June 20, 2014
Slept well, 8PM to 5AM, after taking ibu PM and woke with the sore throat I suspected that I was coming down with. Don also was a bit under the weather. He laid around in the tent with his rain jacket on yesterday afternoon, not a good sign.
By 6AM about half the camp has already left. It’s a beautiful morning, but cool. I walk in my fleece pullover for the first half hour or so. The trail is mostly in the shade across the Spasimata Slabs until we near the first pass.
It is a hard, slow climb made more difficult by snow runoff and remnants of the past days’ showers. The flowing water, however, adds a certain photogenic element and the area would be stunning in better light. In general, the slabs were not too arduous and we didn’t need most of the cables they have in place to assist hikers.
The ridge we’ve been climbing towards for the past three hours turns out to be a false top as the trail continues up more steep jagged boulders and slabs. We rest at the small Muvrella Lake looking back at Cavli, clearly visible on the coast, and then up to contemplate the new top.
We continue up more steep rocky trail still under snow in places, but no more than a dozen steps at a time. It’s the first time we’ve actually had to walk in the snow, but it won’t be the last.
When we finally arrive at the top of the pass it’s a traffic jam. Groups of trekkers coming in both directions trying to pass each other at a narrow rocky section of the trail with another group picnicking on a nearby outcropping. But that’s the culture of the GR20. At times, there are long trains of hikers climbing or descending the steep rocky trail. At other times you encounter very few people, usually later in the day when everyone has settled into their spot in the queue for the day.
We next traverse a rocky ridge. Scrambling up and down the going is slow, but the sky is blue and the views spectacular.
At Bocca a i Stagni, the last highpoint of the day is another clot of people as hikers stop to picnic, snap photos or just take in the views before the long descent.
The long descent is just that – long and rocky with a fair amount of scrambling down to Haut Asco which can be seen from the top but took us an hour and 45 minutes to reach. Despite the scrambling I found it easier than the day before as few sections were on loose scree. A beautiful setting with the snowy jagged peaks above the ski station always in view.
Near the bottom, there is a forest of the large laricio pine trees we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at lower elevations. We soak in the scent of the pines, the dry air and the soft warm breeze as we reach Asco.
Haut Asco – Hôtel le Chalet
Without a reservation we head for the hotel. They have a room for us, 75€ per person with demi-pension, but it won’t be ready until after 2:30PM.
We lunch on their terrace that takes full advantage of the mountain views.
Special salad of the day – salmon with local broccui cheese and a cheese omelet along with two well-deserved large beers.
Rooms at the chalet are basic but clean and comfortable. Best yet, the bathrooms are new and include a large sink and a towel warming rack, great for a little inter-trek laundry. TV, but no phone or internet.
Dinner service starts at 7:30PM. The dining room fills fast, but a table has been reserved for us. Although it is only staffed by a couple of servers, the service is friendly and efficient.
The cozy low ceilinged dining room with a stone wall and wood furniture is a welcome change from the refuges.
The demi-pension menu includes – vegetable soup – an OK pureed soup that at least tasted homemade and not reconstituted, salad with canned tuna, boiled eggs and tomato, a moist chicken quarter served piping hot with a mustard sauce and rice, and to end a coffee flavored cream dessert – light and not too sweet. The hotel has a good selection of Corsican wine.
The breakfast service started at 5:30AM. The posted time, however, was 6:30. If you want to leave earlier you can get a tray the night before. Tables in the bar area were set with jam, butter and baskets of bread and croissants. There is a small self-service buffet in the corner of the room.
The real hang up, however, was the queue at the coffee machine as it takes nearly a minute to produce one café au lait. In the morning it seems there is always a queue for something that will thwart an early departure.
*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.