The island of Corsica is a place where weather is unpredictable, undetermined by what is currently in front of you, and is affected by the sea and mountains. Almost daily low lying clouds ooze into the steep valleys of the east coast. Then, up on the divide, a daily smattering of thick clouds that turn into wispy puffs dissipate as they slam into the divide. The winds up high on the ridgeline flow from the west while down on the Tyhrrean Sea side the wind crams its way from the east. It's a spectacle to behold actually and you feel to be in an unique situation in observing Mother Nature and all her quirks.
From our descent from the Refuge a Mori the mountains afforded us more panoramic views of open green valleys and further tall, spired peaks to the south. We rapidly dropped in elevation as we passed a slew of cascades that tumbled into pools of aqua-teal water. We even had an easy trek on a forested trail until we hit Castel di Verghio where we had a cafe au lait and some apples. After our break we scampered up some switchbacks lined with mossy crib-rock walls and from the high perch of another pass we set eyes on Lac de Nino. The oval lake is settled in a lush, flat and grassy valley between two giant peaks and is backdropped by the skyline of the Monte Rotundo massif. A little later we came upon some bergeries, or cottages that usually sell fresh goat's cheese and offer an affordable bivouac, tucked in a bulging rocky outcrop with tiny goats bleating as they stuck their heads through chicken wire. The main chimney fluttered up in smoke and the ubiquitous Moor's head, the iconic symbol on the Corsican flag, whipped in the wind. Across another small valley, up and over a small watershed depression, and we settled into another refuge, de Manganu.
Another epic climb and some superb scenery awaited us the next morning from Manganu. After nearly 650m up we wedged ourselves through a notch between two pointy turrets. Down in the other basin two alpine lakes, rather large and flanked all around by precipitous granite bluffs, glistened in the afternoon sun. We would eventually traverse the skirt of this massive basin along a knife arête. Little did we know that this was our truly last scrambling experience on the GR20. We had some minor scrambling situations later on but none so dramatic and exhilarating.
At Refuge de Petra Piana we made the decision of following the normal red and white waymarks down into the forested drainage of Manganello rather than take the high variante. The southern half of the GR20 high variantes become an option, at least 3, in which we took 2 lower ones, that I feel stay truer to the theme of the route and Fabrikant's original vision and intention. However, as I say this, venturing into a woodland domain only made us explore more of the island and culture. Within the forest we saw the edifices of shepherds, the cottages of fromageries, and walked along an actual path that was either an old mule cart path or an old 'transhumance' route.
At the hovel of Vizzavona we obtained a room for the night at the charming Hotel U Castellu. The place looked like a castle from the outside and was even more elegant on the inside. The hosts were wonderful and ensured us a very quiet and relaxing night. April and I both loved our stay there. Sadly, the next morning we had to leave out for trail, however, our hearts were content. From Vizzavona we ambled through beech and birch forests that all were in the garb of Autumn. Sprinkled in the mix, laricio pines stood tall on particular aspects of sun-facing slopes. We marveled at the dank woody hollows and the leaf riddled trail. The sun hung at a lower angle in the sky but with the warm temperatures we were fooled into thinking of the time of late summer.
More and more Fall foliage roused our spirits until we climbed up to the Bocca d'Oro. The scene changed back into alpine and upon ascending the pass early one morning we caught sight of something magical. On the eastern horizon, thousands of feet below, we could trace the Tyrrhean Coast of Corsica. The sun slowly rising and creeping up against a mirage of a defining line of sea and sky. Smeared grey clouds daubed the vast sky in feathered shapes. The occasional billow of smoke plumed up from vineyards and cornfields down below while the haze from a thick sea air settled in and around low lying hills. I sat mesmerized, inspired profoundly. I looked at April and said, "No matter what we ever say to each other I want us to think of this moment, of what we saw."
The next day, at a cross mounted atop Monte Alcudine, I could see the phantasmagoric shapes of Les Aiguilles de Bavella. We trudged down the domed peak and had lunch at Refuge Asinao. We continued to descend and entered a pine forest upon which I took a high variante of the GR20. The variante took me up into the hoodoo pillars of Les Aiguilles. Spackled and smeared like stucco-plaster the texture of the rock was frozen in a stone thaw. The rock resembled the stucco on some of the ancient buildings we would see in the interior villages. The wind was ferocious, blowing and whipping in all directions. The gusts would whistle through the porous rock that resembled reefs from the sea floor. In the distance, around a giant pillar, the wind would crash into another rock tower in which the sound would reverberate similar to the crashing of sea waves upon craggy bluffs. I imagined these eerie, warped rock formations were once of the sea. The intense noise at first made me shudder, the gusts would force me to lean into the heave and brace myself so I would not tumble over. Surrounded by the immense spooky rock towers, I spotted in the western horizon grey cumulus clouds forming and building and pushing their way towards me. The power of the sea and mountains, together, transfixed me; I was part of the rock, a breath of the sea-wind. Corsica's high mountains are truly sprouted out of the sea.
At the Col de Bavella, we had our last night on the GR20 at the l'Auberge. Before dinner, suddenly, everyone ran out of the restaurant. On the hillside a mouflon, or Corsica's version of the bighorn sheep, nibbled at the forest floor. A man, nudged me in the back and in a Corsican tongue said, "This is cool, yea?!" He said that it is a rare sight to see a mouflon so low as they usually stick to the high rocky terrain and alpine environments. We then sat down to a dinner of wild boar stew and a huge portion of lasagna. The photograph on the wall showed a large, round man, a rifle in his lap, looking like a traditional Corsican hunter; another large, rotund man sat at a table petting a hunting dog while eating a bowl of pasta. The barkeep looked just like the other two men but younger. The family lineage, a proud history, lined the walls and floors of this establishment, the food recipes held sacred, and the dog probably the same lineage as the previous hunting dogs. We were among pure tradition.
Fueled up for the next day we crushed our way through more spooky rock formations with exuberance and perpetual curiosity although we could taste the end. The sea kept getting closer and closer and at the Bocca d'Usciolu we wedged through a notch, a portal of sorts to the town of Conca, the end of the GR20. Down the steep trail we went until we hit the fontana symbolizing the end. After a short descent down a windy paved road we found a cafe with a sign praising our efforts. We sat down and smiled and cheered our accomplishment over a couple of Pietra's, Corsica's home beer. Job well done.