn, setting off early, to make sure of a place in
the next refuge. We lay in and leave after brekky about 9.00am,
not caring about the smelly noisy huts anymore, preferring to
Spasimata to Haute Asco 31st August 1998 (day 3)
Little descent through woods then steep uphill climb for about 3 hours. Starting across technical slabs to what was supposed to be a suspension bridge across the river, but it was broken. So we climbed down and across instead.
Then followed a long 2 hour slog
up to the ridge above. Occasionally crossing exposed slabs,
steeply slanted with long potential drops over edges.
The crest provides excellent views in 3 directions and is a perfect place for lunch, very warm and sunny. Most of the other walkers stop here too, many bon jours, chats, hellos e.t.c. (a camaraderie is developing because we're all in the same boat, facing the same challenges, going to the same places. A mixture of ages, abilities, nationalities, great!!).
2 hour lunch (boots off lapping up the sun) then the long, steep,
boulder strewn decent to Haute Asco. Bumped into Sabina and her
mother in difficulty on a small cliff. Helped mother over the
difficult bit, carrying her rucksack for her, then headed on down
again. Caught up with Amanda (one of the English girls) on the
way down. Her friend had gone on ahead of her. She was steadily
picking her way down the large rocks. A slip on an angled rock
twisted her ankle, I walked the rest of the way with her very
slowly (sunburnt my head, ouch painful! )
at the refuge some time later to find it was a situated in a
small ski resort (amazing in Corsica) at the foot of Monte Cinto
(highest peak on Corsica approx. 9000ft). There was a hotel and
two refuges. Sitting on the veranda of the first refuge were My
guys, the Dutch couple, and Annette, all relaxing, chatting and
drinking bottled beer. I drop my sack and sit on the floor with
them. Relax, air the feet, chat, sunbathe and drink beer for a
couple or hours.
refuge, huge dining area, a bedroom for the four of us alone.
Luxury! With a spectacular outlook across the valley to the
imposing Monte Cinto, which we will be climbing tomorrow.
Noticeably there were still patches of snow around the top, even
though we were sitting at 4000ft in 25 degrees of burning sun!!
ski resort has not been in use for the last 5 years, due to lack
of sufficient snow, so it has become a run down place with two
shops made from what looked like cobbled together pieces of wood.
Catering mainly for poor trekkers as opposed to high spending
cooking the evening meals, the four of us ate them on the veranda,
had a few beers and watched the sun go down before bed.
as pleasant a place as the two previous refuges because there was
a road which brought cars and grockels! But sufficient and very
Ascent of Monte Cinto 1st September 1998(day 4)
Not on the route of the GR20 so an extra day has been allotted to do this. We didn't want to miss it!
the lid and shoulder straps off my sack and, with a bit of para cord, made a day sack. Chucked in some water, lunch, a fleece and was ready to go. Rob did the same to make a bum bag. Today is a day trip so no need to carry heavy packs. Another stay at Haute
Asco again tonight so we don't miss the Circ de la Solitude tomorrow (the crux of the GR20).
We set off together for the 5000ft, 5 hour climb to the peak. I'm feeling fit and delighted to have no heavy sack to carry. I head straight for the top I'll meet the guys there. It's a beautiful mountain covered in green lichen. Huge horizontal dark bands of rock form terraces with trees on at various levels, high and imposing. Much of the route is either very steep or hands on climbing, scrambling.
3 hours pushing hard, I catch up with Kees & Mirella. First time they have been caught by any of us before. Normally they leave late and come steaming past us, but today they have the heavy packs. I walk the last section up the scree slope to the ridge before the summit with them, stopping to chuck obligatory snow balls.
They laugh at my T-shirt. The guardian of the refuge at Asco, helped me cut it into a vest shape, using one of the
sleeves as a hat/bandanna with a sort of pig tail. My head is still painful from it's burning yesterday, so I am keeping it completely covered for a couple of days.
Finally reaching the ridge we can see our route to the top. It's about an hour away and looks exposed and difficult, still we press on, no going back!
Sitting just under the ridge are the two English girls and a party of 4 Germans. Amanda and Annette come with Mirella Kees and myself to the summit, along with one of the German men (the rest of his
party decide to stay put and wait for him. Too dangerous!). The top is quite a way with hands on scrambling and exposed slabs (long falls), still we make it. The weather is just perfect, right temperature here at 9000ft and plenty of sun.
I get my boots and socks off to wait for Mick, Lee & Rob, and relax
on the peak. Oh! Oh! Both of my heels have come off with the
constant pounding they've received. No pain just two pieces of
skin about 2 inches square and two very red raw looking heels.
Still if it isn't painful it can't be bad. Annette complains that
the piece of skin I've left on the floor in front of her is
putting her off her lunch. Unsympathetic to my plight I thought,
so I picked up the skin and ate it in front of her. It tasted
foul but had the desired effect, she placed her lunch to one side
for ten minutes. "Hee Hee".
boys come up after about an hour and I sit with them eating and
drinking more water. A 2 hour lunch overlooking everything,
lovely. Kees and Mirella are finishing their walking today to
spend the rest of their time SCUBA diving, so we shake hands and
bid each other fare well.
After the obligatory photo session at the top the four of us start heading down.
I go ahead. About 3
hours down in total. A German woman shouted at me from across the
mountain "have you seen my husband" I recognised her as
one of the party I had met at the ridge on the way up. Her
husband had lunch on top with us. I said I would look for him and
tell him to wait for her (she wasn't confident on the mountain).
Stopped at a stream to replenish water and bathe feet, then to
bottom with a bit of scree running. No sign of the German guy so
I rested on the veranda of the refuge with a couple of beers,
from one of the shop/shacks, nursing my aching muscles and feet.
guys emerged from the forest under the mountain an hour and a
half later. Apparently they met the same German family minus
husband and helped them down. Lee carried the wives rucksack,
badly dehydrating , having used his water at the top.
Quote:- Lee to German man "can I have some water please"
German man to Lee "no thank you I have my own!"
After the German family are tearfully reunited at the bottom, the four of us head off to the dining room and sit around chatting for a bit with a cup of tea. Stuben comes in (the missing German man)
thanks us deeply for today's help and insists we join him and his family for dinner in the nearby restaurant. We accept gratefully and run around getting ready.
excellent evening, four course meal, free flowing wine, lovely.
Stuben is a Captain in the German merchant navy, speaks good
English and entertains us for the evening with seafaring stories.
He and his wife met in the Spasimata hut 15 years previously and
were repeating the GR20 as a kind of anniversary trip. How
romantic. We all said, tongue in cheek "married in Spasimata,
divorced at Haute Asco" after today's escapade. The couple
kissed and said no way. We had to practically drag them to the
bar to buy them a cognac as thanks for their hospitality!
other German man, Peter I think, who is a bird watcher, was
engaged in conversation with Lee.
Quote:- Peter to Lee "do you watch birds"
Lee to Peter "only through the sight of a gun"
Went down like a lead balloon!!
A good day, felt fit. Found out later of Lee's comment as he surmounted the crest of the huge rocky ridge, believing it to be the top, and caught his first sight of the imposing final ascent to the peak.
Yep that about summed it up!
Haute Asco to Bergerie de Ballone (day 5)
Up, brekky, put my sack back together, pack and wait on veranda, ready to go. Speak to Sabina and her mother who have decided to end their walk here. Sabina, a physiotherapist, is worried her knee's won't stand up to the rest of the journey and her mother is finding the going a little too tough. Say goodbye and head up the ski slopes.
A long trog to the ridge alongside Monte Cinto, then into the Circ de la Solitude. This is an 800 foot climb down a cliff, of moderate climbing standard in places, followed by a similar climb
up the other side. Some chains are bolted in place as hand holds. A slip here would result in falling a long way and probable death.
wake up from my head down trogging mentality here. At last the
adrenaline is flowing and I'm excited. Rob and Mick help Lee down
the climb, his first, quite an introduction!! I bugger off ahead
enjoying it all (Lee said later he was glad I buggered off as I
was talking about death and disaster. "hee hee"). Sleep
at the bottom for about 45 min's till the others arrive. We all
eat lunch here in the shade, knowing the ascent is as difficult
and long. Superb!!
10 foot ladder to start, then a seemingly endless cliff,
protected in places by bolted chains. Up and up then onto a scree
slope, which is so steep I climb the rocks at the side, to avoid
knocking anything down into the couloir below, where the other's
are coming up. A Dutch man, Onze, is a little way below me. He
disturbs a rock. I hear a deep thud and a large rock and many
small ones descend over the edge into the couloir. Holding my
breath, stomach in my throat, I wait to hear what happens.
Thankfully the others below get out of the way and everyone is
safe. Certainly a dangerous place this Circ de la Solitude!!
all meet at the top and sit on a ledge in the cliffs, which
offers a little shade, and breakout lunch. Everyone's hot and
tired. Time has slipped away from us today, the Circ' taking
longer than expected, so we're not going to make it to the Mori
hut, our planned stop for this evening. Instead there is a refuge
about an hour away, down hill. We decide to stay there. I shoot
ahead, the route is strewn with large boulder's, meaning there is
load's of rock hopping, great fun.
hut arrives quickly, for a change. Normally you spy a refuge from
the top of some peak and head down towards it, only to discover
some bugger is moving it further away, or at least that's what it
feels like! Not today though. After viewing the refuge and
deciding not to reserve beds but bivvy instead, I sit underneath
it, between the stilts and chat to the few people who are
tap water is piped from the stream about 200m away and is luke
warm. The sun heats the long length of plastic pipe as it is run
over ground. I head off to the stream for some cooler refreshment.
A pretty place, rock pools and small waterfalls. So, boots off ,
a quick foot soak and bath (get rid of the salt crystal's), fill
water bottle (upstream of where I washed of course), then back up
to the hut to wait for the guy's, who arrive shortly, not wanting
to stay in the hut either, remembering the hot, sweaty, smelly
experience of before. So we push on further down the hill to the
bergerie de Ballone, a small farm shack, which sells beer and let's
us bivvy nearby for free, result!!
couple of beers in the shack, dinner (Raven meals) and bed at
sunset, about 8.30. A welcome early night after all the revelry with the Germans yesterday!
Begerie de Ballone to Castel de Veggio (day 6)
Awake early to find an ant crawling across my face! Although the mosquito net door is zipped up on my bivvy, the ant's manage to find a way in. They're everywhere, in the food, rucksack and
about 30 or so in with me sleeping. I cruelly start killing them
squish, squish, squish. All is OK they're not biters just
annoying, so shaking the remainder, of the ants from the food and
My sack, I set them free. It's not their fault people sleep on
top of their nest's and probably just as annoying for them.
very lazy morning, plenty of tea. Rob and Lee set off before us.
Many of the walkers from the hut up the hill pass us, but Mick
and I don't care. We have plenty of time, today is a fairly short
our lazy morning we set off (about 9.00 am). Felt great after my
huge kip and practically ran through the woods and up to the
saddle before the Mori refuge. Rob was waiting here crouched
under a small rock, with his sack on top to provide a little
shade. This didn't look at all comfortable, let alone rest full,
so I pressed on looking for a better lunch spot. After 20 min's
or so I stopped under a huge boulder, a bit like one of the stone
henge rocks, in the middle of a deserted valley, tranquillity
spot of lunch, no sign of the guy's so I set off for the next
refuge. Met up with a German chap I've spoken to several times
and walked with him for a few miles, until I came across the most
attractive stream, where I stopped. Baked in sunshine, clear
water flowing over huge flat slabs of granite, perfect for
sunbathing. Small waterfalls feed the large rock pools. Unable to
resist I lay naked on a slab 50 feet wide, just above a 10 foot
deep rock pool, into which I have been diving from the
surrounding rocks. Paradise, I never want to leave!!
hour or so later Lee and Rob come along closely followed by Mick.
Lee is laughing excitedly. Apparently Rob took a tumble whilst
they were racing down the hill, hilarity for Lee! They also like
the look of the rock pool, strip off and swim, take photo's, and
sunbathe lazily for another 2 hours
refreshed we walk the last 2 hours to tonight's resting place the Castel de Veggio. Finishing with 20 min's walking on a road, the first and only one we'll encounter for 10 day's! A strange experience, after all the uneven steep ground so far. I feared I might fall arse over tit as soon as I hit any flat. All is well though, I even managed to find a pig to chase down the road to prevent boredom setting in.
de Veggio is another small unused ski resort, situated in a much
less rugged valley than we are used to. Quite a big place with a
big front terrace where we consume a few beers before booking a
room. Fantastic a room to ourselves. Rob calls it the black hole
of Calcutta and we do have to put the mattresses on the floor
because the bunk bed's are a little too squeaky, but hey
something soft to sleep on and a roof above, this is 5 star
luxury for us, so there is little moaning. Cooked dinner (Ravens)
on trangia's outside the back door. Couldn't help but return to
party of Italians we bump into occasionally, they're walking the
same route, have decided to give up here and they give us the
remainder of their dried food (everyone I've spoken to has found
the route more challenging than expected and it's taking it's
toll. The numbers are gradually dwindling). Two of them stay in
the bar drinking with Micky and I until the barman, who looks
like one of the mental hillbillies from the film Deliverance, can
no longer stay awake and shuts up shop. Bed some unearthly hour.
4th September 1998 Castel de Veggio to Manganu (Day 7)
Shit morning, hung over. Rob and Lee set off walking, Mick and I leave very late, 1030 am, after plenty of tea and TUBBIN (NB: Tubbin stands for Thumb Up Bum Brain In Neutral). Just a 6 hour walk
today, easier than previous days with only 2000 feet of ascent. More like a hard day in the hills in England, lucky really.
A couple of miles on the flat, then a 2 hour walk up a fairly steep hill leads to a high plateau, covered in lush green grass, with a large mixture of grazing animals. Adorning the centre of this
huge plateau is the 300m long Lac de Nino.
This looks very much
like somewhere in Lake District, except at an altitude of 5000
feet, it's twice as high. Rob and Lee were waiting for
us on the grass by the side of the lake, under Lee's basher for
shade. We eat a leisurely lunch then, as this is such an idyllic
spot, we get down to some serious resting & sun bathing!
Through a strange looking valley, kind of a lost world, with knarled, twisted short trees, tiny mountain flowers, and short bright green grass. Found an excellent spot for climbing, an overhanging
set of boulders 15 feet high with a soft landing. I mess around here for a bit until Lee comes along. Luckily he found one of my socks on the path and returned it. A surprise to me, I thought it was drying away merrily with it's partner on the back of my sack! Life would be a touch difficult with 10 day's to go and only 1 pairs of socks, thanks Lee.
Manganu is at the base of a steep craggy Col, which I can just
spy in the distance on the next mountain. A trog for a bit and we're
there. A dusty bivvy site in some bushes next to the water falls
of the stream. Collect some water, chat to the folks in the hut,
Dinner and bed early dead tired.
5th September 1998 - Manganu to Pietra Piana (Day 8)
God did it piss down last night (stair rods). High winds and thick mist rushing past us in the morning, obscuring everything, felt a little daunting. The guide book says the horse shoe ridge, part of today's route, is exposed along it's entire length, making it a rather dodgy prospect at the moment. This is borne out by the fact that the refuge is full of wet people sheltering from the
weather, many of whom have decided not to chance it and are heading off the mountain today. Stuben and his party (the Germans who treated us to dinner) are also going down, I give them a hug
and wish them well (they're quite disappointed to be giving up).
weather forecast say's high winds for a couple of days. The four
of us are not in the mood to give up so we set off up the Col.
Luckily the cloud rose with us but not the wind. A freezing cold
thorough blasting saw us along the horseshoe ridge but we were
safe and found it quite a laugh in the end, leaning into the wind,
impressive photo's e.t.c. Plus we had a chance to wear the
waterproof jackets that have weighed us down for day's.
top of the hill at the end of the ridge provided a weird surprise.
A small area of bright green grass surrounded on all sides by
large white rocks. Rob and I sat down in the middle and although
the clouds were ripping across the top of us, it was like we were
viewing them in time lapse as it was completely calm in our
little oasis, no wind and very quiet. We sat there for 10 minutes.
Lee came past mentioning how similar this place is to the surface
of the moon (surreal!!).
make it down to the refuge Pietra Piana, collapse on the floor
and rest for a bit. There are only 2 places left in the hut,
tempting for 2 of us in this weather, but we decide to stick
together and bivvy. Rob goes off to look for a site, he chooses a
place as far from the hut as possible, on an exposed ridge!!! Rob,
Mick & Lee secure there basher with rocks, boulders, string,
anything against the blasting wind.
NB:- Remind me to buy Freddy several beers as the Goretex Bivvy he lent me is ace. Ha, Ha, Ha!! (Mountain Range double hoop model)
dinner on the stove in the hut and chatted pigeon French with the
hoards inside then off to our bivvies as darkness fell, too cold
to stay outside. Couldn't sleep with the wind thundering all
around so plugged in my ear phones and listened to Italia Radio
for hours. Thanks Marg and Les great pressie (light weight radio).
in middle of night to the sound of rocks falling, thinking the
wind was blowing the wall around my bivvy over. I whipped the zip
open and poked my head out only to come face to face with a large
wild pig menacingly snorting it's way round my site. Thankfully
it trotted off merrily into the night when it saw me.
6th September 1998 - Pietra Piana to Vizzavona (Day 9)
We decided to double up the next 2 day's and complete them in 1
instead. No one wanted to go to bed at 7.30pm because of the
weather like last night!
mainly on huge crests and peaks, from the map it was obvious we
had to walk over every mountain we could see in front of us, and
knowing it was going to be a very long day I got my head down and
slogged for hours. Up, Up, down, down, Up, UP. The weather became
sunny and hot which made the views fantastic but difficult to see
through all the sweat in my eyes. Finally reaching the last crest before the 3000ft decent to the village of Vizzavona. I decided to rest, take in the view, air my feet, have lunch and wait for the others. Micky came along first had a spot of lunch then pushed on alone. His old ankle injury is playing him up a bit particularly on rocky descent's and this could only be described as a long and uncomfortably rocky descent!
Rob and Lee took ages to come up having stopped for lunch in the hut at the bottom of the mountain. We took some pictures and waved a sad goodbye to the north end of the GR20. Standing proudly on the
crest we worked out the peaks and ridges we had crossed and the huge distance we've covered so far. Suddenly a sense of achievement set in.
The descent to Vizzavona starts off with very steep rock and scrambling then follows a stream littered with rock pools and water falls, quite beautiful. There is never a flat place to put
your feet only uneven rocks and boulders. Lee describes them as like walking on baby heads. This puts a lot of strain on the legs and seems to go on forever particularly after doubling up 2 days
walking already. I catch up with Micky about half way down and stay with him to the village.
When I left Rob and Lee at the top I arranged to meet them in the nearest bar to the railway station in Vizzavona. I informed Micky of this and we attacked the last few miles with renewed vigour
despite aching feet and blisters, concentrating excitedly on the beers we were to receive at the bottom.
what seemed like an eternity the station loomed round a corner and there was a bar opposite. Hoorah! Collapsing into a chair we began consuming as much beer as possible. Ice cold and served in tall steiner type glasses, the perfect cure for an aching body.
We thought we would book a room for the night but there were none available so we headed to the campsite in the woods. lots of biting insects around so we went back to the bar and arranged to sleep on the dining room floor. Of course we had to wait until the dining room had closed before we could bed down, so a whole night of drinking and eating ensued.
Thank you the lovely people of Vizzavona station bar.
We had a whole day off next day and caught a train to Ajaccio for a nice salad nicoise. Helped a little with the hangover. Paid a very reasonable fee to use their washing machine and had clean clothes ready for the rest of the journey.
We continued the GR20 from Vizzavona to it's end..
To be continued...............