A Little Respite Off-Route…
With our main objective being to fit all 16 stages of the GR20 into 12 days – we made the most of the Cirque de la Solitude being closed and opted to take public transport to Haut Asco, our next overnight stop on the GR20 route.
After very little debate, we firmly decided it would be the easiest and most efficient method to get us there, although not the most cost effective at a whopping 35 Euros each! Tackling the new, alternative pathway above the Cirque de la Solitude, which we had very little information about, never registered on our agenda. Not because of a fear of the unknown, but largely as we didn’t want to make ‘Europe’s toughest thru-hike’ any more gruelling than it already was!
Taking the minivan did save us several hours of walking, which meant we had an entire afternoon at camp to catch up on some basic needs like taking a shower and washing our underwear. But it wasn’t quite as easy as that… First, we had to reach Calasima before 11am and find the bus stop!
The new day greeted us with a fabulous sunrise as we headed down the mountains to the tiny village of Calasima.
Wednesday 12th August 2015 – Stage 10 – Refuge de Ciottulu di l Mori to Calasima – 6:30am – 10:00am (3 & 1/2 hours)
*Navette to Haut Asco – 11:00am – 2:00pm (3 hours)
As a new day dawned, we were in high spirits thinking about our forthcoming ‘ride’ to Haut Asco, giving our legs a much needed rest. We thought it would be simple – a relatively quick hike down the mountains to the village of Calasima where we would sit outside a little café and savour a cappuccino and cake, whilst waiting for the navette. It would be almost as good as a ‘rest day’. How wrong could we be!
After leaving camp under a serene, twilight sky, we weren’t quite expecting the challenging and adrenaline pumping descent down the mountains that we were faced with.
Shortly after leaving the Refuge de Ciottulu, we realised the morning’s hike was going to be a lot tougher than what we had first imagined.
The GR20 heads around the ridge then leads hikers to the Auberge U Vallone before reaching the Cirque de la Solitude.
The previous night, the gardien from the Refuge de Ciottulu had advised us to head to the Auberge U Vallone, then from there, follow a marked track downhill to Calasima. (Not that the GR20 route is commercial in any way!) However, on closer inspection of our map, we saw that by doing this we would be adding extra time and effort onto our morning’s walk, by way of a couple of hours at least. So instead, we opted to completely bypass the bergerie and follow an old trail that was marked on our map. As this was the more direct route, it meant we could set off around 6am, instead of having to pack up and leave at least a couple of hours earlier in the pitch black of night. If it was going to save us 2 hours of walking time, and having full confidence in Wayne’s navigational skills, then this was definitely the way to go!
Oh what a beautiful morning… Gorgeous skies at this golden hour.
Early risers were treated to a fabulous sunrise.
Diverting off the GR20 and onto the alternative trail leading downhill, we quickly found ourselves facing a steep and arduous descent on a combination of scree and smooth slabs, where we had to give full concentration and take tremendous care with our footing. We couldn’t dither about it though! Knowing we were on the clock and hoping to catch the minivan at 11am, we simply had to get on with it. So we basically scaled the entire front of the mountain, reaching the river at the valley bottom in around two hours flat. It was quite an achievement considering we thought we’d just be enjoying a gentle morning stroll to a bus stop! When we turned around and looked back up to where we had come from at the very top of the mountain, we wondered how it was even possible to get down it, as there did not look like a viable trail at all! But thankfully, that was the hard work done for today.
It was downhill all the way from here! Instead of taking the GR20 route in the direction of the Auberge U Vallone leading to the Cirque de la Solitude, we were in fact heading downhill off-route to the village of Calasima in search of the alternative transport option set up by the Parque Nacional Service.
As the trail levelled off, we cut through some woodland and diverted onto an old track leading to an abandoned bergerie that stood in ruins. This was the most direct route leading to the road and back to some semblance of civilisation – by way of the village of Calasima. Who needs GPS when I have my own personal tracker by the name of Wayne!
There was no going around this fallen tree. We had to literally limbo under it – not easy when you’re carrying a full backpack!
We had successfully hiked down from this mountain range in rapid time. Looking back up it was difficult to see how we had ever managed it!
We spotted some wild Corsican pigs taking respite from the heat. A car also meant that we were not far from the village!
Stray pigs are a regular feature of Corsican streets. Local officials estimate that 10,000 cows and many more pigs roam the island!
The road to Calasima… We are not keen on road walking at all – but a flat road meant we could achieve a good, fast walking pace!
The road leads into the village… After walking for around half an hour under a cloudless sky, our mouths were positively watering at the thought of an ice-cream from the village shop.
War memorial in the village. You pass this as you head around to the bus stop, which is situated across the road from the ‘Calasima’ village sign.
After day dreaming of what treats we were going to devour at the café in Calasima when we arrived, we were extremely disappointed (to say the least) to find that the village only has a church. There is no food, drink or other services. No café and no shop – we couldn’t believe it! We thought there would at least be a little grocery store. What do the locals do if they run out of bread, milk or cheese?
Calasima is famous for being the highest village in Corsica. This sign is directly opposite the make-shift ‘bus stop’.
There isn’t an official bus stop sign, but you’ll know when you’re at the right spot as there is a small pull-off with a couple of benches, church pews and old chairs for hikers to sit on that must have been donated by the villagers. Following the road through the village, a few ramshackle buildings give way to beautiful cobblestone houses, which then leads to the village church and the cemetery. When you reach the Calasima village sign, the bus stop area is opposite, shaded by a few trees, which is much needed after a hot morning’s walk. You’ll also notice that it’s the only place in the village wide enough for a minivan to turn around.
Arriving just after 10am, we were the first hikers to reach the bus stop area, so had the first pick of chairs. Relieved we had made it in plenty of time, we sat down, brewed a cup of tea with our gas burner, and kept our fingers crossed that the minivan would arrive, so that we wouldn’t be forced to take the ‘Cirque de la Solitude alternative’ after all!
Thankfully, the van picked us up just after 11am. It was full with ‘southbounders’ who were being dropped off ready for their hike to the Refuge de Ciottulu. Going north, there was just myself and Wayne, and another hiking couple. It was the first day we had seen a drop in numbers going in our direction – whether this was due to the fact that others were braver and happy to walk the alternative route – or just too tight to pay the 35 Euros for the ride – who knows?!
The driver was very helpful and did a quick stop at a ‘boulangerie’ in the nearby village of Albertacce so that we could get some refreshments. He drove like crazy though on some very scary bends, so it was not the relaxing, restful journey we had anticipated – more like a hellish, white knuckle ride, where we squeezed our eyes shut as we veered closer than was comfortable to more than one cliff-edge winding our way uphill to Haut Asco.
Despite our exhilarating journey, we arrived safely at 2pm, which was earlier than expected. What we could fault with his driving, he made up for with his timing, as now we had all afternoon to rest-up! Well, after a shower and some much needed laundry chores!
Hand washing – the bane of many a thru-hiker! But at least we would smell nice and fresh the following morning.
We found a nice, shaded camp spot with ready made table and chairs (if you ignore the fact it was overlooking the ski lifts).
Wayne set about preparing ‘Afternoon Tea’ after showers and chores were complete.
Camping in Haut Asco is reserved especially for GR20 hikers, so although the campsite was already busy with ‘southbounders’ finished for the day and there weren’t many flat pitches left available, they always endeavour to find you some place to pitch. Wash-room, toilets, showers and cooking facilities are freely available to use inside the refuge, which also has a good sized camp shop stocked with an excellent selection of food supplies.
We walked down to the road to ‘Le Chalet’ bar, which also has a small selection of supplies just to compare products and prices, but all were on par and very reasonable considering Haut Asco’s main function as a ski village. AKA: ‘Tourist Central’. (FYI: The bar did have the best selection of GR20 postcards, stickers and souvenirs!)
We had a good hiker supper to look forward to courtesy of being able to buy some fresh produce – spaghetti, ratatouille, fresh tomatoes, bread and butter, with a fruit yoghurt for dessert. So all-in-all – it had been a good day!
Just two more days until we finish our fifth long-distance hike! The closer we get to the finish, the more nervous I am becoming about those fearsome Spasimata slabs. No matter how far I push them to the back of my mind – they still put me on tenterhooks after what I have read about them in the guidebook. Similarly, after speaking to several hikers coming in the opposite direction that have already completed that section, not one of them has allayed my fears or given me positive reassurance. They have all said how ‘hard’ and ‘scary’ they are! So, now I have taken to studying them on postcards to get a good view of what they are like – which hasn’t really helped me one little bit. Wayne’s advice is to remind me that everyone who has already completed them has lived to tell the tale – so they really can’t be that bad! Let’s hope so!
We’ll find out tomorrow… Gulp! We’ve come too far to turn back now!