The GR 20: Planning for the Hardest Hike in Europe

For those that are avid Appalachian Trials readers, I am the gear aficionado. I usually write about gear reviews and tips. However, for the next few weeks, my posts will focus on my thru-hike of the GR 20.

Ryan, my boyfriend, and I completed our northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2013. After the trail, we returned to Colorado where we continued to dream of life in a backpack. Wanting to travel overseas, we found a long distance hike in the Mediterranean that seemed to be a perfect match of beauty and challenge.

The GR 20 is located in Corsica, France. Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. The entire trek is 112 miles and is estimated to take about two weeks depending on weather. Corsica is known for beautiful beaches and dramatic inland mountains. We will be hiking southbound: start near the coast and force our way through the treacherous interior to then end up near the coast once again. You could say this hike is a true sea to summit to sea. The highest mountain on Corsica rises to about 8,800 feet while the highest point of the GR 20 will bring us up to 7,300 feet. Yeah, that’s gettin’ high people, not as high as Colorado (teehee), but pretty up there.





The GR 20 is blazed with a white and red blaze. Isn’t that fantastic?

Now, let’s get down to the question most of you are probably asking: Why is the GR 20 the hardest hike in Europe?

From the images I have seen, the videos I have watched, and the personal accounts I have read, I have no doubt this trek will be difficult but totally possible for us seasoned thru-hikers. The odds for those in which complete the hike are 1 in 3. I’ll take those odds.

In Appalachian Trail (NOBO) terms, I imagine the terrain of the GR 20 will be like:*

1. A Moosilauke summit with a Dragon’s Tooth descent?

2. A Katahdin summit but replace the iron bars with chains AND then feel free to continue through a Knife’s Edge-like scramble?

3. The White Mountains’ identical twin?

4. Mahoosuc Notch-like squeezes?

*If you have never hiked these sections of the Appalachian Trail then I will simply say these sections are difficult and fun (a climbing/scrambling, steep type of fun).

Very similar to the way we planned our AT thru-hike (cough, cough last minute), we repeat this planning style, once again, with the GR 20. Some might think, “that is foolish!” However, we are preppers and planners. Three months to plan an overseas adventure in which we do not know the language? No problem! I’m glad you believe my fake confidence right now.

Planning for a European adventure is difficult when you are not fluent in the language or the metric system (freakin’ kilometers, geez). The guidebooks for the GR 20 are definitely nothing as beautiful and well organized as AWOL’s guide for the Appalachian Trail. Therefore, we have made our own guidebook to show our own personal notes, French translations, miles instead of kilometers, and the ever-so-popular elevation profile.


This is the entire elevation profile of the GR 20. This picture was taken in the process of creating our guidebook.

We plan to fly into Milan, Italy, take a train to Nice, France, and then a ferry to Corsica. With a decent Spanish vocab and a few meager French phrases in my back pocket, conversing should be interesting but not impossible. Bonjour. Merci. S’il vous plait. Je veux. Je ne veux. BAM, already on our way to not being hated Americans woohoo!

In less than a week, we will be taking off for Europe. We might have concerns about the weather (yes, there will be snow still on the mountain), doubts about the language (did I mention Corsicans speak French, Italian, and Corsican?), and feel intimidation by the rugged and infamous terrain. However, we feel the most comfortable on a trail. The Appalachian Trail trained us to expect and prepare for dangerous and random weather, to trust our bodies and our knowledge of our bodies to guide us safely through crazy sh*t, and the wisdom to know the trail will eventually provide: sun after the storm, beer after your gnarly (but semi funny) fall, or a hitch to town when you lost all hope and thought you would faint from starvation.

Bring it on GR 20. LET’S. DO. THIS.

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