After breaking up the tent fast we meet with the man in charge of hiking for the Regional Natural Park of Corsica on the now quiet terrace of the refuge of Carrozzu. It is the beginning of the season and one of the busiest moments and he looks worried. The park and the GR face some serious challenges. Last year 15,000 people hiked it (or at least started as the drop rate is of about 40%). Refuges are getting saturated as we noticed the night before.
We refill our water and leave the sunny terrace with its Himalayan prayer flags and stunning view to conquer the 5.9 kilometres of the day with 790 metres of elevation gain and 638 metres of elevation loss. Soon, we cross the Spasimata suspended bridge, feeling like Indiana Jones hanging above the roaring torrent. We follow the water and go up for a long while.
As we rest contemplating the view we hear a scream. Someone has just fallen about 6 to 8 metres down the path we have just hiked up on the other side of the mountain. In the distance we can observe some hikers dropping their heavy packs and running towards the motionless woman. Luckily, she got stopped by some large rocks and bushes – had she fallen a few meters further up or down the train, her fall would have been unforgiving. Having a rare cell phone signal on this side of the mountain we stand by in case an emergency call needs to be made. The helping hikers are carrying out first aid and keeping her warm with a safety blanket. Soon the yellow and red rescue helicopter flies over to drop off two medics: cranium trauma. Surprisingly, the helicopter still hovers around. A few hundred metres away another medic is lowered down along the path. Another woman fell on a steep firn: patella injury. She is airlifted up while the helicopter leaves fast in rapidly changing weather conditions that we hardly notice.
These two accidents are a clear reminder: many hikers underestimate the dangers of the Corsican Mountains. This specific GR was designed to challenge any mountaineer and it is clearly not a leisurely stroll. The elevation, the technicality, the exposure, the not-so comfortable nights, and the island climate that makes the weather change extremely fast and violently are to be taken very seriously. The GR 20 is no kid’s play and its reputation of toughest hiking trail in Europe is well deserved.
Meanwhile we are setting foot on our first patch of snow hanging tight in the soft straps of our hiking poles to not slide down the steep slope. We are shaping steps in the snow with our Lowa hiking boots to stay stable. We are rewarded by a glorious vista on snowy peaks on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.
As we eventually guess the small ski resort of Asco all the way down the steep trail, we notice dark grey clouds are coming in. Thunder! In a matter of minutes it starts raining. Small drops at first, then big drops, followed by more drops making the steep rocks that we descend with hands and feet dangerously slippery. The heavy drops turn into a violent shower. With one of us being terrified of lightning that is potentially lethal, we end up trail running the last few kilometres with our 16-kilogram backpacks trying to keep our balance. At last we arrive at the refuge of Ascu Stagnu soaking wet. Everything is. Just our Canon Camera that was safely tucked away in a Sea and Summit waterproof bag seems to have made it dry. Luckily, our hand-written notes were written in a Rite in the Rain notebook and are completely fine!
The refuge of Ascu Stagnu is fully booked. The worst part of the day has yet to come, stripping down shivering in an ice-cold shower and changing into a clean set of clothes that is wet. The ambient humidity probably means that nothing will dry overnight. Past 7pm, the keeper of the refuge reassigns the beds: two people are now in the hospital and have not made it. At least we will spend the night inside the refuge well warmed up after another pasta dinner.
Marcella & Claire
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- 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.