A familiar noise wakes me up: the zipping and unzipping of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, down jackets or soft shells of other hikers already getting ready to start the GR 20 at 4:30 in the morning. I turn around in our 2-person lightweight Jamet-designed tent, and doze off a bit longer: after all we have all day to make it to Ortu di u Piobbu, only 11 kilometres away from here in Calenzana, but the strenuous first stage will elevate us by about 1,360 metres in the Corsican mountains…
After a solid oatmeal breakfast taken at this first refuge, we put our heavy backpacks on. With the six litres of water we have just loaded on our 15-kilogram packs, we already know that we are way too heavy for this demanding first day. We leave the former goat keeper village of Calenzana below us. The sound of church bells fades away as 8 o’clock is being rung, and we gain altitude along a donkey path lined by a wall of purple, pink and yellow flowers characteristic of the late spring. Crossing several streams the path leads us through a pine forest offering a welcome shade and characteristic scents.
Step by step we make progress. The steady sound of the strengthened aluminium tips of our super lightweight Masters poles beats the rhythm for the almost continuous bird-songs. This beat helps us regulate our breathing and increases our stamina as the climb starts taking its toll. Ascending, the view on the Bay of Calvi only gets better.
In Bocca u Saltu we take in the panoramic view before the real work starts: the trail is so steep that some rocks are equipped with heavy metal chains to help hikers climb them. Mountain goats must be laughing at us as we clumsily gain altitude in this mineral world. Only a few patches of grass provide a welcoming break from the steep rocks before the last col.
At last after about six hours of walking we eventually see the refuge! The only problem is that it is on the other side of the mountain and it still looks pretty far… Its sight along with some sweet fruit pastes gives us the energy boost we need to complete this first stage. Almost following an elevation line, we soon arrive at Ortu di u Piobbu. The vistas on the layers of mountains ending into the sea are the best reward we could have hoped for especially as they are bathed by the sunset light. Soon, we are pitching our 1.7-kilogram tent at 1,520 meters with a view!
From the terrace of the refuge, we are meeting new friends whom we will most likely see regularly for the next 13 days appreciating every sip of the fresh local Pietra beer. Before getting ready to cook dinner, we are enjoying a game of cards and chatting about tomorrow’s stage. We are slowly taking in the way of the GR 20 while the sun hides behind the mountains and it is time to get some well-deserved rest [click here for Stage 2].
Claire & Marcella
- For gear tips, stay tuned: in a couple of weeks an exclusive post about how to pack and what maximum weight you should carry on a multiday hike & more will be published.
- For a bird’s eye view and to get access to all the GR 20 articles, please refer to this prologue article.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! To download the GPS track, refer to this short tutorial.