GR 20 Etape 4: Ascu Stagnu to Ballone [is Monte Cinto really better than Cirque de la Solitude?]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 4 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 4 of the GR 20 (Ascu Stagnu to Ballone): +1220m, -1150m over 9.4km

[Click here for the previous stage]

Early wake up today as there may be more rain early in the afternoon. With most of our gear still wet after the heavy thunderstorm we hiked through on the downhill of Stage 3, we are ready to run the 9.4 kilometres we need to cover today to avoid another unwanted shower! At least, our heads are and it may be a challenge for our legs and hearts to run 1,220 metres up and 1,150 metres down of what is considered the toughest stage of the GR 20 now that it goes around the Cirque de la Solitude… We savour a heavy 200-gram portion of oatmeal mixed with raisins to fuel our muscles. Grey clouds are already coming in fast and hide half of the peaks before we head out…

As we come out of a pine forest, a splendid mountainous landscape opens up: rugged peaks reaching for the clouds, snow patches giving birth to an uncountable amount of roaring waterfalls, wild torrents providing drinking water, and colourful dots high above us slowly progressing up the rocky walls.

GR 20 Corsica Stage 4 - 1

Within minutes we are adding our own colours against the grey granite, scrambling and climbing as we can. A few chains come in handy as we pull ourselves and our 17-kilogram backpacks up before reaching a long rubble.

As we think our strenuous hike uphill is over, a false flat is merely hiding another steep wall covered in snow that we need to dominate despite the cold and strong wind. Most trail markers being hidden we need to pause to figure out the best way up, completely exposed to the elements. There is no way around the firns and up we go!

Once up a lunar landscape reveals itself with the still half-frozen Cinto Lake below us. Above us, the 2,706 metres of Monte Cinto, the highest mountain of Corsica dominate us. Crossing this technical yet easy stretch, we finally reach the start of our downhill to the refuge of Tighjettu.

A few hours later, we find ourselves warming up in the sun by the cold torrent just down the refuge of Tighjettu. The weather changed for the best and we relax our muscles in the ice-cold water for a good part of the afternoon. We use our magical Scrubba Bag to wash our clothes and let them dry on the warm stones in the sun along with the rest of the gear that is still humid from yesterday’s downpour.

Looking back up, we see the demanding descent we have just completed and where it merges with the trail coming down from the former official track through the Cirque de la Solitude. After a deadly accident in June 2015 because of a rockslide, the Cirque had been closed for about three years and just recently re-opened as the land is now stabilized. However the official GR 20 goes around it and the Cirque is opened only for hikers going with ropes and guides as it is not marked nor equipped anymore. Still, I wonder if today’s official stage is really better. The very vertical Cirque de la Solitude was very impressive and hikers knew its dangers. If the ground is stabilized there, small landslides are common on today’s track that is quite technical and much longer. Today’s GR views are much nicer and more open even if the trail is not as recreational as what I remember of the feared Cirque de la Solitude.

Close to sunset, we make our way down to bergerie (sheepfold) de Ballone for the night, happy with all our gear being dry again. Sitting around our cooking set and eating some more pastas we are grateful for the rather clement weather of the day and looking forward to tomorrow.

[Click here for the next stage]

Marcella & Claire

Travel tips:

  • Check out our gear tip section before venturing out!
  • For a bird’s eye view and to get access to all the GR 20 articles, please refer to this prologue article.
  • Regarding the Cirque de la Solitude, please enquire about conditions should you want to attempt it and take climbing gear and a mountain guide. Don’t venture without them, especially not in uncertain weather!
  • 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.

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Part of this article was published in the Beyond Boundaries e-magazine by Xtreme Adventure:

Hiking the GR 20 Part 1 - Beyond Boundaries

4 thoughts on “GR 20 Etape 4: Ascu Stagnu to Ballone [is Monte Cinto really better than Cirque de la Solitude?]

  1. Pingback: GR 20 Etape 3: Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu [helicopter rescue & thunderstorms] | Best regards from far,

  2. Pingback: GR 20: Prologue | Best regards from far,

  3. Il devait faire frisquet là haut. Et cela a du être compliqué de faire les sacs pour l’été et pour le froid. Les pâtes ont certainement été un grand réconfort.

  4. Pingback: GR 20 Etape 5: Ballone to Castel del Vergio [why this is better than Tighettu to Ciottulu] | Best regards from far,

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