GR20 Hike – 2013

In order to get some long distance hiking experience as I was saving my money for my Te Araroa hike, in 2013 I took advantage of a business trip to France to plan a hike on the GR20 in Corsica. The GR20 trail spreads across the Mediterranean island of Corsica (France) and is renown to be one of the most difficult hikes in the GR network of trails.
Corsica is a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean Sea where many hiking trails can be found. Main spoken languages are Corsican and French.

To get to and from the trail you have many options depending on where in Corsica you land. Having limited time, I organized my trip to land at the airport close to the southern terminus of the hike and to fly out of the airport at the Northern terminus, but flights are more expensive doing it this way. Another way is to try to work your way around the bus and train schedules in Corsica.
I hiked the trail from South to North as the flights schedule were more suited to my plans. Landing at the Figari Sud airport, I was able to make my way to the start of the trail by hitchhiking, which was relatively easy. I flew out of Calvi airport once I had completed my hike.

As this was my first long distance hike of more than three days, I was not sure of many kilometers a day I could do, especially since the trail is rated as difficult and therefore I planned more days than I needed to complete the hike. However, this allowed me to do shorter days, do side trips and stop early at the many huts along the way.

I used the following guidebook for my hike, which I thought was very useful: The GR20 Corsica: Complete Guide to the High Level Route (Cicerone Guides). The path to follow is obvious in most places, but some sections that are exposed or forested can be a little confusing. In June water was easily found, but I read that it can be an issue in August or September.

Trip Details

Length180 km (112 mi)
DateJune 2013
Duration12 days
The hardest sections are in the North so by hiking Northbound I was able to get some training before reaching the more technical sections. Difficulty on the trail comes from the elevation gains, exposed sections and legs that require scrambling on rock terrain.

Along the trail it is mandatory to stay at the huts or at the campgrounds that are next to them. In 2013 it was usually 6 euros per night to camp around the huts. The reservation system for huts seemed archaic at the time, I might have been improved since. I did not book any campgrounds ahead of time but was able to get a spot each time, but this was in early June. Most huts sell meals and basic supplies. I did not take advantage of this as I was carrying my own food and had sent a resupply box to a hostel in Vizzavona, which is a small village that is conveniently located at about half the trail ans is considered as the division between the "North GR20" and "South GR20".

The trip ended up to be good experience for future hikes and helped me test some of the gear that I was planning to take with me in New Zealand. My base weight for that trail was 10kg, I had a lot of stuff and had a lot to learn… However, at 10 kilos I was probably one with the lightest packs on the trail at the time.

Unfortunately, in June 2013 there was still snow in some exposed sections on the trail and I was had to skip the most difficult section of the trail, which is called “Cirque de la Solitude”, and go around it by bus. In this section hikers have to climb using chains bolted to the rocks, and since they were covered in snow it made the whole thing difficult and dangerous. There had been many rescues of hikers in the previous days and they were not allowing people to do it without an ice axe and crampons.

Some skills in French could be useful but are not absolutely necessary to do this hike. In fact, I met a Korean journalist on the trail that barely spoke English and that did not speak any words of French and he seemed to be finding his way around just fine. Greeting huts wardens with a “Bonjour” will however be appreciated.

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