A very, very tough day!
Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Ascu Stagnu (combining Stage 2 and Stage 3)
Stage 2 (High Level Route): Refuge d’Ortu diu Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu. 8km, 750m ascent, 1050m descent. Guide book says 6 ½ hrs.
Opening line of description “The high-level route from the Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu is a tough day’s trek….”
Stage 3 Refuge de Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu. 6km, 860m ascent, 710m decent.
Guide book says 5 ½ hrs.
Opening line of description “this a tough day……”
So we combined the two stages into one day. Really, how hard can 14km really be? Especially after Day 1’s “Baptism of fire”. The stage is 14km long, with roughly 1500m of ascent and 1700m of descent. For those familiar with hikes around Canmore, it’s just a little shorter than Centennial Ridge from Ribbon Creek to Mt Allan. Emily and I had done Centennial Ridge as preparation, so we felt reasonably confident.
Boy were we wrong. This was the single hardest trail day I have ever had. When I finished it was 11 ½ hours since we left Piobbu, which is what the guide book said. So, we were right on time, but I was completely shattered.
(just an fyi, the times in the guidebook are for actual walking; they do not include breaks and lunch–so technically we were ahead of the book, but only barely)
As it was only our first morning on the trail, we were not very efficient at breakfast and packing and took a little over 1 ½ hours. By the end of the trip we were taking just over an hour. Eating a hot breakfast of oatmeal is yummy, but not quick.
The day started out going up and down a small wooded ridge (Emily remembers lots of flies), past an old ruined bergerie, then onto the first big climb of the day, up some slanted slabs. I like slabs when going up and down. There’s lots of grip, and you can choose your line.
The trail was variable near the top, not much in the way of switchbacks, and then it opened up to incredible views at the bocca (Corsican word for a col, or pass). The landscape was very rugged, with lots of spires and towers.
A long ridge walk followed, but it involved lots of scrambling up and down, and frequently questioning the route.
This is when we decided that the GR20 is not so much a “trail”, but a “route”. The amount of scrambling on a hiking trail is not something either of us had experienced.
After a very steep and rocky descent we arrived at the first Refuge where we treated ourselves to omelettes (9 Euros each).
It was still fairly early in the day when we arrived at the Refuge. I was actually feeling really good. The weather was threatening rain, but we decided to try and do the second stage and see if we could “beat the weather”. While it clouded over in the valley, we hiked up into sunshine.
We crossed a bridge and headed up the Spasimata slabs. Super steep and somewhat tilted sideways as well. The slabs had some protection in the form of cables and chains. It was hot and muggy and we were both sweating buckets.
We took a break above the slabs, and tried to guess the route up over the ridge (we were wrong every time we guessed the entire trip). By this time, I was getting tired and Emily was having to wait for me. We scrambled up a treed gully, sometimes using the trees as holds and reached a small lake with people actually taking a break and swimming. Then straight up the last steep slog to the bocca. Opening up to more incredible views.
We did some zigzagging back and forth, dropping down to traverse between boccas. It was a short climb to the next bocca, and then we could see the ski hill below.
It was only 1.5km and 650m of descent to the ski lodge, but it was a very rocky, steppy descent. Lots of little scrambles, and little to no path. I was really getting tired on the way down, so once we neared the ski lodge, I told Emily to go ahead and find and pay for the campsite. What took Emily 20 minutes to complete, took me 35! This was the only time we hiked apart on the trip.
At the campsite we met a young woman from Quebec solo hiking the GR20, we would meet her again in few days. She told us the weather forecast for the next day was rain. We also met a couple from the UK who did the John Muir Trail at the same time as Emily, and went the opposite direction to Emily, so they probably hiked past each other at some point!
We had a stream beside us, so we did some laundry. While I was super tired, nothing actually hurt. It wasn’t very picturesque at the ski hill, so I am pretty sure we just washed up, ate and went to bed.
As is a family tradition, when hiking, Daddy reads a story out loud at bed time. On this trip I read “No Picnic on Mount Kenya,” the true story of three Italian prisoners of war who escaped their prison camp to attempt to climb Mount Kenya with gear made in the camp. Fascinating story, a must read for people who love to hike and climb.