June 25, 2014
We’ve been hunkered down in the tent for the last two hours waiting for the thunderstorm to pass. We hold our hands up against the ceiling of the tent, the only thing protecting us from the pouring rain, to help support it during the strong gusts of wind. Every so often there is a calm moment and we wonder if this is it? Is it finally over? And then we hear a crack of thunder, followed by the deafening pelting of rain against the tent and we raise our arms up again to help brace the structure.
At this moment it is hard to believe that just yesterday I was writing huddled in the sliver of shade from a boulder to protect myself from the strong rays of the afternoon sun.
Last night at midnight I poked my head outside the tent to a star filled sky. By 5AM we were cloaked in fog. The weather forecast (we had cell coverage on the phone) was predicting possible morning thunderstorms, clearing a bit, with the possibility of more thunderstorms in the afternoon. Not the day to take the shorter and more scenic high route that follows a ridge now completely concealed in clouds.
We packed up our belongings in the fog and head down the steep stony valley trail, not able to see much beyond the next red and white blaze. After half an hour or so we descend below the clouds and are able to see the valley floor.
Great waterfalls tumble from the mountain tops heavy with the late spring runoff. We follow the river downstream, first along the exposed valley slope and then through a pine forest.
Mesmerized by the enchanting pools and cascades I don’t mind the occasional bursts of rain.
The path finally levels off and we reach the Bergeries de Tolla at a moment when the rain has subsided. We both order coffee and get a loaf of bread, some of the local lonzu – a type of smoke pork loin – and a local chèvre (goat cheese) both sold by the pound. With the skimpy offerings available at some of the refuges we bought enough for lunch for the next two days.
The bridge just beyond the bergeries offers more great views of the river’s pools and cascades. The sun even pokes through long enough that we put on sun screen, but we are soon plunged back into the dark woods, a messy beech forest that is not as welcoming as the open pine forest on the other side of the stream.
The trail marches up, first on an old forest road and then on a rocky trail that although stony is not too steep.
An hour and a half past the bridge we climb to the clearing that leads to the Bergeries de l’Onda.
We hurry and put up the tent just in case, and eat a little something while tucked out of the wind between the rocks of a nearby outcropping.
Soon the sky grows dark, a clap of thunder and we run to the tent to throw in the bedding and whatever else we think of at that moment.
Now another hour has passed. It is still raining, although the thunder has dissipated some and the bursts of rain have lost some intensity. The end is in sight.
The rain and wind lasted until 5PM, 4 hours from when we first entered the tent. The weather continued to be turbulent for the rest of the evening with low clouds blowing through and the occasional blue sky in the distance.
Two young couples we had met on the trail doubled these last two stages, starting at Refuge de Manganu this morning. Despite the bad weather they easily completed stage 7 in about five hours but saw little because of the fog. On stage 8 they took the low route as we had and were on track to finish it in three hours, but with the heavy afternoon rain the stream had swelled and they were forced to cross further upstream in waist-high water.
Refuge de l’Onda
It’s a funny place with the tent area enclosed by a fence to keep out the cattle, horses and goats. Not as an inviting of a setting in which to camp as at some of the other refuges.
The goats come down from the hills at feeding time and run past the enclosed camping area and then back again. I was happy to have the fence.
The Lasagna dinner at this refuge is the most well-known of all the refuge dinners on the GR20. Upon arrival you reserve your place for dinner and are given a receipt. At 6:30PM you bring the receipt to the counter and they give you a plate, fork and spoon and tell you your assigned table.
The cozy dining room holds 50, crammed into four tables along the windowed wall and another large table that runs the length of the room. Rather than family style, Monsieur Gardien, fills each plate individually, first with a vegetable and pasta soup –overcooked but filling. Empty bowls are passed to the end of the table, like students in a dining hall, filled and then returned.
Then comes out the famed lasagna. Monsieur brings out a baking dish with a four-inch thick spinach lasagna that serves 25 generous portions. It’s a cheesy concoction surprisingly not too rich and with great spinach flavor. The piece seems immense on my plate but everyone eats every bite. For hungry hikers this is one of the great pleasures of the trail – guilt free eating.
The atmosphere is convivial. People, mostly French, crammed together chatting and sharing experiences.
The lasagna is followed by more cheese, a house made chèvre (remember all the goats?) rather bland and not as good as previous cheeses at other refuges. Oranges are passed around for dessert. The house wine is rather rough.
Breakfast was the easiest yet. We arrived at the dining room at 6AM, no reservation required. At this hour only one other group of four was there. We order our coffee and were served minutes later the usual French breakfast – butter, jam and a nice bread, much fresher than most.
*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.