Results | Photos from GR20 en 5 Jours | Event Website | GR20 photos from 2006
Just had a relaxing week jogging along 'Le GR20 en 5 Jours' on Corsica.
A fun crowd of 12 runners, all French apart from me plus one Portuguese.
After hiking the route last year in 60 hours, I had hoped to do about 30 hours. In fact the best I could manage was 31 hours 45 minutes, from Calenzana in the north west, to Conca in the south east. Only 5 of the 12 runners managed to complete the route in its entirety. In general I was around 2 hours ahead of the 2nd-placed runner Christian Dubois each day, who finished in 43 hours 18 minutes.
Thankfully the weather was pretty much perfect, and nothing like the awful weather they had last year. See 2006 report here (in French).
12th September - 1st Stage: Calenzana - Haut Asco
23km, 2900m+, 5h29m
After a few group photos, Le GR20 en 5 Jours commenced at Calenzana at 8:12am. The route climbs steeply through the village before starting on the dirt trail proper. Before long I was running on my own. My target time was around 5 hours, but this proved optimistic. I made the Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu in 1h53, but then lost time after the 2nd refuge at Carrozu where an insane guardian was refusing water to all trekkers and had locked the taps from the reservoir. This created a problem for most people, including myself.
13th September - 2nd Stage: Haut Asco - Castel di Verghio
22km, 1700m+, 3h46m
The only stage that could be remotely described as 'easy'. Fairly short and pretty obvious route finding. The day started straight up the piste then into scrubby pine forest for an 850m climb to the first col in 49 minutes. Straight over the col is a plunge into the depths of the Cirque de la Solitude. A dark spooky echoey place with metal chains and ladders. 29 minutes later I was at the 2nd col, followed by a 900m steep rocky descent to the Bergerie de Ballone.
From here is a reasonable flattish runnable section through sparse pine forest, before another steep rocky climb of around 600m, before some fast descending. The final section of forest is constantly undulating and requires a lot of effort to keep running. I was pleased to arrive at the Hotel Castel di Verghio in under 4 hours, and 2 minutes before mid-day for a long leisurely afternoon!
14th September - 3rd Stage: Castel di Verghio - Vizzavona
44km, 2600m+, 7h32m
This stage I started 1 hour after the other runners to provide a chasing start. I had passed 7 of the 11 runners before reaching the Managanu refuge in around 1h55. I then passed Christophe, Marc and Manu on the climb to Breche Capitellu - the highest point on the GR20. The ridge after the breche is pretty tricky and technical, and so it took a while before I finally passed Christian on the descent towards the Petra Piana refuge. The descent below Petra Piana proved far rougher and far less runnable than I'd hoped so the watch was reading 5 hours when I began the long slow climb towards l'Onda, and onwards and upwards to the Muratello Col.
15th September - 4th Stage: Vizzavona - Rau Forcinchesi
54km, 3100m+, 8h47m
The longest stage by far, and actually further than I've ever raced in a day before. I departed Vizzavona at 7:20am, half an hour after the other 5 runners who'd chosen to attempt the entire stage - Christian, Manu, Marc, Christophe and Lionel. I caught Lionel soon after the first climb, then bit by bit passed the other guys, finally catching Christian shortly before the final section of forest before Col di Verde.
16th September - 5th Stage: Rau Forcinchesi - Conca
35km, 1700m+, 6h11m
The final stage, and more demanding than I'd anticipated. The day started just across the swaying suspension bridge by the campsite with a 700m climb up Monte Incudine (2134m) for the only real summit visited by the GR20. Scenic granite slabs and a broken cross at the summit. Then a steep gnarly descent to Asinau refuge, before more steep gnarly descending to cross a river and begin the long traverse around to Col de Bavella. This whole section of traversing was much longer and tougher than I remembered.
Finally I hit the last short climb beneath the sports crags to arrive at the Bavella Col amongst the tourists and coach parties. It was a great relief to see Karine and the Cap'Orn crew with water and Coke. I was quite surprised it had taken almost 3½ hours to reach the col, I had been hoping for more like 2½! Even so, there was not much I could do but just plough on towards I Paliri, concentrating hard to avoid missing junctions in the forest.
The trail to Paliri only has short runnable sections. I took some water from the source before the refuge then headed off on the final section to Conca. This section really is confusing and difficult to follow. The trail is rarely clear, and the surface largely unrunnable. Each section lasted longer than I expected such that it was almost 6 hours before I reached the final col overlooking Conca. The final descent was all over 10 minutes, plus some final steep downhill tarmac to arrive at the gite d'étape La Tonnelle, and the end of the GR20.