Refuge de Manganu to Refuge de Petra Piana
(6 miles/10 kilometers)
Unfortunately my breakfast didn't seem to be there--the Guardian had said the night before that he would leave me a tray with my name attached--and I was just in the process of reaching the conclusion that one Edith must have eaten mine, and thinking about taking hers, when Jacques came in and told me that he and the others had carried mine outside for me. Phew! And brekky was nice--hot chocolate and a baguette with 2 pats of jam (apricot) and a tub of fruit compote.
I didn't like to assume that the others wanted me to walk with them again, but at the same time I didn't want to just leave without them, in case it seemed very odd. This language-barrier thing can be quite a problem at times! I therefore stood around, quite probably looking shifty and indecisive, as the others got into their packs, until Annie politely asked whether I was ready to get into mine and signalled that they were about to leave. I picked up my pack and we set off about 7.15am.
For once it was still very cold when we left the Refuge, because the sun hadn't yet entered the valley. We could see it up the mountainside ahead of us, but in the meantime it was the only day thus far on which I had needed to start the walk in my fleecy top.
On the way up the hill we followed the course of a stream, and I saw some more butterworts, this time with flowers. They're very pretty little things, though I suppose the flies and other small insects sticking to their leaves have a different sort of perspective.
We pressed steeply on up towards the col. Eventually we got there and emerged into the sun, and Veronique arrived from behind us. I took off my fleece, but as we continued up a steep and stony climb it became very windy--too windy for the climb to keep me warm--and so I stopped and put it back on again.
At some stage we passed two of the other GR20 walkers next to a sunny pool.
The climb continued steeply amongst and over boulders, and as usual there were beautiful flowers growing in the cracks and crevices.
Eventually we reached a rocky gap, and when we passed through it we found a group of other GR20'ers sitting around in the sun on the other side, looking down onto one of the most spectacular views we'd encountered so far. We all sat down to take it in. It was still quite windy, and so we needed to settle back into the rocks to stay out of the worst of the draft.
I didn't realise until later that this was actually the Brèche du Capitellu, which at 2225m is the highest point on the official GR20 route. Conscious of the need to conserve my camera battery I took only one photograph, but it shows the two lakes that lay glittering in the sun below us: the Lac de Capitellu and the Lac du Melo.
I think we stayed for almost an hour! As we sat there various other walkers arrived and sat down to revel in the amazing views. There was another large black snack-seeking bird like the one we'd encountered on emerging from the Cirque de la Solitude (a raven, I think it must have been), and from time to time people would throw him a snack and he'd grab it, fly away to a safe rock and consume it.
Eventually we had to go on, though, and the descent across the Punta a e Porta was one of the steepest and most challenging I'd encountered so far. At one point we came to a large slab blocking the way ahead, and it wasn't immediately clear to me whether I should try to climb over the top or struggle underneath. The others squeezed under, though, and so that's what I did too. It wasn't easy, and I stopped on the other side to get some exciting footage of others doing the same thing. Here's somebody being pulled through by the ankle :)
When we got to what seemed like the bottom of the descent I took a picture of where we'd come from. It was pretty fearesome looking stuff, I thought!
The descent continued, though: here's Jacques watching somebody embarking on a climb down a small rockface.
None of it was terriby difficult--no chains were involved--but I found it exhilarating, and quite exciting.
Not long after that we finally arrived at the place where Annie, Freddy and Jacques turned left in order to follow a different path down towards the Bergeries de Grotelle. They weren't doing the whole walk. They all live in Corsica, and spend a few days walking on the GR20 every year. We had a final hug, and promised to meet up again, and then Veronique and I went on together.
Having finished the sharp descent, we now embarked upon a long, steep climb through a rocky path that eventually ended on a grassy plateau. On the way up we passed a particularly lovely flower growing in the rocks. Unfortunately the wind prevented me from getting a clear picture, but I've discovered that that creates opportunities to play with the settings in Paint Shop Pro :)
Veronique held one of the little flowers still for me. I think it may have been an Anemone of some description.
A little further up we encountered snow, and stopped for a piccy. It always seems slightly bizarre to me that it's possible for pockets of snow like that to survive into the middle of summer, in the midst of all that bright sunshine.
After that I spotted a profusion of small, mixed flowers in the rocks, pretty enough to be a bouquet!
Eventually the path led down to the Refuge de Petra Piana. I was keen to get a beer as soon as possible, and to eat something since we'd not bothered to stop for lunch, but the Guardian wasn't there and so instead we devoted the first 15 minutes or so to a search for a suitable camping spot. As we'd approached the Refuge from a distance we'd spotted what looked like a large, grassy area, and we'd wondered why people hadn't put their tents on it. When we got there, though, we noticed a sign in the middle prohibiting camping because the grass was used as a helicopter landing point.
Eventually we each found a spot and put up our tents. Veronique's was at the far edge of the prohibited area, and mine was one of the flat emplacements surrounded by a ring of rocks that I'd come to recognise as established camping places. I thought we were both okay in our places, and went off to wash some clothes.
However, I'd only just managed to drape them over rocks adjacent to my tent, and to stuff my socks with stones to hold them down, when I heard shouting, and looked up to see a very angry-looking man flanked by two brown and black striped dogs approaching me and waving his arms. He turned out to be the Guardian, and he was moving everyone who'd camped anywhere near the grass. I apologised and attempted to stem the flood of rapid French by explaining that I was English, and he moved on to speak to the people behind me.
I began to gather up the collection of little Exped stuffsacks in which I pack my things and put them into my pack. I'd already inflated my mattress, which is always a little bit of a faff, and I really wasn't looking forward to having to move everything. Still, it had to be done, and as I was doing it Veronique came over to say that she'd found some excellent sites that we'd somehow missed earlier on, and that I might be in time to get one if I hurried. I therefore dropped down the hill behind the Refuge, and found a series of little places that we'd completely overlooked. I was relieved, and went back to get my rucksack and then my tent. It didn't really take very long to put the tent up again, and when I'd finished that I rearranged my clothes on the rocks surrounding my new base.
After that I gathered my little red bag of important stuff together and walked back up to the Refuge to buy a beer and some food. There was quite a long queue, but I didn't mind that as it gave me ample opportunity to study the little menu and decide what I was going to get. I don't think dinner was available that night, or if it was I decided not to have it. In any event, I managed to buy a number of interesting things to eat with what remained of my loaf.
Maybe 5 minutes later Veronique arrived. She too had bought some food from the Guardian, and she told me there was a communal kitchen at the back of the Refuge. We made our way there together and it was blissfully warm inside after the gale that was beginning to work its way up outside. The little kitchen/dining room was crowded, but we managed to find places together at the end of one of the tables. I decided to have sandwiches, and meanwhile Veronique submerged a packet of rice in a pan of boiling water and sat back to wait for it to cook.
Sitting at the end of our table was Ursula from Germany, and Veronique introduced us. Ursula was walking alone, and--like Veronique--she spoke good English. She spoke virtually no French, and so for the 3 of us English was the language of choice over dinner, which suited me fine :) I opened one of my cans of pate and discovered that it wasn't vegetarian after all. By that stage it was too late, and I was too hungry, to do anything about it, though, and so I spread the pate onto some of my new loaf and settled down to tuck into sandwiches. I'd finished the pate and was starting on the tuna by the time Veronique's rice was ready. She tipped it into a bowl and mixed two cans of sardines into it, and I have to say it looked absolutely delicious! I've been having rice/sardine fantasies ever since :)
The 3 of us chatted away for some time, aware of the ever heightening wind outside each time somebody opened the door to come in. It was only about 7.30pm when we decided to leave for our tents, though, and by 7.50pm I was tucked up in my sleeping bag writing up my notes for the day. The wind had grown so strong that it was giving my little tent quite a battering, and I worried a little about whether the pegs would hold in the very dry ground. Wind was also blowing a very fine dust under the outer and actually through the mesh of the inner, and everything I touched inside the tent began to feel sticky and slightly unpleasant. Having finished my notes, though, I settled back with my book. I'd fallen asleep so quickly on each of the preceding evenings that I hadn't had much of a chance to get into it, but on this night I was able to read for an hour of so before I dropped off.
I was also unsure about which route I was going to take the following day. The book said that the formal GR20 route was low-level, and suggested that it should be possible to walk up Monte Ritondu in the morning (about 4.5 hours there and back from the Refuge) and then over to the Refuge de l'Onda in the afternoon via a high-level but shorter route along the ridge crest. That option sounded increasingly attractive, but I decided I'd better wait and see how the wind was when I woke up.
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