The GR20: Day 1

Polly FarringtonComment

The GR20, along with the TMB and the Walkers Haute Route is one of the classic mountain treks. It is 180km long with 10,000m+ of climbing and the terrain is extremely rugged e.g. during the Northern half there is not so much a path, just thousands of rocks to scramble over. It is commonly thought of as one of the most beautiful treks in the world and the unique geological properties of Corsica with the incredible mountain range running down the centre with miles of ridge line and the sea often within sight.

Alex (travelling companion/housemate/fiancée) and I are, more or less, reasonably competent at hiking long distance mountain trails  and having done a fair few now we went into this feeling pretty relaxed, too relaxed we would soon discover.

We arrived in Bastia the last week of June and caught a bus down to Conca, we would be hiking the trail in the opposite direction to normal (South to North) in order to have the sun on our backs and to do the more “gentle” southerly section first before moving onto the more rugged northerly section. I still maintain this was a good plan, what we weren’t prepared for however was the extreme heat wave heading for southern Europe during the 10 days we had scheduled for this trip.

I’ll be detailing our trip in this blog.

Back when rocks were still a novelty!


Stage 1: Conca – Refuge d’l Paliri

Date: 23rd June 2019

Distance 13.8km

Ascent: 1228m

Descent: 431m

Weather: Hot (you will notice a pattern start to emerge here)

The trail climbs steeply out of Conca up an exposed tarmac road before eventually turning off and joining the trail, the official start of the GR20. We had spent the night at the Gite La Tonelle (the traditional end point for most trekkers), testing out our home for the next 10 days, a small green tent held up with our trekking poles just big enough for two.

Everyone says the second half of the trail, from Vizzavona to Conca (the section we were doing first) is a bit of a disappointment after the dramatic scenery of first half. Don’t listen to them though, it was beautiful, lush and green with rocky mountains rising in the distance and pine cones as big as your head. It felt hard though, wasn’t this supposed to be the easy section? And it was hot, really hot. Sweat mixing with sun cream and running into your eyes, burning, something we would get very used to. We started to see people coming in the other direction, at the final stage of their hikes. They all looked very ready for the end. 

Sweat soaked.


At one point we found ourselves walking behind a large cow and her calf, this is single track so there is no easy way around. And also cows are terrifying. We fell in line behind the cow and eventually overtook when a hiker much braver than ourselves created a human shield to let us past. We later saw the same cow/calf chilling at the campsite.

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We completed the final climb in the hottest part of the day and it was tough, heavy bags full of food, relentless sun. Wasn’t this the easy part? When we finally emerged into a shady campsite on the col with lots of tree cover it felt amazing, a freeze dried dinner, a glacier shower in a shack with a falling off door and it was time to call it a night.