We slowly wake up in the warmth of the dry stone house after our best night by far on the GR 20. The storm seems to be a distant memory as blue skies contrast greatly with the surrounding greenery. The best of the bergerie (sheepfold) de Vaccaghja has yet to come with our first warm shower in a week that is a much appreciated break from the ice-cold and not-so-clean showers of the refuges! As we are enjoying our filling breakfast before heading out, Noël is already milking his sheep to prepare some more cheese. Warm thank-you’s, quick goodbyes. Off we go.
It is already late as another thunderstorm is forecasted for the early afternoon, but late enough for the snow to be softer on the tricky firns we will have to cross. After a challenging and relatively quick uphill passing the refuge of Manganu, the patches of the snow appear soon.
Past the col Bocca alle Porte we hardly pay attention to the risky firns ahead of us as the altitude lakes of Capitellu and Melo dazzle us by their emerald colours in this rocky world. We soon get back to our senses and start evolving on the soft snow. It gets delicate fast: a good part of the trail is still hidden by a thick layer of snow almost merging with a quasi-vertical rock slab. As we slowly make progress walking the ridge-line of the firn with our heavy backpacks glued to the smooth rock surface in order to counterbalance our weight, we can hear the snow melting. The gap between its ridgeline and the rock only seems to get larger and more dangerous. We are relieved as soon as our feet touch the firm rocks following the next visible and reassuring red and white marks of the GR 20.
Since the sky gets darker fast we push our pace and rapidly cross the other dozen or so of firns on our way. Happy to plunge into the next valley hoping to stay away from the thunder, we end up in a thick cloud with low visibility. After a while going from trail marker to trail marker the refuge of Petra Piana reveals itself through the fog. It seems to be standing on a mud field.
Escaping the cold we step into the kitchen area where noodles and coffees warm us up slowly from inside. It is only getting worse outside and a heavy rain soaks the already pitched tents. Hikers are piling up in the 15m2 kitchen that is the only accessible sheltered area. Not inspired by the not-welcoming refuge, as soon as the rain stops, we head out to climb down 850 metres of elevation and find blue skies, sun and a sheepfold at Tolla!
By deciding to look for a more comfortable and warmer bivouac, hence skipping Petra Piana (one of the oldest built in the 1970’s and in real need for a makeover), we make Stage 7 longer than initially planned. The downhill is rather easy and goes fast with refreshing moments along the river before a last uphill to the refuge de l’Onda that is also a bergerie.
The kind owners welcome us, and we are happy to enjoy the most famous homemade lasagnes of the whole GR 20 to take some strength for the next day, the last one on the Northern section of the GR!
Marcella & Claire
- 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.
- As explained on Stage 6, we strongly recommend stopping at the bergerie of Vaccaghja (and if not to spend the night, at least to buy some cheese and myrtle!) that is very close to the refuge of Manganu.
- It consists in doubling the stage, but we recommend to skip the refuge of Pietra Piana (in desperate need for a renovation), and go down for a warmer night in a nicer setting. If you don’t want to push to L’Onda and its famous lasagnes and kind hosts, bergerie de Tolla is an option where you can pitch your tent (no accommodation). Even if this stage is a bit long, it is well balanced as the last stretch is a long and easy downhill before the last uphill to L’Onda.
- 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: