Haut Asco to Auberge U Vallone
June 21, 2014
This was the big day, Stage 4 – The Cirque de la Solitude, the claimed hardest day of the GR20. Leaving the hotel at 6:15AM it was a beautiful crisp morning with clear blue skies. The wind had picked up and blew the entire day. Fortunately the cirque was protected from the wind. Fighting the early stages of a cold, this wasn’t the day to not be 100%. Nevertheless, I felt well enough to walk and I wasn’t going to waste a gorgeous day.
The climb up to the old Altore refuge meanders through the woods and then climbs gently up the valley, beautifully lit in the early morning light.
Nearing the ridge at the top of the valley the climb gets steeper and rockier with patches of trail still under snow. But don’t be fooled! This ridge is not the top.
Just beyond is the site of the old refuge and beyond that another even steeper rocky climb to Col (pass) Perdu, the start of the cirque. Larger sections of the trail here were still under snow.
At the pass there is a queue to descend into the cirque. It’s slow going and some hikers are slower than others. I didn’t find the descent too difficult and spent a fair amount of time waiting for the people in front of us to get off the chains that assist the hikers down the steeper section.
A lot of it I could do scootching on my butt without much aid of chains, maybe not the most elegant way to descend but quite effective. In any case it’s helpful to be fairly agile with some knowledge of rappelling.
Past the chains it’s a stony descent down to the bottom and across a snow bridge.
The climb up for me was more difficult, especially since I was not feeling well. This side of the cirque has a more extensive section of chains and it seems everyone coming from both directions has descended on the chains at the same time. Personally I’m happy to have the queue giving me the chance to rest a little between ascents and snap a few pics. Still, it’s long and hard in my weakened condition.
Past the chains the rock climb continues, turning into a slog up a steep rocky track, the upper portions of which are still under snow. Take care as someone reportedly fell to his death the week before when the snow gave way under his feet.
We emerge at Bocca Minuta nearly six hours after we left the hotel this morning, two hours longer than the guide book estimates.
The slog down to the Refuge de Tighjettu and then down to the Auberge u Vallone is long and rocky. What else would it be?
Sometimes on a stony steep track, sometimes scrambling on boulders or traversing slabs.
However, it’s a scenic river valley and both the refuge and the auberge have camping spaces near a pretty river with abundant small cascades and swimming holes.
Auberge U Vallone
The auberge is not one of the National Park Refuges, but rather a small restaurant that offers meals, places to pitch a tent and beds in a tented dormitory. The setting is one of the prettiest on the GR20. Mountain peaks tower above and a picturesque river runs below with ample tent spaces along its bank.
The restaurant offers a pre fixe dinner menu for 21€, there is also a demi-pension option available. However, breakfast service doesn’t start until 6:30AM and they don’t have a self-service option for those who want to hit the trail earlier.
The set dinner menu included a choice of soup, charcuterie or salad. The soup was actually quite good, a thick bean broth with potatoes, pasta, beans and pork. The main course was a pasta dish with veal and mushrooms that was meatier and more flavorful than the typical refuge fare. Dessert was a choice of fresh fruit or cheese.
Very few trail provisions were on sale at the bar, however, you can order a take-away picnic lunch. A better option is to eat or pick up provisions the next day at Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori.
*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.