Walking the Grand Randonee 20

Longtime fitnat friend Chris Reid, or ‘Woody Wildlife’, guest-blogs about her Corsican trek that started as a lovely idea of a relaxed walk and ended as one of life’s white-knuckle rides. This is the second in our series of blogs about outdoor adventures, the first being Chris and Sally’s account of mountain biking the South Downs Way. 

Chris is a Woodland Specialist, currently Head of Conservation for the Woodland Trust.

Mmmm Corsica.

The dream

Relaxing holiday, sweeping sandy beaches and crystal clear sea, gorgeous sunshine, and delicious French food and wine, a selection of stylish sarongs and strappy sandals. Oh the bliss.

Err, wrong.

The reality

Gruelling SAS-type hike, loaded with a 14kg back pack of camping gear, water packs, stove and freeze-dried food, wearing the same sweaty clothes as you wore yesterday. Now you’re getting closer.

We’re talking the “toughest long distance hike in Europe”, the Grand Randonee 20 (GR20), which tackles the mountainous spine of Corsica. Peaks and ridges reaching to nearly 3000m rise up from the Mediterranean sea like some mythical humpback beast. We set out to complete a mere third  (five days worth) of this 16 day ‘walk, of quite unexpected difficulty and muscle-crushing endurance’. Because how hard could five days walking in Corsica actually be?

Now, I’m not a total stranger to this sort of thing, having completed long distance ‘randonees’ in the Nepalese Himalaya, the South American Andes and so on (admittedly some time ago). But I’ve got to hand it to Corsica for pulling a blinder here. (Editor’s note – Chris has also climbed Mont Blanc but is being overly modest here. She’s well ‘ard.)

For a taste of the magic of the Grand Randonee let’s look at Day 3 :-/

6am: Pretend to wake up in tent, though have actually been awake for at least two tossing-and-turning hours because of ‘painful everything’ from previous day’s hike.

6.30am: Listen to sound of other overly-keen and masochistic hikers setting off unnecessarily early, in the dark. Decide to languish in sleeping bag for 15 mins whilst weighing up the forthcoming horrors and enjoying every second of what would perhaps be my last morning on earth.

6.45am: Sit outside, puffy-eyed, making tea. Dressed, not in a sarong, but yesterday’s mingin’ gear.

7.30am: Wait, like a girl, for BF to pack up tent, whilst actually becoming world expert in Thermarest rolling and fitting into space size of a clutch bag.

8am: Set off on the day’s terrifying mission. First step is a mere 5000 ft, *cries*, scramble up rocky ravine. In normal conditions this sort of thing would need a qualified ‘Guide de Montagne’ equipped with ropes and karibiners, life saving equipment and perhaps a spinal stretcher. Somehow, however, because we’re following the red and white painted flashes which mark the GR 20 trail, it legitimises this kind of ridiculous activity.

10.30am: Collapse on rocky outcrop at top of climb, in glorious sunshine. Exhausted. Eat Trek bar and glug water like I have some sort of ginormous hump to fill up. Young gorgeous couple skip by with cheery grins (not funny luv).

12.30pm: Traverse life-threatening ridge. Breathtaking scenery though; at least my last view in this life will be awesome. Trekkers coming the other way look bewildered as to how they have got into this position. Make use of various fixed chains and wires to cross featureless, uncaring, slabs of rock sloping at gut-dropping angles towards vertical cliffs. Eventually stop for an oatcake and cup-a-soup lunch, Thora Hurd would’ve been proud (the face of Cuppa-Soup, you youngsters). A lizard looks interested in my crumbs, oh to be a lizard right now. Trek on.

3pm: On we go, hurray! Muscles screaming, random deathbed-like, groaning with precarious climbing down. Had dreamily imagined tramping along, thinking through various work/life issues, perhaps a bit of carefree whistling and skipping. But no. Can think of nothing but actually living to see another oatcake.

4:30pm: Pass French dude who looks older than my dad. He surely should NOT be putting himself through this?! Can see tiny wooden refuge hut in distance. Camping is only allowed next to the refuges, and it still seems painfully unreachable. Pray hard for a passing bus, or donkey, get only goats with bells jingling, albeit through amazing forest of giant Corsican pine trees, must be hundreds of years old.

5pm: Stop for dip in head-crushingly cold yet inviting pool in gorge stream (intended to paddle only but fell in, Bridge-Jones-like, on wobbly legs). Wash minging hair in river. No Timotei or Herbal Essences in sight but still, just glad to still have a head.

5:30pm: Arrive at camp. Conk out, wibbling, on bare rock. Eventually muster an ounce of energy to assemble tent on rocky pitch, big stones attached to the guy lines. Reconstituted freeze dried food for dinner. Mmm mmm.

8pm: Nothing on telly…..so attempt sleep.

2am: Randomly wake up, zip open tent to see incredible display of stars.

6am: As above, but more painful. Also dream of toast.

Why you should do it

Jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery in an incredible natural wonderland; getting massively fit and strong over short period of time; meeting other nutters prepared to tackle the GR20; swimming in the warm sea afterwards.

But do prepare

Limited sleep; terrifying heights; physical exhaustion (only actually cried once); unprotected scrambling; variable mountain weather; camping food; stinky clothes. (What’s new – Ed)

Recommend it? Hell yeah. What are you waiting for??

Food

Breakfast: Muesli with water, black tea. (afterthought – should’ve milked goat)

Lunch: Oatcakes, nuts, Cup-a-soup, black coffee.

Snacks: Trek bars, Carob Hit superseed 9 bars, chocolate.

Dinner: Freeze dried meals (Mountain House or Adventure Meals), black tea

2-3 litres of water

Kit

Good boots and socks. Minimal clothes – waterproofs, sun hat, beanie, sunglasses. 40l rucksack. Lightweight tent. Sleeping bag. Thermarest and camping pillow. Water pack and bottle. Maps and guidebook. Compass. First aid kit. Phone. Lightweight stove (contrary to web advice you can buy Coleman’s gas with screw top in Corsican supermarkets). Pot, mug, bowl, spork, torch, tiny wash kit. Light sandals. Foam mat to sit on at stops (it’s very rocky). Food. Money, card, docs. Absolutely nothing else…you’ll regret it!

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