There’s A First For Everything!
Well, after really emphasising in our first trail report how difficult a trek the GR20 is across Corsica, particularly in August at the height of summer, you’ll be pleased to know that we made it to Day 2 without tumbling down a mountain into an abyss or suffering from heat stroke. More importantly if you’re considering embarking on this trail yourself, it’s worth noting that this particular stage, hiking between the Refuge d’ l Paliri to the Refuge d’ Asinau, was well within our capabilities and didn’t cause us too much difficulty, other than the fact it was a long day having set the alarm for a 4am wake-up call!
Yes, you read that correctly. Having commented often in our blog posts about how completely useless we are at getting up for sunrise (and that it usually takes us around 2 hours to break camp even though most things we have to do are simple 5 minute jobs e.g. taking the tent down), we were actually up at the crack of dawn and firing on all cylinders! Sad but true; this was not in eagerness of the day ahead, but more-so an effort to avoid the heat that would be zapping us of our energy as soon as the sun crested the mountains and illuminated the sky. What we couldn’t believe, and in fact, were extremely proud of, was that today we were the first to leave camp and set foot on the trail. Yes, the FIRST! Go Team TrekSnappy!
Our hike across Corsica on the GR20 continued… Pleasingly, Stage 2 was relatively pain free!
Tuesday 4th August 2015 – Stage 2 – Refuge d’ l Paliri to Refuge d’ Asinau – 6:00am – 16:30pm (10 & 1/2 hours)
Pleasantly surprised to find that we were the very first people to leave camp, we decided that this would be our new routine for the foreseeable future. A 4am wake up call did not sound that appealing, particularly considering this was also our summer holiday; however it really wasn’t that bad as we were still getting 8 hours sleep per night, literally nodding off right after dinner when our chores were complete, often before it was even dark. In the walking world, this is known as ‘hiker midnight’. That very point when you can’t keep your eyes open any longer after a good work-out on the trail – mostly being before 9pm! (Usually unheard of in most houses, even our own!)
We couldn’t complain about getting up at 4am when we were treated to such gorgeous skies.
Opening your eyes to this makes it all worth it! There’s something wonderful about experiencing the world whilst everyone else is asleep.
Getting up early does have other plus points. The best thing about an early start is that there isn’t a queue for the toilet! Likewise, there isn’t usually anyone hanging around to wash up their breakfast pots or fill up their water bottles. All is eerily quiet at camp, except for the odd snore once in a while.
The other great thing about getting on the trail so early is that we were there to witness sunrise at another amazing place in the world!
The moon hovering above in its role as night-watchman.
The lovely colour palette of the twilight hours.
We glimpsed the sun as it peeked above the mountains.
Beautiful! It was well worth the very early morning wake-up call!
For the first half hour it was a long, steep ascent out of Paliri. But before the sun had come up, our morning was brightened instead by the sight of a ‘naked’ hiker. No photos I’m afraid, but there was indeed a group of hikers who passed us walking in the opposite direction, of which the guy at the back was completely naked, but for carrying his rucksack. Wayne, being up ahead as usual, shouted to me to avert my eyes. But, just like a child being told ‘not’ to do something, of course you immediately do the opposite – and believe me I got a right eyeful! We smiled and gave way to let them pass, whilst the guy looked rather coy and the group cheered and made comments in French that our school level of comprehension did not allow us to understand. But it was hilarious all the same! (And certainly took our minds off the ascent for a while as we discussed the merits of hiking naked! We wondered whether it was a dare or if each guy took it in turns each day; but for whatever reason he was hiking naked we both agreed it might not be so good with chafing as the day hotted up – irritation of the skin caused by repetitive friction, becoming the blight of many a hiker!)
After a steady uphill climb from the Refuge d’ l Paliri, zig-zagging up a steep and rocky slope, our first rest stop was on the pass known as Foce Finosa at 1206m. Then it was downhill all the way on quite a decent track that becomes a broad dirt road as you leave the forested slopes and reach the village of Bavella.
After 2 hours of hiking, we reached the Village de Bavella. We were happy that it was only 8am, which meant we had plenty of time to traverse the rocky slopes of the Ravin du Pargulu and reach the Refuge d’ Asinau before sunset.
Heading into the Village de Bavella. This is the start/ end point of the GR20 for hikers wishing to miss out the section between here and Conca as road access means it can be more convenient depending on where you are travelling from.
We were extremely pleased to see the cafe and well stocked shop at the Village de Bavella which meant we could get some fresh supplies for dinner that evening. This is actually one of the better options throughout the entire trail.
Enjoying a cold can of coke whilst waiting for our cheese and tomato paninis – not quite brunch with it being 8am, but we had already had breakfast 3 hours earlier! It was just a quick pit-stop before heading into the wooded slopes of the Asinau Valley.
The white statue of Notre Dame des Neiges is perched on a large cairn on top of the Col de Bavella. Just past here you have the choice of 2 route options.
Of course we chose to take the low-level route from the Col de Bavella to the Refuge d’ Asinau. However there is a high-level alternative called the Alpine Variant. This route branches away from the main GR20 route and climbs towards the pinnacles and towers of the Aiguilles de Bavella. To take this route you follow the yellow flashes instead.
After the trials and tribulations of Day 1, we had agreed that we would always take the low-level route if possible, as neither of us is particularly great with heights in terms of scrambling up and down a dangerous looking mountain. So although the high-route ‘Alpine Variant’ would have meant us having a shorter distance to hike, coupled with more spectacular views of the mountain range – we would have had to contend with a much steeper ascent, part of which the guidebook said would require the use of chains, plus we would have also suffered from there being very little shade.
With all of these factors in mind, our sensible heads said to take the lower, but ‘longer’ route, which overall added a couple of hours extra onto our hiking day!
Out of the woodland we were treated to fantastic views. We noted that our guidebook had said to make the most of the flat sections as they are few and far between today on this section of the trail!
It was beautiful weather, albeit in all honesty, a little too hot for hiking! (Good for topping up the hiker tan though!)
Spot the hiker! If you look closely, Wayne is walking along the trail that runs around the mountainside.
Taking the lower route basically meant we found ourselves walking around the mountain as opposed to the more direct route of up and over it! There were relentless ups and downs along rocky terrain as we headed into the Asinau Valley, which over the day was hard going on our feet and by the end of it we were completely exhausted because of the intensity of the sun. We couldn’t even rely on any cloud cover to offer us some shade which would have helped somewhat, as there was not a single cloud in sight before midday. So it was a welcome relief when we entered some woodland shady spots where we took the opportunity for a rest-stop.
Our standard ‘man on a rock’ shot!
The ‘GR20’ continues this way. It wasn’t always easy to see in which direction the trail headed, but we were very thankful of the woodland which offered us some shade.
Still smiling – but we had only been going for a few hours! (I was thinking how brown my arms and legs would be in 10 day’s time!)
Feeling on top of the world. (Even though our choice was to walk the lower-route!)
A hot day for heading up. The overall ascent for today was a little under 900 metres.
A reassuring sign – the red and white flashes indicated we were going the right way! And we certainly made the most of this flattish section of the trail.
We took the opportunity to rest in the shade whenever we got the chance.
Just for my mum – she has a weird photography obsession with dead trees!
We took a 30 minute break to cool off and revive our feet in a little rock pool along the river. Much needed and much appreciated!
Not far to go now…
Wayne assured me that the refuge was just a little further along the valley nestled in the hillside.
On our way to the refuge, there was a little boulder scrambling but it was nothing too difficult. The Asinau Valley leading to the refuge reminded us of an English view somewhere in the Lake District, which was very heart-warming. On our final mile or so, we practised conversing in basic French as we had read that speaking even the smallest amount of French goes a very long way with the ‘gardiens’ in charge of the refuges. Thankfully, we both remembered enough to ask politely for camping for two people, plus ‘where are the toilets and showers?’ And indeed, how to ask for bread and cheese to top up our supplies! (With an added ‘s’il vous plait’ once we got out of the habit of saying ‘por favor’ – that’s what spending six months in South America does to you!)
Blink and you’d miss it! Camouflaged in the hillside is the presence of the Refuge d’ Asinau. (At last!)
All smiles having arrived at the Refuge d’ Asinau at a respectable time of 4:30pm. Our early start meant we could get some laundry washed and hopefully dried before the sun went down. (And maybe top up the tan – I did pack a bikini as one of my essentials, which was definitely not on Wayne’s checklist!)
Packet cupa-soups continue to be the mainstay of our hiker meals – purely as a ‘starter’. For our ‘main course’ we enjoyed bread, soft cheese and sliced tomato courtesy of the little shop in Bavella where we re-supplied earlier that morning.
The first job when we reach camp after enjoying a ‘victory’ can of pop is to get the tent up. Then I set about relaxing on a rock seeing as there wasn’t a sun lounger handy until Wayne put me to task!
Campsite bliss! Looking very domesticated with our freshly washed laundry hanging out to dry.
Thankfully there was a sink at which we could wash our hiking clothes, which were already very grubby because of the dusty terrain, and how much we had sweated in them throughout the day. We were already finding that we were drinking 4-5 litres of water per day, topping up our water supplies from natural mountain water sources, or by filtering water from rivers using our trusted Sawyer Squeeze Filter just as a precautionary measure. There’s nothing like a severe bout of giardia to stop you in your tracks and put paid to any well-planned hiking trip. Little did Wayne know that his expert skills at creating a make-shift washing line using a guy rope and walking poles that he has done many times whilst on our previous thru-hikes would soon catch on and become a trend, with everyone copying his idea!
Everyone busy with camp chores or relaxing at their tents before ‘hiker midnight’ (effectively sunset around 8-9pm!)
Well overall, Day 2 hadn’t been that bad! We were definitely starting to get in the swing of things again and despite our timings being well over the suggested time given in the guide book, our bodies were once again becoming in sync with the trail, and we were feeling much stronger and more prepared for what was to come.
We agreed that the following day we would have to bite the bullet and double up two stages, otherwise we would never make it to Calenzana on time. So instead of finishing at Matalza (a new additional stage that has been added to the GR20 for the purpose of splitting the very long Asinau – Usciolu stage into two), we would continue on to Usciolu no matter what, otherwise we would in effect be adding an extra day to our schedule, which we didn’t have the time to do.
At a suggested 8 and a half hours it all sounds do-able in theory… Find out if we were successful with joining up these two stages in our next trail report!