Heading South on the GR20 is the direction most people travel, and while you could go against the flow I preferred this direction for getting the difficult bits out of the way first. Or at least the most difficult, as there isn’t exactly anything easy about the GR20.
The first three days on the route are useful for testing skills in the group and for working out a suitable pace to be able to ascend 1000m+ each day and not end up out of breath.
We had to carry over night kit (sleeping bags etc) on these days as the two refuges do not have road access.
Day 1 – Calenzana to Refuge Ortu di u Piobbu 6 hours 15
Distance 10km approx with 1295m ascent and 50m descent
We left Calenzana at 9am collecting fresh bread from the bakery en route out of the village. The route starts to climb almost immediately as we left and zig zags through woodland with great views out to Calvi and the coast to distract us as we walked.
We stopped in the woodland for lunch and then continued up, crossing the col at Bocca a u Saltu. From here the path becomes more rocky and requires a bit of scrambling – it seemed a bit daunting to the novices in the group but considering what was to come, this was only a simple test. There is no exposure though on this scrambling so its relatively easy going.
As the path crossed a small gully the first chain of the GR20 is here to aid a down climb of a small rock.
There’s not much downhill to reach to the refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, our first stop on the route. We arrived at 3.15pm having spent quite a bit of time having lunch and breaks throughout the day.
Quite a few tents were already pitched when we arrived but having gone with a guide we already had bunks in the dormitory booked. The refuge is basic but clean and as with all refuges on the route, had thick mattresses.
The only downside to the refuge is the long walk to the toilet from the dormitory, but the food was good and the bed comfy. I’d packed a 3 season sleeping bag thinking it would get cold at night. Sleeping in the dorm this wasn’t the case at all and halfway through the night I found myself grateful for having carrier a thin liner with me too.
Day 2 – To Carrozu 7hrs 45
Distance approx 8km with ascent 750m descent 1050m
We took the high level route to Carrozu from the refuge. Having started walking at 7.30am after a breakfast of stale bread and jam (get used to it!) we weren’t exactly set up for the days walk.
The route heads through the woodland before contouring around the hillside to the Cirque de Bonifatu. Already the walking had turned into picking our way through rocks and scrambling upwards, but thankfully there wasn’t a great deal of ascent today.
The view across the valley was amazing as we contoured around the Cirque.
There’s a few awkward steps to do here but nothing too challenging, but it does slow you down.
The descent down to the refuge at Carrozu is a steep scree path which is rocky and bouldery and is a good initiation into the descents to follow on the GR20.
Carozzu hut is tucked away in a clearing in the woodland and with its balcony overlooking the valley below and the smell of incense it felt a little more relaxed than the previous night. Again, a long walk to the loo from the dorm passed the camping area, but at least they are entertaining eco toilets with a very interesting cartoon to read describing how they work. (I should have taken a picture!)
Day 3 – To Asco 7 hours 15
Distance approx 6km with ascent 860m descent 710m
We awoke early and set off walking at 7.30am, which was a blessing as the sun was scorching hot very early in the day. Straight out of the refuge we headed through the woodland, scrambling over rocks and using chains to head around to the river and crossing the suspension bridge.
Once over the other side we continued to use chains to ascend the valley up the Spasimata gorge, a really spectacular valley. The chains seemed a little unnecessary in places but the slabs are huge and in wet weather I can imagine are treacherous.
The ascent became slower as we reached the top – out of the shade and into the hot sunshine and had started to have to pick our way over the rocks. So it was a welcome relief when we reached Lac de la Muvrella for a lunch stop and to dip our feet.
From the lake the route became scree and large boulders till we reached the pass and after circling the valley we began our steep descent into Asco. Whilst the buildings of Asco are visible quite quickly it seemed to take us a very long time to get down to them, well over an hour. By which point delirium felt like it was setting in and I thought I’d seen a marmot under the large tree! (its a tree stump!)
Asco felt like a treat after 2 nights in refuges as we had twin rooms with hot showers and an indoor loo! As well as great food and an opportunity to wash clothes. Discussions then turned to the day ahead of us and tackling the infamous Cirque de Solitude.