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The GR20 in Corsica - July 2008

Day 11 - Saturday 12th July
Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d'Usciolu
(10 miles/16 kilometers)

I woke at 6.20am after a pretty good sleep, save for the fact that I'd dreamed about being murdered, which is always a little disturbing... :)

By 7.25am I was packed and ready to go, but before taking the tent down I'd naturally needed a picture.

My tent at the Bocca di Verdi

As I set off up the road I took a picture of the restaurant where I'd eaten dinner the night before.

Relais San Petru di Verdi

I'd entertained hopes that it might be possible to start with a bit of a leisurely stroll along the road, but they were soon dashed. The path dived straight into the woods opposite the restaurant, and the climbing had begun for the day. Up and up and up, it went. Still, I'd rather that than down and down and down, so I switched on my MP3 player, put my brain into neutral and engaged my legs.

I've listened to The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman twice now. I love eating and cooking, and even looking at and thinking about fresh food and interesting ingredients, and when I stop to think about other things I might have done with my life some sort of cookery-related thing is a very close contender. Michael Rhulman cherished an ambition to learn to make a really good veal stock, and so he spent a year or so, off and on, at the Culinary Institute of America (known there as the CIA) to learn how to do it. It's full of information about chopping onions and making stocks and sauces that many people would probably find brain-achingly boring, but I love all that stuff :) It's also a nice long recording, and so a good choice, I thought, for a walk across the Corsican mountains.

Anyway... the path continued to climb and I continued to look for flowers to photograph. I emerged from the trees and stopped to look back down the hill...

...and then continued along a delightful path.

At some stage the path descended into a large bowl, and for one of only a few times on the walk I was a little unsure of the route. Just occasionally the red and white markers don't come quite as closely together as they do in other places, and when that happened it always raised at least the possibility that I'd taken a wrong turn. On almost every occasion when it happened it turned out that I'd not actually gone wrong, though, and I soon picked the trail up again here.

I encountered the Great Yellow Gentian. Every time I see it I'm amazed that something so large, yellow and robust can be related to the tiny and delicate blue flowers that I've seen growing in the Pyrenees.

Great Yellow Gentian

At one stage the path dipped down into a stream in a wood, and as I emerged from the little dip I found two cows staring down at me, clearly fascinated.

There was more lovely woodland walking...

...and I stopped at one point to take a picture of one of the hundreds of little 2-year-old trees I'd been passing since the walk began.

Baby tree--2 years old, I think

As the walk eventually emerged either at or near the Bocca d'Oru, I saw a lovely little Bladder Campion: quite unlike the rather dessicated specimens I'd noticed on my very first day, at the Bocca Piccaia.

Bladder Campion

When I finally emerged onto the ridge I was thrilled to find myself above the clouds and surrounded by a mass of billowing white. To experience an inversion is still a rare treat for me in the Lakes or Scotland, and it was difficult to drag my eyes away and keep walking.

Spectacular inversion

I'd have loved to take a little film, but unfortunately I'd realised that the batteries I'd been able to buy in Vizzavona were not ideally suited to my camera. I'm not sure whether they were just rather weak, or whether they were old, but it was a good job I'd bought 8 because the 'Low Battery' indicator had begun to come on almost each time I took the camera out of its case, and I was now worrying again about whether I'd have enough to see me to Bavella, where I hoped to buy some more. In the meantime, though, I contented myself with photographs.

More of the fabulous inversion

The walk then continued along a flat (joy!), broad piece of grassland towards Refuge de Prati.

Had I walked only from Bergeries d'E Capanelle the previous day I'd probably have continued to the Refuge for the pleasure of camping up on the top, and as it finally came into view ahead of me I was very much looking forward to stopping for a Coke.

Refuge de Prati hoves into sight

Refuge de Prati above the clouds

By now it was 9.45am, and I quickly located the Guardian--very friendly--who supplied me with a can of Corsica Cola for 2.30 Euros. I wrote up some notes and then spotted a Foxglove, and so went over to take a picture.

Foxglove surveying the clouds at Refuge de Prati

After that I settled back with my drink and began to play with the self-timer on my camera. There were a couple of friendly walkers sitting around on the veranda, and they offered to take a picture for me. Look at all that lovely grass to camp on!

Lovely grass to camp on!

We chatted away for a while. It turned out that they were staying at the Refuge overnight, and the following day they were walking North. I asked whether they thought the clouds were an indication that storms might be on the way, but they didn't. As I began to get my things together to move off I envied them the quiet, sunny afternoon that lay ahead.

Friendly Swiss walkers at Refuge de Prati

It was about 10.40am when I left, and for some reason I'd been expecting the rest of the day to be a bit of a breeze. In fact, though, it was a surprisingly hard afternoon. It included a climb that went on for some 2.5 to 3 hours up steep mountainside to reach a crest near the top of Mount Furmicula, and I hadn't realised from reading the guidebook that such an exacting climb was coming. Each time I thought I'd finished it went up again, and then again and again. I found that a little demoralising because I hadn't been mentally prepared for it. Still, and as always, it eventually came to an end. Along the way, though, I saw lots of beautiful things.

Pretty little white flowers

Fabulous view

As I walked I noticed that the clouds were beginning to rise...

...and once again I experienced that little frisson of storm-related anxiety that normally occurs when it seems to me that there might be a risk of being caught out high in the mountains in a thunder (or, more particularly, lighting) storm. I decided I'd better get a bit of a move on, just in case, but I'm not sure that I actually managed to move much faster, with all the lovely flowers and small creatures available to be examined along the way.

At one point I saw a nice rock with a little cairn and the GR20 sign...

...and despite the ups and downs there were a few patches of lovely level walking too.

Most of the ground was still fairly rugged, though, which is good: that's why I was there, really :)

Although they're everywhere, I never cease to be charmed by the way in which the little flowers spring up as soon as they're given the merest of opportunities: from cracks, fissures, hard-baked clay, apparently impregnable rock faces and sometimes right in the middle of the path.

Even when they've been zapped in PSP to make up for uncurable blurredness, they're still gorgeous :)

Haller's Marguerite, peut-Ítre?

I passed a large and impressive-looking lump of rock to my right, and felt that I ought to record it.

As I looked ahead, though, I realised that the cloud was rising higher all the time, and so I attempted to press on again as my path appeared to be moving in that direction. I looked around for the archetypal anvil-shaped clouds but I couldn't see any: phew! Still, I was keeping an eye out for them...

Cloud rising onto the path

There was some flattish, scrubby stuff with a cooling bank of cloud keeping a close watch on me to the left...

...and then some steep little rocky descents.

And a spray of lovely flowers, of course.

And yet more breathtakingly lovely views!

Breathtakingly lovely view

A whole world for countless wee creatures in one small mountain rock

The path and the flowers went on and on and on, and then up and up and up...

The cloud continued to rise, but it still wasn't displaying any signs of an intention to spray me with lightning.

I eventually grew tired and sat down for a rest and a ciggy break.


As I continued the inversions continued to blow me away...

...but it did begin to feel as though I was never going to see the Refuge.

They do say that good things come to those who wait, though, and eventually it turned out to be true. With the finely honed senses of the increasingly desperate walker I finally spotted a few flecks of blue and red on a little rocky bump some way below me, and they turned out to be tents pitched at the Refuge d'Usciolu. Joy!

Distant view of Refuge d'Usculio and tomorrow's morning ridge

And here it is in close-up

I arrived at the Refuge not an awfully long time later. Still, it was about 5.45pm, and the day's walk had taken me almost 10 hours. The guidebook had suggested 7.25, and even taking account of my break at Refuge de Prati it seemed to me that the estimates for the second half of the route were a little on the short side. Having said that it was only 10 miles, and so I had actually been moving pretty slowly. Maybe I was still tired after my long walk of the day before. I hadn't been expecting the protracted ascent up Mount Fumicula, but on the other hand I hadn't noticed the awkward, eroded paths I'd read about and expected to encounter close to the Refuge. Hmmm... it was all too complicated, and so I set off to look for refreshment.

There were several tables filled with happily chatting walkers in front of the little Refuge, and I put down my pack and set off to find the Guardian, in search of a beer. All the faces looked unfamiliar, and it's fair to say that I felt a little isolated. The Guardian was friendly, though, and directed me towards a small wooden building about 30 seconds' walk away. There I found his two young children--also friendly--in charge of a room full of all sorts of exciting foody supplies. Yum! I bought a beer and a loaf, and two small pots of some kind of jam for brekky.

There were so many lovely things in the little shop that I was loath to leave, and I spent some time battling with my conscience over a large pot of Nutella. In the end I had to leave it, though, since it was a glass jar and that seemed like a bad idea. I sipped at my beer as I surveyed the saucisson and cheese and pots and packets, cans and jars, and it was so nice (a bargain at 3.50 Euros) that I bought a second bottle and then I made my way back to the tables to drink it.

After I'd finished the beer I had to try to find a place to put my tent, and that took a while. The camping at the Refuge d'Usculio was extra rocky even on a route that consisted almost exclusively of dry, rocky pitches.

Most of the pitches were already taken, but eventually I found a nice little spot about half way along the rocky outcrop that extended from the front of the Refuge, behind the tables.

My little tent looking a bit floppy

Conditions felt perfect. There was no wind, and the views were astounding. Despite my continuing problems with the camera battery I just couldn't help trying to capture the amazing sight of clouds drifting up the mountain below my tent.

As I pottered around I suddenly realised that it was almost time for dinner, and I just had time to find the toilets and have a quick wash before dashing, glowing from the cold water, back to the Refuge. I saw a queue of people in front of the little wooden shop, and so I joined it. The Guardian was doling out bowls of pasta and carrots, and collecting fees as people arrived to collect their meal. He charged me 19 Euros, and it was only when I got to a table and began to eat that I realised he must have charged me for a place in the Refuge rather than for a bivvy, as the charges were meant to be as follows.
  • Bivvy: 4 Euros
  • Dinner: 9 Euros
  • Bed in Refuge: 10 Euros
I sat alone, but I was soon joined by a tall Frenchman carrying a bag of food which contained one of the largest saucissons I've ever seen. Maybe it was a whole salami! Anyway, I said hello and we soon drifted into conversation. He'd started a few days earlier in Conca, and we were able to swap impressions of the route and the ground that lay ahead of each of us.

Pasta with carrots: 9 Euros

As we were eating a group of 4 Frenchmen arrived to the sound of loud celebrations, and it turned out that they'd walked from Vizzavona that morning: a distance of almost 29 miles! They were travelling light, but it was still a very impressive feat, I thought, and they were clearly very relieved to be there.

I also spotted the walker who'd arrived at the rim of the Cirque de la Solitude as I was changing my camera batteries--the one who'd accidentally dropped a water bottle a few minutes into the descent--and poked him in the arm to attract his attention. He remembered me too, and we chatted away happily for a few minutes about... well, I'm not sure exactly what we were talking about as he was talking rapid French, but he was a very friendly bloke and it was fun to try to chat with him :)

People chatting over dinner at Refuge d'Usciolu

Once we'd finished the pasta the Guardian came round with a bottle of liquor, and offered everyone a shot. It was great fun as most of us didn't have glasses, and so we all tipped back our heads and the Guardian poured the liquor into our mouths :) I explained the mistake about charges, and the Guardian confirmed that he'd thought I wanted to sleep in the Refuge. He beckoned me over to the little food shop, refunded my 6 Euros and issued me with a little sign for my tent, to show that I'd paid.

After all that I decided I'd better wash some clothes, and so I said goodbye to the nice bloke at the table and made my way back to the tent to collect some. I did the best I could with them in the cold water at the sink, and then returned to the tent to arrange them on rocks in the hope that they would dry in the night. After that I couldn't help taking another look at the wonderful views around me.

View from next to my tent

A Trumpet Gentian of some kind?

Eventually I dragged myself back to the tent and prepared for bed. It was still calm, and I could hear birdsong as I lay with my book. It didn't take me long to drop off to sleep.

I woke at 2.30am, though, to a rising wind, and decided I'd better go and peg out the two side guylines. Inevitably, perhaps, this was the only time I hadn't bothered to put them in. Back in the tent I lay down again, but soon I began to hear the familiar sound of light rain on the outer. That was a little disconcerting--I'd begun to believe that I wouldn't be seeing any rain at all on my trip--but a moment later it occurred to me that my washing was still sitting outside all over the rocks, and so I had to get out a second time and take it in. The rain wasn't exactly heavy but it was beginning to sound as though it might be developing into something more significant, and I hoped that didn't bode ill for the following day's walk. Back in my sleeping bag it occurred to me that I really should have taken advantage of the opportunity to nip to the loo while I was outside, and having once had the thought I couldn't dislodge it. 5 minutes later I got out of the tent for the third time in about 15 minutes...

Eventually I snuggled down for the remainder of the night, though. I read for a while, and it seemed to me that mixed in with the noise of the wind I might have heard distant thunder. That was a little worrying, and I dropped into an uneasy sleep about an hour after I'd first woken up.

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