This is Life on the Spectacular (and Insanely Difficult) GR 20 in Corsica
For a background on Corsica’s GR 20, please see my previous post HERE.
“Have you ever done this kind of stuff before?” a red-faced, slightly petrified Brit asked me as she cautiously perched herself on the jumbled rock pile that is the GR 20.
“Oh yes. If it wasn’t this hard, I would have been pretty upset” I replied, pausing to comprehend her thick English accent. We were only on our second day of the trail. I knew nothing. I’m a dumbass.
My newly proclaimed fiancé and I expected the scrambles and steep pitches. No complaining about the terrain would be tolerated. We knew the GR 20 would challenge our hiker legs and demean our hiker swag. The proud AT NOBO in me also had to find peace in my GR 20 SOBO self.
Being in Corsica, France felt like some strange parallel universe. Different language, different mountains but strangely the hiker life felt the same.
I felt a bit exiled from the hiker community from my extreme lack of the French language. Oh well, no one could keep up with us anyway. Life is easy in the Mediterranean right? Oh wait, there goes my hiker swag again…
We were tailed by a young couple one day and the rest was history. They were a brother/sister duo, Noe and Ana, who we couldn’t shake and they couldn’t pass. Oh, did I mention they could speak English? We met actual trail friends. Hailing from our lovely neighbor in the north, these two French Canadians completed our team, Team North America (I couldn’t resist this slightly cheesy name). To kill your curiosity, Team North America met no other North Americans.
The GR 20 wanders through spiky mountains and may reward you with a nice valley hike if you choose to do so. Yes, you have a choice. Want to make your thru-hike of the GR 20 even more ridiculously hard? Take the high route blazed in yellow. Yes, I said yellow blazing.* And yes, we took all the yellow blazes.
*If you are not familiar with the AT thru-hiker lingo then you might not see the irony in the yellow blaze. AT yellow blazing = skipping a part of the trail by hitchhiking.
GR 20 yellow blazing = the high route trail that will kick your ass and make you wish you were frolicking in the valley below.
CIRQUE. DU. SOLITUDE.
The Cirque du Solitude is the most infamous, dangerous, and freakin’ ridiculous part of the GR 20. In my opinion, if you didn’t hike the Cirque du Solitude while thru-hiking the GR 20, then you just didn’t do the GR 20.
The Cirque plunges down 1,000 feet and then up 1,000 feet (emphasis on the word ‘plunge’).
Chains aid hikers in hairy spots like vertical pitches, 500 foot drop offs, and a ‘trail’ the width of a walnut. I lost my hiker swag on the Cirque after dangling from a chain as my life flashed before my eyes. Spoiler alert: I survived.
Don’t get excited about rolling into a wonderful trail town filled with French fries and Jacuzzis (not like you could read the menu anyway…). The GR 20 passes through a town, a hotel, and a tourist trap-like village.
The refuges (similar to the huts in The White Mountains) provide camping, light resupply, bunks, cold showers, meals, and privy.
Prepare to spend your life savings at the refuges. Supplies are helicoptered in. Choose wisely hungry hiker at the not-so-glamorous options of sheep cheese, dried pork sausage, loaves of bread, and canned meat stuff (once again, couldn’t read what resided inside each can of mysterious meat).
Not-so-stereotypically speaking, the French feast on bread. It’s just a very fluffy, loafy fact.
The mountains of Corsica are home to many free-range farm animals such as goats, pigs, horses, and cow. These animals were the only glimpses of ‘wildlife’ we saw besides the lizards. So many lizards…
Apparently the weather in the mountains turn ugly during the afternoon but we experienced only a few sprinkles of rain on our last two days. Sadly those days were the ones where Team North America split up. A sprained ankle can really ruin a trail family.
After a week into the GR 20, I begged for forgiveness. I wanted to be done with this trail more than anything.
Hiking isn’t fun when you have to risk your life hiking on steep icy mountains or windy summit trails which require nothing less than perfect footing.
I think I am confident in saying I will never hike this trail again. I don’t know what happened with me and the GR 20. The AT stole my heart. I never questioned hiking from Georgia to Maine. I would thru-hike the AT again and again if I could.
The GR 20, as outstandingly outrageous as this adventure was, is nothing but a ‘one and done’ in my book.
I have never felt happier as I did when I saw the coast for the first time as we approached Conca, the end of the trail. We enjoyed a wonderful 10 a.m. beer and reminisced about the insanity we went through the past eleven days. I felt gratitude for actually completing and completing without injury. No doubt I will return to the island of Corsica again but maybe next time I’ll just look at the mountains from my spot at the beach.
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Thanks for the great write up. I’ve met a few people boasting about their long distance hiking accomplishments like the AT and Camino de Santiago but as you’ve discovered the GR20 is not comparable. I would advise to others to not underestimate it, even if you’ve done many trails before. I know you did this trail a while ago now, but I don’t think I agree with your yellow paths remark. I would call these variant routes and although they might be more pretty or spectacular, they actually can save you some time and make the route easier, because you stay up high, and don’t go down into the valleys and back up again. I don’t fully understand why you don’t want to go back as it really is a spectacular trek. For others thinking about doing this trek: do your research, be humble, expect to suffer, expect to be in pain. Prepare yourself physically and mentally by doing *scrambling* routes more than long distant trails. Completing the full route is an amazing feeling and I encourage others to try it, just be humble about it when planning, don’t approach it thinking it will be easy, no matter your experience, and you will enjoy it more.