June 24, 2014
Amazing stars at 2AM with the Milky Way clearly visible. Slept very well and woke ready to conquer another hard day. Today we cross the highest point on the trail. I’m not coughing quite as much but my throat and lungs are still raw.
The morning started with a long hike up the valley and up the peaks to cross the Brèche (gap) de Capitellu. Walking into the sun with sun still behind the peaks it is not the most scenic of morning starts. Coming down this section in the afternoon light following the stream would be more picturesque.
This ascent is a hard climb up the typical stony trail with minor sections of rock scrambling and quite a few snowy patches at the top.
Ahead of us we watch the military regiment plod up the snowy slope and disappear through the gap.
Once we reach the gap ourselves we meet the sunshine waiting on the other side as well as a precarious crossing across the top of a patch of snow that slopes down a scary cliff. A cord attached to the rock aids the traverse across this section but looking down it feels as if one wrong step and you’ll slip to your death down the cliff face. Don assures me that the slushy snow will catch your fall. Still better watch your step!
The German behind me urges me to give up the trekking poles and hold on to the cord with both hands. Step by step we make it through the scariest section of the entire trek. I found out later at the refuge that there is an alternate route between the peaks that bypasses this section.
Once we are safely on rock and I can breathe again, the majesty of the sunlit peaks starts to sink in.
Crocus abound in the wet grassy earth between the boulders.
The track continues up and down the ridge and ends up on the mountain slope facing the gap we emerged from. Water everywhere from the melting snow creating numerous streams running down the mountain side. It’s difficult, with frequent rock scrambles and snowy patches to cross.
I hate the snow, especially in late spring. You never know what’s underneath it. Maybe nothing as you sink or fall into a crevice. But I’m too distracted by the views of the jagged peaks all around, the lakes below, and the valley that extends to distant mountain chains. These moments are why we hike the GR20.
Once around the ridge and on the facing mountain side the track continues to be rough crossing more boulders, screes and snowy patches.
Another steep uphill on a rocky track leads to a more level track through a long snow section. The scenery is stunning as we leave the highest peaks behind.
Icebergs float in the deep blue lake far below the trail. Although I curse walking in the snow it adds definition to the craggy slopes.
The day overall is clear and sunny but hazier than other days. More thundershowers are expected for the next day.
Past Bocca Muzzella we leave the more dramatic views behind and descend down to Refuge de Petra Piana.
You guessed it! It’s your typical stony steep track mixed with easier more level sections, some scrambling involved. Just above the refuge the trail becomes a cascade of melting snow.
Refuge de Petra Piana
With views of Monte d’Oro in front and a roaring waterfall behind, the refuge has a fabulous setting. The terrain is rocky and open and tenters must find spots wedged between the rocks. A stream runs to the right of the refuge with more tent spaces available.
Facilities include showers and two squat toilets.
The camp was already crowded when we arrived at 2:30PM as people coming from the south had a short day.
The status of dinner was unknown upon our arrival as the guardian was due in by helicopter sometime that afternoon and they didn’t know if he would arrive in time to prepare the evening meal. At around 4PM the helicopter arrived and soon after we were able to confirm that “yes” dinner would be served at 6:30PM.
They don’t have much seating space and make do setting up tables with scraps of wood placed over wooden supports.
Dinner, 18€, served family style, was surprisingly good – white beans flavored with pork fat served with thick slabs of deep fried bacon, hunks of local cheese, and sliced “Wonder” type bread. Canned pear halves for dessert. May sound heavy, but trekkers need the calories.
For breakfast, 7€, we were given a box with a plastic bottle filled with enough coffee to fill two bowls, half a loaf of sliced white bread, and the usual sugar, butter and jam with the added treat of a package of honey. The small refuge kitchen was not crowded at 5:15AM.
*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.