Corsica’s 190km GR20 has the reputation of being the toughest of all the Grand Routes and it is a reputation well deserved. The route slices through the heart of this mountainous and rugged island from Calenzana in the NW to Conca in the SE. This then was the destination for 10 members of 3RWELSH during the last week of June and the first of July.
Despite the obligatory fearsome billing in the warning order to ensure physically that we round pegs in round holes, uptake for the trip was strong from the outset and a capable cast of junior ranks assembled on 22nd June. We were met on arrival by our support crew who had driven out in advance with the ORP, consumables and Loan Pool stores. A day was spent at a campsite in Calvi organising ourselves and packing rucksacks for the off. The overall plan was to push south along the trail and be replenished whenever the trail intersected a road; carrying ORP for the entire trail is just not physically possible.
The first real test of the trail came on the third day of walking with the unremitting climb from Haut Asco to the Bocca Crucetta (2452m) followed by the long and at times, tricky descent to the Refuge de Tighjettu. By the end of the day everyone knew exactly why the GR20 is regarded with such respect.
Just over midway the small village of Vizzavona was reached. Here we all took a rest day and jumped on the small train down to Ajaccio, the capital of the island. This allowed welcome relief from the trail that had proven, thus far, to be fiercely hot; at the end of each day’s walking Cpl Grant Hughes would sit in a stream for up to two hours to cool off. From Vizzavona southwards the worst of the trail is over but some long days still lay ahead en route to Conca. Throughout its length the GR20 remains rugged underfoot and we saw a number of walkers whose boots succumbed; their soles parting company with the uppers and flopping like a parched tongue. Fortunately we knew of this possibility and all deployed with boots fit for purpose.
In order to fit the entire trail into a two week window we had to double up a few stages. This included the final two which made for a long 30km day executed at speed. The finish in Conca was a great relief given the fearsome heat. All that was left was to have a group meal, pack the bags and head home the next day. The GR20 is a challenging undertaking and fits well within the aims of AT. For a reserve infantry unit it ticks many boxes; fitness, endurance, organisation, team work, water management, leadership and reward for loyalty and service. All only possible with the continuing support and encouragement of the Ulysses Trust – a grateful thanks from all members of DRAGON CINTO 19.