Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 15: Please don't pet the bulls!

September 25: The morning was beautiful but cold, and Karolina seemed reluctant to get out of her sleeping bag. We lingered for about two hours in camp before she was finally ready to hit the trail at around 8:30. Not a late start, but not an early one either! But we also weren't in any particular rush either.

An hour or so into the hike, the trail split. The main route was slightly longer, but followed the contours around a large mountain making it flatter and probably easier. Both Karolina and I wanted to head up and over the mountains, though. It's harder, but the views were likely considerably better! So we veered off onto the alternate route with double-yellow waymarkers.

The alternate trail we decided to take would run right through that rocky peaks at the top of the ridge! (The main GR 20 largely followed the contours around the mountain ridge.)

And that's where our day's hike became more difficult. Up, up, up.... steep hillsides. Not particularly rocky or bad--just ever upwards, and knowing eventually, we'd have to make the long decent down the other side again.

Nearing the top, we started passing considerable numbers of day hikers. Karolina would pick them out based on their smell. "I smell soap on them. That group is a bunch of day hikers!" =) Their outfits also looked a little too clean and neat, and their packs much too small.

Views from the top of the mountain ridge were, indeed, amazing! From the top, we could see quite well all the way to the Mediterranean and beyond. We could see a large parking lot far below--a destination where we knew all of these day hikers had arrived from and where the trail was now leading us.

The descent was steep and--in parts--quite rocky. One place was steep enough that a chain had been installed. Chains used to seem like a daily occurrence early on in the trail, but we'd seen so few of them in the past week, this one almost felt like a treat. =)

Looking back down the valley where we had camped for the night. The trail had come down from the top of the ridge on the left the day before.

At one point, we followed the waymarkers through a gap, then found a jagged descent that didn't appear to be marked anymore. Unsure of where to go, I told Karolina to go ahead and wait and I'd backtrack around to see if I could figure out what happened to the trail. There was a second, less-visible gap not far away, and it was waymarked so was obviously the trail, but it didn't look much better than the dead-end we had already found. I decided to scramble down a bit to see if it got any better, and it might link up with the gap Karolina was already at.

A few minutes later, I heard Karolina calling out. "Ryan! Where are you?!"

I yelled back, "Over here!" Which wasn't really that useful because of our voices echoing against all of the tall cliffs. It's hard to tell where voices were coming from, but I didn't know how better to describe my location. "Go ahead and head down from where you are!" I could tell by now the rock scramble down from where Karolina was located would link up with where I was headed soon. A large, ragged shard of stone separated us from visual view of each other, but we really weren't all that far apart.

Karolina slowly descended and a few minutes later we had met up together again. Well, that was fun! =)

The trail up the ridge was steep and tricky in parts!

As we neared the giant parking lot we saw from the mountaintops, the number of day-hikers and tourists grew exponentially. Positively claustrophobic! And both Karolina and I were amazed at some of the stupidity surrounding us.

Our favorite was the guy who tried to pet a giant bull lounging on the ground near the trail. We were both whispering to each other--"OMG! Look at that! That man is gonna DIE!" The bull didn't take kindly to the gesture and "snapped" at the guy (for lack of a better term). The guy backed off after that, and although he hadn't been injured, it probably scared the crap out of him.

We were also amused at the people taking photos of themselves next to the GR 20 signage in the parking lot. They were obviously quite excited to be "on" the GR 20--albeit no more than a few steps from the parking lot. "Those cheaters!" I exclaimed. "Did you realize we could have done that and saved ourselves so much effort and difficulty?!" =) Many of them couldn't even be called day hikers--they were parking lot hikers.

The trail followed alongside a busy road for a short while--a miserable section of trail, to be sure! The road didn't even have sidewalks or even shoulders for us to walk on. It passed through a small town where we could have stopped for lunch or something, but we mostly pushed through. I was leery about spending what little cash we had left since we still needed enough to get off at the trail at the end. Karolina seemed less concerned about our lack of money, but that's probably because she had it all. She could just leave me at the trailhead at the end! (I know she wouldn't really do that. I hoped she wouldn't, at least. If we did have to hitchhike, a French translator would be very useful to have around!)

Eventually the trail headed back into the woods--much to our relief. The number of day hikers dropped off dramatically. But then, the best views were on the mountain tops in the other direction. In this direction, we were mostly in the trees.

I started feeling a rock or something in my shoe and told Karolina to keep going on without me--I'll just be a few minutes behind while I dealt with my foot problem. Karolina continued on, and I took off my shoe and emptied it of a few tiny rocks that had somehow worked their way in during the day.

Which isn't really noteworthy, but since I was now alone in the woods, I decided it would be a good time to pee. Except now I heard several women talking behind me, so I waited around for them to pass and when the coast was clear, did my thing next to a tree.

Which still isn't particularly noteworthy, but I walked much faster than the women did and soon caught up with them again, and they asked me about where I was headed. So I told them I was doing the GR 20 and started up near Calvi, and right then, their heads immediately exploded.



They quizzed me about the trail, about how long I'd been out there, and seemed tickled pink to meet someone who was hiking the whole trail. "I'm not the only one," I told them. "There are a lot of us out here. In fact, my hiking companion was just a few minutes ahead of you, and she'd done the whole thing too." The women introduced themselves as a bunch of friends from mainland France on a quick visit to Corsica for vacation, but they just wanted to keep talking about the GR 20 so I didn't learn much about them besides that.

Eventually they wore out the conversation and I pushed on ahead, catching up with Karolina about 10 or 15 minutes later and we hiked the rest of the way to the next refuge (Refuge d'l Palin) together. We set up camp near the edge of a scenic overlook behind the refuge.

Life was good!

Great views of the Mediterranean Sea! And the end of the trail is out there! Or as I started telling Karolina, "Koniec jest blisko!" (i.e. "The end is near--in Polish.")

Our one and only chain for the day was up this small cliff. We also suspected, based on the information in our guidebooks, that this might very well be our last chain of the trail. These people are coming down the rock in the opposite direction. (Oddly, even though we were going down the mountain at this point, we actually had to climb UP the rock--it was like a giant boulder had dropped down on the trail so we had to scramble up and over it.)
Karolina is at the top, waiting for me to ascend the chain. =)
My turn to ascend the chain!

I take a dramatic photo of these flowers. *nodding*

These are those flowers!

There's a lot of rock climbers around this section of trail, and you can see evidence of them once having climbed this cliff. See the gear they left handing from under this overhang? I noticed that immediately and pointed it out to Karolina. Her reply was pretty amusing to me: "Jesus Christ!"

Please don't pet the bulls! =)

But do feel free to take photos of them. =) That bull behind Karolina is actually resting maybe three feet from the trail. We went off trail to go around him! (The giant parking lot I talked about is in the background.)
The white statue of Notre Dame des Neiges is perched on a large cairn.

The miserable (but short!) road walk by a small town.

Ah! Yes! Finally back in the woods! On a nice, gravel road to walk on too! =)
A few of the French women who were so fascinated by my hike on the GR 20.
Karolina takes a break to admire the views ahead. She looks tired, don't you think? She might be ready for this trip to be over! =)

Still... a few more mountains in our path before we reach the end of the trail....

I fill up with water from this incredibly slow trickle known as a spring. (Seriously! It took like a half hour to fill up that Platypus!)

Conca is the town that marks the end of the trail! Koniec jest blisko!
Where, oh where, should we camp....?

We set up camp for the night near this scenic overlook. =)

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