Friday, May 6, 2016

Day 4: Rock Art

September 14: During the night, the wind picked up and I saw flickers of lightning in the distance nearly the whole night, but never close enough that I could hear the thunder. By morning, the wind had died down and the lightning--well, I'm not sure if it actually stopped or if it just became too light to see, but for all intents, it was gone as well. Just a layer fog-like clouds. Fortunately, no rain, and I didn't even "sense" that rain would be imminent.

All of the refuges have a helicopter landing pad, probably used during the construction of the refuges and to supply them for whatever horses and mules can't carry. But they can also be used for emergencies or evacuating injured hikers. Lots of uses for them! But this refuge was located in an area so rough, that the only space they could make for the pad was off the edge of a cliff! I don't know about you, but I'd be a little nervous to land a helicopter on this particular location....

Karolina and I got on the trail by 8:00, which might sound early, but I think we were among the last people to leave camp. All morning long, at ridiculously early hours, even before sunrise, other hikers were up and moving. We waited for sunrise!

Once again, the trail was wicked rugged. It climbed ever higher into the mountains (over 2,000 feet to Bocca a i Stagni) before it's long descent down to Haut Asco--our destination for the day. The distance wasn't especially far--a mere 3 3/4 miles according to our guidebook--but our guidebook said the expected time to complete this distance was a whopping 5.5 hours. And that didn't include breaks!

It was, as I said, wicked terrain, with plenty of scrambles, chains, and a nice, loose suspension bridge that was immensely fun to jump up and down on. =)

For the first time, we hiked among crowds of other people. Largely due to the fact that we camped legally with the several dozen other people by the refuge, everyone was grouped tight together on the trail. I rather preferred keeping away from the large groups of people, though. But between the fact that most people started before us and that we moved fairly slow due to the pain in Karolina's knees, the herd passed us by and we mostly had the glorious views to ourselves.

Hiking behind Karolina, I could see Wilson, all closed up from the rain the day before. "Come on, Wilson! You can open up for us! Don't be shy!"

Wilson replied in a high-pitched voice, "I'll think about it. Maybe when the sun comes out."

I was pretty sure it was Karolina pretending to speak for Wilson, though, trying to cast her voice to the pine cone. =)

Chains! Chains! Chains!

At the high point on the trail, we took an extended lunch break where I decided to develop a new skill: Arch building! Back on the AT, I stumbled across a hiker in the White Mountains who was building a large, rock arch, and--due to the multitude of rocks in the area--I thought about him and decided I wanted to try making one as well.

I've never built a rock arch before, and have absolutely no experience with it. I should start small, I thought. And so I spent about a half hour trying to build a small rock arch. I did it the same way I saw the guy in the White Mountains doing it, starting with a pile of rocks to form the arch around, then building the actual arch, then pulling out the rocks from the original pile--slowly, and one at a time, while tweaking and adjusting the arch to keep its shape as its supporting rocks were removed. It took me a good half hour, but at the end of it, I had an arch! Barely large enough to fit a fist through, but it was a self-supporting arch! Woo-who!

I took photos, of course, and thank goodness for that. I decided the arch would look more impressive if the hole in it looked bigger, so I tried scraping away more of the rocks and accidentally knocked the whole thing down. $#!*!

It's not like I expected the arch to last forever, but I didn't expect to still be around to witness its destruction either. The arch had been up for all of five minutes before I accidentally knocked it down. *sigh*

Our lunch break nearly over, I called it quits. I didn't have time to build another one. Not here, at least. Not at the moment. Maybe I'd give it another go further down the trail--but even bigger next time!

A nice, bouncy suspension bridge! The bouncy ones are my favorites. =) Just don't look down when you're crossing!

We arrived at Haut Asco at about 6:00 in the evening, nearly 10 hours after we had started. And covered 3.75 miles. Stupid trail....

Haut Asco is a ski-station and the closest to "civilization" we had seen since starting the trail. Since roads led to the area, there were restaurants and even a hotel. We set up camp at the refuge, though, finding a quiet location largely away from all of the other hikers setting up camp. We were lucky to get it too being among the last people to arrive for the day. We could only imagine that somehow everyone else had overlooked the campsite since it was slightly uphill from the refuge and most of the campers stayed downhill of it.

Being in "civilization" had its advantages, which included electricity. =) I plugged in my Kindle and smartphone at the refuge, and Karolina charged her phone. She decided to splurge on a big dinner at the restaurant by the hotel, but I passed on the multi-course meal still preferring to lighten my pack of its food. So near sunset, Karolina left for the restaurant and I cooked dinner in camp and wrote in my journal. I picked up our devices after they finished charging.

Karolina had been gone for what seemed like a couple of hours and it was quite dark at this point, and I wasn't sure if she had thought to bring her headlamp with her which might make getting back to camp difficult so I wandered down to the restaurant and waited for her finish. My timing was great--it wasn't more than ten minutes later she was leaving the restaurant and filling me in on every bite of food she had.

Karolina also picked up information about the trail's closure, which started here. The Cirque de la Solitude was just ahead, but still closed to hikers. There was a reroute marked with double yellow horizontal stripes that left in another direction that we'd have to follow.

The reroute was supposed to take 8-10 hours, but with Karolina's bum knees, it would undoubtedly take us much longer. It seemed unlikely that we could cover the distance in a single day, requiring another illegal campsite on our part. Being a reroute, there were no refuges along the route. We had to get completely around the reroute to reach the next refuge (and legal place to camp.) We'd certainly try to make it to the next refuge tomorrow, but we would have to be prepared for not making it.

The Cirque de la Solitude is infamous for being the most treacherous part of the entire GR 20--and the fact that 7 people died there just three months earlier suggests some truth to that statement--but rumor had it that the reroute wasn't much better.....

I also asked Karolina how her shoulders felt after her first day of hiking without a bra because, you know, I wanted to know. =) Well, that... and I genuinely wanted her to feel better. I can't have her breaking! She needed to be in tip-top shape to finish this trail, and I wanted to make sure that the shoulder-rash problem was no longer a problem. Her verdict: Her shoulders were still sore from the rash that had already formed, but they didn't hurt anywhere near as bad as they had the evening before. Bra-less hiking was a success! =)

But that was it for the night. Karolina dived into her tent, and once again I decided to take my chances by cowboy camping for the night.

I said don't look down! Sheeze! =)

Just look at the crowds of people! That's what happens when the only legal place to camp is located every five or so miles along the trail.

Lac de la Muvrella

I threw my trekking pole down below me, because it was just getting in my way while scrambling.

I went up ahead on the trail and am waiting for Karolina to catch up with me. =)

What the hell were they thinking when they built this trail?!

Although difficult isn't really a sufficient word to describe this trail, I will say--the views are spectacular!
The little arch I built, just a minute or two before I accidentally knocked it over. The arch actually looks bigger than it really was in this photo since there's not much to give it size, but you could barely fit a hand through the hole. (There is a shoe in the upper-right corner of the photo for comparison.) I was trying to dig out those smaller rocks on the ground under the arch to make the hole look bigger when I inadvertently knocked the arch over. I should have left them! Doah!

You can see Haut Asco--our destination for the day--far at the bottom of the valley.

Karolina and I were both surprised at some of the impressively large trees on Corsica!
Karolina still seems to be cheerful despite her sore knees!

Civilization at Haut Asco!
Karolina went off to look for a campsite while I sat around watching our gear. When she found a place, she called down to me and I carried both of our backs to the campsite. Which is why I'm loaded down with two packs. But it was only for--perhaps--a hundred feet! I didn't go far like this! =)

On an unrelated note, those tents lined up nice and neat in a row are available for rent for anyone that wants to camp but doesn't want to carry a tent. You can do this trail with quite a light pack if you wanted to and money was no object! =)
Blackberries next to our campsite. Yum! =)
I'm cooking dinner in camp. My side of the camp is a little more disorganized and haphazard than the nice, neat tent Karolina set up for herself! =)

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