The Mountains Are Calling…
After less than a week on the GR20, we had successfully reached the halfway stage, making it to Vizzavona in just 5 days.
On Day 1 we had not envisaged how tough we would find the continuous ascents and descents of the Corsican mountains, compounded by the blistering heat that is unavoidable in the month of August. However, we soon fell into the rhythms of the ‘hiking world’ once again and considered ourselves blessed to be experiencing the wonders of nature, not with our heads stuck in a book or sat in front of the TV, but first hand, out there on the trail.
It might be tough, but from this midpoint, we would make our way across the mountains enjoying the grandeur of the surrounding views and relishing the prospects of abundant food and drink on reaching Calenzana in less than a week’s time. There was no way we could give up now! It was time to face the northern half of the GR20…
Day 6 provided us with wonderful views as we headed uphill out of Vizzavona and across the mountains.
Saturday 8th August 2015 – Stage 6 – Vizzavona to Refuge L’ Onda – 9:00am – 17:30pm (8 & 1/2 hours)
After such a long and labour intensive day on the trail yesterday, we decided that a good lie in was in order to give our knees a chance to rest, so we did not intend on breaking camp until at least 9am. After facing several hours of gruelling switchbacks leading down into Vizzavona, last night was the first time we had taken some Ibuprofen tablets to literally see us down the mountain before our legs gave way. On meeting Arthur however, (a French guy hoping to hike the GR20 in just over a week), we considered ourselves to be faring well in comparison. He was hobbling along and grateful of some company as well as some painkillers, after he had pushed on from the Refuge d’ Usciolu, aiming to complete a triple stager in a single day. Despite his experience of mountain marathons, this was very ambitious by anyone’s standards.
So as we were leaving the village that morning, it was a shame to bump into Arthur once more and find out that his GR20 hike had now officially ended. He had visited the doctor in the village and had been advised to end his thru-hike or face permanent damage to his knee and ligaments. After all of the planning, preparations and psyching oneself up that is done before setting off on a long distance hike, we knew how frustrated Arthur must feel at such news. However, he was still in good spirits and vowed to return to Corsica with his girlfriend the following year to tackle the northern section so as to complete the GR20 route.
The predicament Arthur found himself in, despite his confidence that his body could handle it, really made us think about how important your itinerary is. Allowing yourself enough time to complete a thru-hike without putting your body under too much pressure (or undue mental and physical stress) is of paramount importance. Having put our knees to the test yesterday, and not wanting to find ourselves facing a similar outcome to Arthur, we decided to look again at the northern stages and revise our plans. We came to the conclusion that if it saved us several hours of hiking time, we would brave the ‘high route’, and we would also decide carefully about when our next double stager would be, giving our bodies enough chance to rest in-between.
Our camp spot in Vizzavona at the Refuge L’ Alzarella. Most hikers had already set off by the time we left. Those still hanging around were only completing the southern section of the GR20, then heading off to the train station in the village later in the day.
The fantastic on-site camp shop which was well-stocked with a whole array of hiker goodies. We enjoyed a tin of cassoulet poured over cheesy ‘smash’ potato for our previous evening’s dinner, as well as stocking up with a freshly baked baguette for today’s lunch stop, complete with a tin of pâté. (We decided not to ask what meat was actually in it!)
Leaving the village heading north, our first stop of the day was to be the ‘Cascade des Anglais’ – translated as ‘English Waterfalls’.
Having descended to Vizzavona at 920 metres, we didn’t relish the idea of having to hike to Punta Muratello at 2020 metres, the highest point of the day in order to reach the Refuge L’ Onda.
Starting the steady climb up… Thank goodness for walking poles!
The wooded slopes are a mixture of laricio pines and beech trees.
Panorama shot of the trail heading into the mountains.
The red and white flashes took us over some rocky sections, however the gradients were fairly gentle.
Having a quick rest by a stream and topping up our water supplies.
We continued uphill on a long and gradual ascent.
Spotting a needle in a haystack – Orange is the perfect colour for hiking!
After wandering through the valley and leaving the woodland behind, the route became steeper and rockier.
Looking back to where we had just come from…
Today’s section of the GR20 heading up the mountain from the valley bottom was an ascension of around 1 kilometre. With rest stops, this took us approximately 4 hours. Although we had faced tougher days of scrambling, it was still very tiresome. To put it into perspective, when we walk 1 kilometre on flat ground it usually takes us around 20 minutes.
Taking a well-earned break. As the mountain slopes are quite open, there was very little shade from the sun. Thankfully, those afternoon clouds came in again to give us some respite.
Vizzavona sits right at the bottom of the valley. We had come a long way up already!
We had to navigate along the rough and stony ridge, then around the rocky notch that crosses the main crest near Punta Muratello.
Reaching Punta Muratello at 2020 metres. The Aussie girls were exhausted so Katie was busy having a nap when we arrived at 3pm! We stopped to have a late lunch, sampling the pâté and baguette we had bought earlier. This is what you call lunch with a view!
A sign is always a good thing! It’s all down hill from here… We hope!
Our view whilst resting and having lunch. The Refuge L’ Onda is down there somewhere!
Wayne points to the ridge that we still have to head over.
Setting off downhill on the steep, stony track. We were hoping it wouldn’t be too much further, but it still took us two and a half hours from here.
We could see the trail running along the top of the ridge heading off into the distance.
It looks worse than what it actually was. Our two Aussie friends set off before us and were up ahead.
Continuing on… We made the most of the flatter sections but we still had to watch our footing.
We had a clear path to follow; it just seemed very long and that we were not making much progress!
Taking care with the downhill sections as it was easy to slip on the loose gravel.
As we rounded the corner, Refuge L’ Onda came into view. The only problem was that it was situated at the bottom of a very steep hill! Our knees were bearing the brunt of a long descent once again.
By the time we arrived at 5:30pm, the campsite was extremely busy. We found a ‘flattish’ spot to pitch our tent, stocked up with some bread from the little supply shop, and chilled out for a while until the queue for the showers went down.
The campsite was rather cosy! It was the busiest we had seen so far, with an equal number of northbounders compared with southbounders. As it was surrounded by rocky mountains, the campsite enclosure was entirely in shade by 7pm so it soon felt cooler than what we were used to.
After leaving the highest point of the trail that day – the Punta Muratello at 2020 metres – we headed downhill to the Refuge L’ Onda at 1431 metres. The campsite however was even further downhill, situated below the refuge in a fenced enclosure, which we reached by zig-zagging along some rough switchbacks. Although we were happy to have finally reached our home for the night, going all that way downhill to reach the campsite only meant one thing – it would be a long uphill start to the day tomorrow to get back on the GR20!
Well, we’d worry about that tomorrow! For now it was time to enjoy our dinner of rice, tomato and mackerel fillets, thankful that apart from a few aches and pains, we were still going strong, unlike poor Arthur who was forced to bail out early.
All remaining well, this time next week, we’d be celebrating completing the GR20 back in Bastia! Find out how we fared with Day 7 in our next trail report coming soon…