Monday, May 9, 2016

Day 5: The Top of Corsica!

September 15: Karolina and I woke up and hit the trail at first light. Today was going to be a big day. The infamous Cirque de la Solitude was closed and we needed to take a detour around it. We had no maps or information about this detour except that it was expected to take 8-10 hours for the typical person and with Karolina's injured knees, we expected it to take even longer. Our plan was to make it to the next refuge at the end of the detour, but realistically, we both knew we might not make it and may have to camp (illegally) between refuges. We had no idea if there would be water along the detour, or where the water would be located, so it was entirely possible we might not have access to water until the next day when we reached the refuge. I loaded up with 5 liters of water. Just in case.... I'm not sure how much Karolina carried, but it was a lot more than normal!

Pretty much everything we knew about the alternate route we had to follow we found on this sign. =)

And this detour was nothing to sneeze at. It would be going very close to Monte Cinto--the highest point on Corsica nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. It was, we were told, extremely strenuous and sketchy in areas. With no maps or guidebooks to describe the route, we were completely dependent on the double-yellow stripes to mark the route.

The trail climbed steadily all morning. Not especially steep at first, but definitely enough to slow one down. Karolina was a little upset at all of the other hikers passing us, frustrated that we were moving so much slower. I pointed out that most people couldn't do this trail at all which makes her among the rare few who could. Go, Karolina! Unfortunately, she couldn't see all those people that she was, in fact, stronger than, and I'm not really sure that my "theoretical losers" pep talk cheered her up very much. It's not a competition, obviously, but her injured knees were taking more than just a physical toll.

Although still moving slow, Karolina was actually moving a lot faster than she had the last couple of days. I think the lack of truly steep sections was helpful, as was the fact that--so far--we'd only been going uphill. Her knees seemed to bother her more on the downhills than the uphills.

In the distance, we could see a mountain pass, and naturally assumed that's where we were headed. Without maps to follow, we could only guess in which direction the route would lead us, and just before we reached the top of the gap, we decided to stop for lunch. The trail was more protected from winds below the gap, and there was a nice, large flat area to sit down and rest.

Well, Karolina rested. After eating some snacks for lunch, I decided to take the time to try building another arch. The area was littered with large rocks and it was an ideal setting! I wasn't going to make a truly massive arch--I was still new at this arch-making stuff--but I wanted to go much bigger than I did for my first one. Maybe as high as my knees. =)

More chains.....

The first step went easily as I piled rocks in an arch shape. With that in place, I started placing the balancing rocks around it. With those in place, I started pulling out the first pile of rocks from under the arch, slowly, one at a time, trying to adjust the arch as needed to keep it stable.

And the arch would collapse. I reconfigured the rocks and tried again, and it collapsed again. And again. I probably spent the better part of an hour working on the arch and I'd sometimes get a fairly good hole showing up under the arch, but eventually one of the supporting rocks I pulled out would cause the rest of the arch to collapse. I was so close and getting quite frustrated by the end, and eventually the last collapse destroyed almost all of the work I had done so far and I finally called it quits. I was too frustrated to work on it anymore and just wanted to kick the stupid thing to death. Anyhow, we still had miles to get in and the hour-long break was long enough.

We continued up towards the gap, practically a stone's throw away, when the trail suddenly veered to the right and continued climbing ever uphill and away from the gap. We were both quite surprised at this turn of events, absolutely certain we had been heading over the gap. We weren't at the top yet?! How much higher could this trail go?!

Much higher, as it turns out. =)

And much more difficult as well. The well-worn trail turned into a scree of loose rocks, rock scrambles, and small cliffs that had to be scaled with chains. Our progress slowed considerably after that, and it took another couple of hours before we reached what appeared to be another gap. I may have started getting my hopes up--hopefully this will be the top and we'll start heading down the mountain again. I knew I shouldn't get my hopes up, but I couldn't imagine it could go much higher. There really weren't very many mountains higher than us anymore!

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with the people who built this trail?!

And this time--thank goodness!--it really was the top. Or at least a crest. A sign marked a spur trail to Monte Cinto, but we really didn't have time for that detour and at the time, I hadn't realized it was actually the highest point in Corsica so didn't think anything of it. At the top, winds were strong, but it was sunny which helped keep up warm. Looking back, we could still see Calvi along the Mediterranean coast. We were both surprised we could still see where we had started our journey from this deep into Corsica. The views were amazing!

The trail dipped a bit, then followed just below the ridge line for a good mile or so before a short scramble up and over another gap at which point we could see the trail snake down, down and further down into a valley. Finally! We were at a the top! It was all downhill from here!

It was late in the afternoon by now, but we figured we still had several hours of daylight left. We might even make it to the refuge before dark! Although the downhill sections were the ones causing the most trouble for Karolina's knees. We'll see.....

We didn't make it to the refuge that evening. We set up camp at a bit of an overlook as the sun was setting. We figured the refuge was probably another hour or so away, and we probably could have made it if we were willing to hike into the night, but we'd had a long day and were tired. Anyhow, the views from here were probably a heck of a lot nicer than the campsites at the refuge. =)

However, it was windy. There was a small rock wall built up around the campsite we selected which acted as a windbreak, but only close to the ground. The weather looked great and Karolina decided to cowboy camp for the night, not wanting to set up her tent. Which was probably just as well for her because I suspected the wind would have ripped it to shreds during the night.

By the end of the day, Wilson--our pine cone friend--had fully opened up again after closing solid during the rain. It was kind of fascinating watching this pine cone close and open up again. I had no idea they could do that after falling from the tree. I figured they just opened and that was that! It was if Wilson were still alive, and we had ourselves a sun-loving pine cone!

All-in-all, it was a pretty good day of hiking. Although we hadn't quite reached our original goal, we felt like it was within our grasp. My biggest fear was that we'd make it halfway around the detour and have to spend most of a second day on it, but we'll probably be back on the main track within an hour or so of starting out in the morning. Not bad at all!

You can see the chain to the left of me, but at this point, I thought it was just easier to scramble up the rock without using it! =)

Note the pine cone on Karolina's pack. That's Wilson, and he's just starting to open back up in the morning. By the end of the day, he'd be fully open again!

The double yellow streaks marked the alternate route around the Cirque de la Solitude. (You can see a hint of the trail down at the bottom of the valley. That's the one we've just come up.)
I'm working on a rock arch. I just have to get those supporting rocks out from under with without it collapsing....

It's almost there! It's almost there! But alas, it would collapse soon after I took this photo and I finally gave up. YOU BEAT ME THIS TIME, ROCKS! But I will return....

Karolina meditated or something while I was working on the arch. =)
We stopped for lunch at that flat area on the left side of the photo, and had thought the trail was going to go over that gap on the right side of the photo. Oh, how wrong we were.... =) By the time I took this photo, it was obvious that the trail had other ideas in mind for us.
Yep, that's right. More chains.... *sigh*
These steep areas with lots of scree and no chains to pull ourselves up with were some of the most difficult sections to get up. (Still see our lunch spot in the photo? Just to the right of center?)

I had Karolina jump to make it look like she was flying. She didn't really want to because her knees hurt, but I think she really did want a photo of her at the top flying high and played along anyhow! =) It's all downhill from here! (Which, actually, is the biggest problem for her knees!)

Views from the top were wonderful, though!

The trail would lead us all the day to the bottom of this valley. It's all downhill from here! At least until tomorrow when we hit bottom and have to go back up again. =)

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