Corsica Trekking GR20by David Abram
A mountain range rising from the sea, Corsica holds the most arrestingly beautiful landscapes in the Mediterranean. From its cobalt blue gulfs and shell-sand beaches, hillsides of evergreen maquis give way to pristine oak, chestnut and pine forests, awesome gorges, alpine lakes and a spine of snow-streaked peaks and passes. Among the many trails that penetrate its… See more details below
A mountain range rising from the sea, Corsica holds the most arrestingly beautiful landscapes in the Mediterranean. From its cobalt blue gulfs and shell-sand beaches, hillsides of evergreen maquis give way to pristine oak, chestnut and pine forests, awesome gorges, alpine lakes and a spine of snow-streaked peaks and passes. Among the many trails that penetrate its remotest corners, the GR20, following the island's watershed, is a high-level route that has won an international reputation as being Europe's most challenging long-distance path.
- Trailblazer Publications
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 4.80(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)
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Introduction‘Une montagne dans la mer’ is how Corsica is often described, but ‘a range of mountains in the sea’ would be a more accurate tag. Rising to 2706m (8876ft) at its highest point (more than double the height of Ben Nevis) the island’s interior comprises a vast jumble of snow-streaked peaks and deep, forested valleys reminiscent of continental Europe at its most rugged. Imagine such a wilderness surrounded by a vivid blue sea and a string of shell-sand beaches, with views that on clear days extend to the distant Alps and Tuscany, and you’ll understand why many regard Corsica’s landscapes to be quite simply the most astounding in all the Mediterranean.Stringing together the scenic highlights of the island’s mountainous core, the GR20 is the most illustrious of all France’s long-distance waymarked routes. Around 18,000 mountain enthusiasts attempt it each year. Barely half, however, manage all 16 stages between Calenzana in the north and Conca in the south, a total distance of around 170km. The first three days alone, which involve a relentless series of ascents and descents of over 1250m, claim a drop-out rate rivalling that of the French Foreign Legion.Physical challenges aside, the essence of the ‘big GR’s’ appeal lies in the fact that, perhaps more than any other comparable walk in Europe, it takes you to places normally only accessible with ropes. Wriggling along the island’s jagged watershed, it links ancient transhumant paths between valleys with a series of astonishing ridge-top traverses from where the full beauty of the Corsican interior is revealed. That these high, exposed sections over bare rock are rarely more taxing than an easy scramble is testament largely to the ingenuity of one man, the alpinist Michel Fabrikant, who devised the GR20 in the 1970s.These days, under the stewardship of Corsica’s Parc Naturel Regional (PNRC), Fabrikant’s red-and-white waymarked route is as well set up as it was conceived. Between each of its étapes stand staffed refuges offering basic shelter, water, toilets, washing facilities and bivouac areas. Most also stock supplies of food and drink, and helicopters are on hand to remove rubbish left behind.Trekkers used to wilder mountain routes where you have to rely on your own maps, compass skills and equipment, may find this level of infrastructure (not to mention the volume of pedestrian traffic in summer) somewhat intrusive. But the regular waymarking and accommodation does allow you to trek with a lighter pack – a godsend given the 19,000m or so of total altitude gain and loss on the route. Wander away from the marks and you’ll quickly appreciate how helpful they are, especially in bad weather.Any foray into mountains at this altitude has to be undertaken with a certain degree of caution, but don’t be intimidated by the GR20’s reputation. The severity of the route definitely tends to be exaggerated (not least by the Corsicans themselves, few of whom ever actually attempt it). The main reason for this reputation, ironically enough, is the very infrastructure that renders it so safe. Being without technical obstacles, the GR20 – which can be neatly slotted into a two-week holiday with time to spare for a break on the beach at the end – attracts a large number of trekkers for whom it is the first real taste of high mountain terrain. Ill-prepared for the physical effort involved and carrying far too much kit, many fall by the wayside. Others tackle the route as if it were some kind of competition or army assault course to be completed as quickly as possible; they too like to talk up the trail’s rigours. The reality is that if you’re moderately well equipped, keep your eye on the weather and are up to walking six to seven hours a day over steep gradients, the GR – or ‘Jay-Er’ as it’s referred to in French – should pose no insurmountable problems. In fact it is hard to think of another long-distance route in Europe that crams such a diversity of landscape into a route traversable in under a fortnight. And as if that weren’t incentive enough, the GR20 also finishes within easy reach of some of the most idyllic beaches in the world.
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