Restarting the GR20 Stage 1* – Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, Corsica, France

June 18, 2014

After three nights on the coast we were anxious to start the trail again. Hopefully the storm system that had caused us to bail on the trail four days earlier has now moved through. For now, 6:15AM at the trailhead in Calenzana, it’s a crisp clear morning.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

The taxi ordered the night before by the hotel receptionist turned out to be an Audi Q7 with a leather interior at a cost of 40€ for the 13 minute drive to Calenzana.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

The track stayed in the shade most of the day as it climbed into the mountains. The first three and half hours up to the Bocca (pass) u Saltu is through thick vegetation. The climb is steep in places but no real rock scrambling until past this point.

Bocca u Saltu

Bocca u Saltu

GR20 Stage 1 day 7 GR20 Stage 1 day 7 GR20 Stage 1 day 7

The most intense scrambling of the day is a short distance past the pass where the trail climbs a series of granite outcroppings. The scrambles are steep but nothing too technical, a couple of chains aid in places. Here the forest opens up returning to the vegetation we had been seeing in the mountains of the southern half of the trail.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

The clouds started rolling in about 10AM shortly after we left the first pass. It’s a fairly steep slog to the Bocca a u Bassiguellu. From here the trail levels out some with short scrambles over the occasional rock outcropping. The clouds ebb and flow and in and out of the valley as we follow a ridge towards the refuge.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

View of Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

View of Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

The refuge can be seen in the distance across an imposing gully. It then disappears in a bank of clouds only to reemerge a few moments later.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

The final descent down to the head of the valley and the push back up the other side is rocky in places but fairly easy compared to some refuge ascents.

At 12:30PM, 10 minutes after reaching the refuge, it starts to rain and continues to rain off and on for the next several hours. Claps of thunder can be heard in the distance.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

During the inclement weather the trekkers huddle in the small main room of the refuge. As new trekkers arrive dripping wet from the trail, backpacks and bodies are moved around to make space for the new comers.

GR20 Stage 1 day 7

By 3PM the rain had stopped enough to set up the tent though the wind continues until about 5 PM as thunderheads roll across the late afternoon sky.

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

The woman who runs the refuge is very pleasant but authoritative as she tries to make room for everyone and keep the refuge reasonably organized. She was out of most every food product except for chocolate bars, homemade tabouli and homemade cake – both of which were quite good.

Camping spots run down the hill from of the refuge on level areas enclosed with rocks.

Toilets and showers are reasonably clean with separate men’s and women’s facilities.

Dinner, 20€, is served family style starting with Corsican soup – a thickened mystery broth, bread, lentils with figatellu – a type of smoked liver sausage, and a generous portion of cake. Pitchers of wine are also available.

Breakfast, 10€, is a rather sad affair – stale bread slices, a box of juice (nice touch), a package of instant coffee, a pat of butter and a small container of jelly. One of the worst breakfast values of the entire trail.

*Note: The GR20 consists of 15 or 16 stages over 118 miles, generally done north to south starting in Calenzana and ending in Conca. For this blog I’ve retained the commonly used stage numbers from the Cicerone Guide Book even though we did the stages out of order, starting in the south stages 15-10 and then restarting in the north 1-9.

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