A Trekking Adventure: The Corsican journey
Sometimes hostile and dangerous, the mountain fascinates by its beauty and immensity! Many people are attracted by this limitless playground, which allows them to return to simple and authentic things. In fact, the reason I appreciate nature and its wide open spaces so highly, is that it reminds us how small we are. For once, the Man must bow down and remain humble.
Of course, there are thousands of places where you can experience the wild beauty of nature without going very far from home. Between France and Italy, in the middle of the Mediterranean, there is an island that perfectly embodies this wild splendour: Corsica. A real mountain in the middle of the sea, with no less than 120 peaks at an altitude of more than 2000m! There, mountains are vigorous and accentuated. It’s not surprising if its summits attract mountain lovers of all kinds all year long.It’s in the middle of these mountains that the GR20, which crosses all of Corsica from northwest to southeast, is renowned as one of the hardest treks in Europe.
Before leaving, you have to know who to leave with. In such an adventure, you are sometimes pushed to your limits and the mood is not always that happy. It is precisely for this reason that leaving with one or more companions is important. Beyond the security aspect, it’s also a chance to share an adventure, emotions and sensations that are so difficult to transcribe once back home. Leaving in pairs seems ideal, but it’s still necessary to choose carefully with whom you are leaving. It is about living together 24 hours a day with almost no privacy and perhaps difficult moments. Choosing the right travel partner is about leaving with someone who has the same vision of the project as you and eventually the same abilities. Once you have found the ideal team mate, it’s all about pleasure. You will support each other in difficult moments, share the delights together, share a real human adventure. In our case, a shared journey between cousins.
Together with Paul, we decided to embark on this journey of nearly 200km, made of 16 stages. We have chosen to leave in complete autonomy: bivouac and food in the backpack. It was important for us to be completely self-sufficient, this means total freedom on how to complete the route and on the choice of the different options during the stages. It also allowed us to focus on the essentials and take only the bare minimum. Since weight is of crucial importance, we have carefully chosen each element and have equipped ourselves with technical and light equipment. Salewa has been a great help in this regard. We left with bags of about 18kg each. This included three outfits, about 10kg of food for the both of us, tents and sleeping bags, photo equipment and a capacity of about 3l of water per person.
The first few days are setting the trend: the reliefs are abrupt and massive. The northern part of the trek is very technical, the stages are shorter but the terrain is steep and not very accessible. We follow the famous white and red marks of the GR which guide us on steep slopes where we would not venture without directions! It is wild and very quickly the vegetation becomes scarce to give way to rock piles. The landscapes are magnificent, there is an epic side to the panoramas: powerful and large, the mountains overlap as far as the eye can see. At the bottom the sea is omnipresent, reminding us that we are on an island. We are doubling almost all the stages, which means that we have to keep a relatively sustained walking pace to reach the refuge or sheepfold before the end of the day because wild camping is prohibited in Corsica. Therefore, we pitch our Litetrek Pro tent in the spaces provided to camp. It is the opportunity to meet companions for one evening or to share the day with the companions found the day before. On the GR20 we meet hikers of all nationalities, for a stopover, a shared dinner. There is this father and his son who want to experience a sporting and intense experience. This Parisian who needs to find with himself. Georges and Benjamin, this Normand retiree and his nephew, who met for the occasion. We are meeting all kinds of inspiring and enthusiasts people. The objectives and motivations are different for everyone. But it is a common passion for the mountains and a desire for adventure that connect us all on the steep Corsican routes.
Our tent is our home! Despite cold nights at high altitudes, we appreciate its insulation. The three crossing hoops on which the double roof is fixed remain outside, it is surprising but it is effective, it is impressively stable in high winds. The apse at the entrance of the tent is large enough to accommodate and protect our two bags. We are not too tight together and we even have a little space on our feet to keep with us the things that fear humidity (my camera in particular!). Its biggest advantage remains its weight: 1.7kg! Knowing that our duvets weigh 850g, it is the happiness to have such a light sleeping combo!
Like many mountain activities, weather conditions are a significant factor in determining whether or not the trip will be successful. As for us, we are very lucky because the conditions are favorable so that we can do the entire GR in a timely way. The weather might have prevented us from overtaking some stages, which were too dangerous in bad weather. Once at the top, the clouds on the horizon remind us that we reached the top only because they accepted it. In a world where the general consciousness finally considers the protection of the vulnerable nature as a priority, autonomous trekking is an ideal way to explore and enjoy a holiday. We are taking the time to admire every detail of the beauty of nature and we will be surprised by the diversity of the landscapes that we can see in a single day. Every bivouac, every pass, every grandiose landscape is deserved and expected. It’s the pleasure of rediscovering the distances that we are able to travel only through the strength of our body. By walking, in this way, in autonomy where Man has allowed nature to keep its place, we become aware of the fragile balance of nature. We learn to respect it by leaving no trace of our passage, no waste or food on the ground, only the footprint of our shoes in our trail, like a snail with its house on its back. This way of travelling, of adventure is about returning to a simple way of life that is sometimes difficult but also comfortable in its own way.
Water is quite generous in Corsica: torrents, rivers and waterfalls dig the relief. Mountain lakes and pozzins are also found along the GR20: vast natural meadows irrigated by springs. Nevertheless, sources are rarer on the GR's route and at the end of the summer, they are often dry. It is therefore necessary to anticipate the water reserves when leaving the camp every morning. Thus, we each have four flanges and a water pocket. On average, we each drink 4 litres of water per day. Every lunchtime, we have a snack based on Corsican bread and sausage. In the evening we end with a freeze-dried meal in the tent. We have one a day and have opted for double portion formulas that we were sharing. For each 250g sachet, we have an average of 1080g of rehydrated food. Simple, copious and diversified meals! From time to time, we are tempted by extras in the huts: bread loaf and goat cheese have a special flavour after a long day, as good for the body as it is for the soul!
While the northern part was particularly technical and rugged, the south is much more accessible! Beyond the terrain, the landscapes also change radically: in the first few days, vegetation was so rare that we sometimes thought we were on the moon. In the South, the mountains are more hospitable and the forests are also much more numerous: we collect handfuls of wild blackberries there, it's pure happiness. The GR20 also offers us encounters with local wildlife. In particular the sheep of the Upper Asco, an emblematic and endemic animal of the valley, not very visible. The jackdaw, the sheep or the solitary cows that can be found in unlikely and steep places.
We are following long levelling curves and ridge paths that limit the positive/negative gradient. The view on the massive red acres of the south with the sea in the background is sublime and pushes us to advance in the scrubland. After nine days of walking, and a final descent we are reaching the top of the small village of Conca. There we arrive to the sign that marks the conclusion of the GR20: we have reached the end of our "odyssey". An intense and so beautiful adventure on an atypical path. The Corsican journey is coming to an end, a true journey out of time where, in the calm of the hills, we find ourselves. This is “Pure Moutain”.