France, ten days in Corsica

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Good times - northern Corsica on day three

It looks like I’ll be spending a third night in the same hut high in the mountains in Corsica, retreating after following the GR20 route northwest to the col, and now listening to the wind howl as snow and hail falls in the murk. Looks like I won’t be flying today! My solar panel is hanging by the window but it isn’t enough to power the screen on my phone which has 17% charge, I’m going through the last of my food, and I have to admit the weather is getting worse so I think I might be losing this stand off…

(details of flights)

I’ve been pondering calling it quits, possibly hiring a car to check out some rivers and towns and so on, as I’ve spent pretty much the whole trip in the mountains so far. But on the whole it’s been really good and making traveling connections is hard work so it’s nice to relax with a couple of blankets and postpone the inevitable. Given i descend tomorrow i have another full day before flying out of Bastia.
I arrived here by ferry last Saturday. It was fitting that it rained steadily during my last morning in Nice – wouldn’t want to waste a good day traveling! The ferry was delayed and it was a late evening walk up to the Chambre d’Hote I’d booked. Bastia has an absence of budget accommodation options, as confirmed by some guys I’d met on the ferry who bumped into me the next morning and told me they’d had some trouble late at night! Instead i was welcomed by a friendly old woman who introduced me to a local beer (with Ambroise berry) before showing me my room. Various middle aged couples with or without children seem to be the typical guests here – one couple from Brittany offered me a lift. Indecisive until the last moment i decided to continue on from Col de Teghime to St Florent, where i waited over an hour for my next lift. Not a lot of traffic and i wasn’t overly inspired by my waiting place or the crappy overcast weather so i was actually keen to go anywhere, and started hitching both ways by an intersection of many possible routes! In the end it worked out well as a French/Italian/Swiss couple were headed to Calvi, so i decided to get them to drop me off at the turn off to Calanzana, the (northern) start of the famous GR20 mountain traverse route across Corsica. My next lift thoughtfully pointed out the Gite (15 Euro per night) just out of town which after some consideration i decided was quite a good idea. I chatted over pizza to a couple of Dutch guys that had returned from an aborted GR20 trip, reporting deep snow about the passes. Undeterred I would still like to see how far i could get with micro spikes and a paraglider.

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The next morning i dropped by the bakery shortly after 6am – thankfully open on Easter Monday. Then a solid five and a half hours to the hut. As cloud milled around i enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. During the day i passed half a dozen French mountain runners and a man from the UK / Ireland with his two sons. But in the evening i had the hut to myself.

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Time to don boots and spikes

An early start the next morning, continuing in jandals until around 2000m where i finally donned boots and micro spikes. Don’t say i don’t do anything for you, long suffering feet (these boots have given me a rather ugly heel blister). I must say the jandals have held up remarkably well.. funny to think I’d had thoughts of being ripped off just after bargaining for them in Thailand.

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About to take my first flight. Later climbed peak to left (Paglia Orba)

Reaching a high point over the pass which had turned back the Dutch guys i decided I’d have to fly. There was cloudy murk at various levels and it was very cold. The conditions for launching were perfect, but landing options were quite the opposite. I decided that even if i had to land way out in the valley (at sea level!) the flight over these spectacular cliffs – the Cirque de Bonifatu – would be worthwhile. So it was, and so i did – an hour later i was walking on a sealed road in the hot sun. An Italian couple with baby brought me to near Galeria, and a local woman brought me further up the valley to Mont Estremo. She offered various bits of useful information and warnings in French pertaining to my proposed itinerary to rejoin the GR20, of which about half I did not understand and much of the rest I ignored. As afternoon clouds built up i climbed into them.
Reaching the pass I was happy to note that as I’d half suspected, the clouds were backed up on the side I’d ascended and it was clear between me and the hut i intended to land at.
As the afternoon clouds subsided the evening sun shone through and i had a spectacular flight, scratching my up cliffs from just above the hut all the way to the next pass, where i landed for an evening walk to the next hut.

Approaching the Refuge Ciutullu di i Mori in the fading evening light i noted a figure admiring the view on the deck – I’d have company! By the time i arrived he’d just gone to bed but got up to make me tea, much appreciated since I’d lacked matches or a lighter the previous night. Not only that but this was soon upgraded to a full pasta meal, a cask of white wine was produced, and before we knew it we’d been chatting to nearly midnight. I made myself a mattress teepee (who needs a sleeping bag anyway) and had a comfortable nights sleep.

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The hut and ridge I'd traversed previous evening
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Monte Cinto, Corsica's highest, far right

The next morning was stunning, the first with no clouds above. I donned spikes and ascended up Paglia Orba (2525m). This was a really aesthetic mountain to climb with incredible panoramic views. Descending to my parapente i enjoyed those views and more with a flight down the valley and to Corte, a highlight of the trip. Here i raided a Casino supermarket, jamming my two bags full of food (embarrassing quantities of cheap chocolate, sweets, cheese and the usual) and eating out of a plastic bag as i waited for the train. Rather smelly I’d decided it would be cheeky to hitch in this state.

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Chapel at Col de Vizzavona (near Gare)

Disembarking at the Col de Vizzavona i wasted nearly an hour looking at accommodation options before deciding 70 euros was too much for my basic needs and trudging up the hill in the fading light. They’d just had an afternoon downpour (i was right to fly early) and the dripping forest had an ethereal beauty. I found a rock to shelter under amidst bird song and slept the night.

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Morning ascent on the GR20
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A pleasant traverse before being clouded out
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Brief glimpse between clouds at my waiting spot

The next morning as if to earn the 70 euros I’d saved i had a wash in the ice cold stream. I then continued a prolonged ascent along ridges. Despite the best forecast yet (I believe it’s the only day I had without any rain) i became enveloped in cloud and sat in it much of the day. I used the opportunity to catch up on internet, in no rush to take my heavy food cache to the bottom of the mountain. In the very late evening the cloud finally cleared and i soared up, crossed the valley, viewed some amazing cliffs in the fading light and landed on the spur to bivouac.

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Bivouac in the "landing paddock"
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Back on the GR20, beneath Monte d'Oro

The next morning i was back on the GR20, after a little rock climbing descent. Cloudy again but i managed a short flight from the col, packing up around 2pm before going on a high traverse to the hut I remain sheltered at. While afternoon storms have always threatened here this was the first time I’d seen lightning – and less than a mile away! Not the smartest place to be and i arrived at the hut very wet, hail having accumulated on the ground, and again with gas in the hut i had no matches.

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Making myself at home

The next morning wind and cloud prompted a hut day. Procrastinating on the internet i finally left for a short day walk up toward Monte Rotondo. Again sun and cloud alternated but by 2:30pm I’d returned to the hut which was now in cloud and it began raining lightly half an hour later. I discouraged would-be-visitors by singing on the deck, earphones plugged in, but was surprised to later welcome two young French walkers on a weekend jaunt away from WWOOFing. We socialized mostly in broken English and cooperated on a very determined effort to get a fire going on the pot belly stove – to my surprise, ultimately successful.

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Rather miserable

Finally late this morning I walked up to the col (Bocca Muzzella) for what would have been an airy traverse on an exposed ridge between alpine lakes and cliffs – but didn’t seem much point in established freezing rain and driving snow. So here i am! Back at the Refuge de Petra Piana. At least if (when, i think!) i have to walk down i won’t be carrying any excess food!

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Solenzara river

Post script: on the third day I rose again, this time descending to the road, hitching (I’d had a river wash!) with a Corsican ex foreign legion guy, taking the train to Bastia, and grabbing my raft in time for the late afternoon bus to Solenzara. Here I had a day paddling in the sun whilst the wind continued to howl high above.

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Solenzara, my final sunrise in Corsica

3 thoughts on “France, ten days in Corsica

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