Crossing Corsica, Walking The GR20 - By Brian Richardson
By: Norma Green
This wasn't a walk in the park, or a stroll along the Pennine Way - clearly and necessarily Brian did a great deal of meticulous planning and preparation for his epic walk along the GR20 in Corsica. He provided interesting detail on all 16 days of his walk, supported by a screen presentation of maps and beautiful photographs taken en route. The grand distance covered was 130.49 miles. This write-up will hardly do justice to his achievement.
The GR20 follows a few ridges and valley paths, but there are high alpine variants which entail considerable ascent and descent along rocky ridges. We soon discovered that when this option was available, Brian took it! Variants may be way-marked with cairns or paint, but not by the red/white mark unique to GR. There were photos where it was obvious that 'spot the waymark' was a good game, but the walk was done in the good old-fashioned way with the aid of maps and not with a GPS. The icing on the cake for Brian was the fact that he climbed additional mountains off the main route - just a quick scramble up before breakfast or before the evening meal!
The GR20 is generally walked from north to south, but Brian chose to do it from south to north, Conca to Calenzana. His reasons: it was early summer and the higher mountains at the north would still have unknown quantities of snow and ice, so starting at Conca would allow approximately 10 extra days of warmer weather to reduce this possible hazard. Spring flowers would be opening too, and glare would be less with the sun behind him. Altitude varied between 1300 and 2300 metres with the highest peak at 2706 metres. Brian was walking alone, but met others en route or at refuges and he linked up with fellow walkers on occasions to climb a peak or for company on a walking day.
On Day 1 Brian's packed rucksack weighed 18 kg including 3 litres of water. He carried a tent which was used on a few occasions when a refuge was busy. This day covered 19 km climbing 1670 metres and descending 700 metres - the graph of today's section looked like a child's naive drawing of mountains. In fact the whole GR route profile with alpine variants resembled a turbulent ECG! Many days were very long, starting around 6.30am and walking varied terrain, but there was no typical day and it just isn't possible here to recreate the whole journey, but I will pick out a few days to highlight the variety of the trek.
Day 6 Capanelle to Vizzavona 16 km - was unusual in that Brian left Campanelle early to complete the 16 km walk to Vizzavona by lunchtime. This day was a predominantly contour hugging day through forest with 335m climbing and 1000 descent. At Vizzavona he booked into a gîte d'ètape then waited for a train to take him to Corte in order to draw cash from an ATM. With no telephone contact in most mountain refuges, it was imperative Brian had enough cash for the rest of the trip. Mission accomplished, and after a quick look around Corte, Brian returned by train to Capanelle. The scenic train ride with its looping track descending into and ascending out of Corte was an interesting diversion mid walk.
Day 8 A 5.30am start to a long day following a variant and ending with a peak. There were rocky and steeply undulating serras for 8 km to the Refuge Petra Piana which was reached at midday. After claiming a bed and having a snack lunch, Brian set off with water, head torch and anorak to climb Monte Rotondo, 2270m. En route he was pleased to meet the refuge guardienne returning from a 'stroll' and be able to tell him he would be back around 7.30pm. There were snowfields at the first arête col at 2300m and Brian described the Lavu Bellabone as being "scantily dressed in ice". After spending some time on the peak he left at 5pm for the descent. The snowfield was beginning to freeze and he felt happier once back across the arête. Arriving back in time for dinner, he shared a celebratory carafe with others at the table.
Day 11 Paglia Orba 2525m. Brian had met a Scots lady, Terri, who lived in Corsica. They arranged to climb together the following morning, leaving at 6am. Paglia Orba is very craggy, formed from russet coloured pebbly brechia rock that Brian said he found fascinating to see, touch and climb. The photographs showed stunning scenery and the most amazing view across to the sister mountain Capu Tafunatu with its see-through arch in the narrow ridge. Brian and Terri were back down by 9am and after breakfast Brian started his day's walk to Refuge Tighiettu crossing Bocca di Foggiale at 2005m and descending on crumbly broken rocks to the forest path below at 1400m. Phew.
Day 13 A whole day dedicated to Monte Cinto, Corsica's highest at 2706. A day sack route which Brian climbed with a fellow walker as a day off! The route was apparently not difficult, though care was necessary on loose ground on the approach and return from the first ridge, then scrambling and hands-on climbing of rocky crags with the route being ill-defined at about 2300m. Not difficult? Sounds tough enough to me!
Brian's aspirations for the GR20 walk were to follow the alpine variants and to climb the three highest peaks, allowing a whole day for Corsica's highest mountain, Monte Cinto. He was lucky with the weather, as we saw from the lovely photos, and he achieved all his goals. He lost 15lbs in weight. Brian modestly did not mention the fact that just 18 months previously he had undergone two knee replacements, but when Helen gently pointed this out during the questions afterwards, he did enlarge on his strict regime to recover his fitness after the operation. Thank you for an excellent and inspiring talk Brian, the walk of which you must be justifiably proud.