Dylan, engineering student in the Netherlands – GR20 Northern Section – August 2014

Hello Dylan, could you please introduce yourself ?

Hi ! I’m Dylan, a 24 year old engineering student from Belgium, currently living in the Netherlands. Like lots of people here, I love adventuring into the outdoors ! I can also enjoy a quiet evening browsing the web, watching a movie or reminiscing passed escapades with friends. But it’s the mountains where I feel at home, no matter the season.

Dylan - on the summit of Monte d'Oro - GR20
Dylan – on the summit of Monte d’Oro – GR20 – Photo by Dylan ©

Have you ever gone for a hike ?

I have ! The most notable include the Laugavegur – Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland, a canoe trip in Värmland, Sweden (which, rather surprisingly, included lots of hiking with a canoe), the GR20 of course and some challenging day hikes in the Western United States, as well as closer to home in the Alps and here in Belgium.

More recently I have gotten my first taste of alpine mountaineering, during an organized introductory expedition on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif. We ended up on the Dôme du Goûter (4.304 m), 2 kilometres from the summit of Mont Blanc. It included my first experience with glacier traveling in cordée, using crampons and ice axes: a great experience !

Concerning about hiking especially in your country, could you advise some hikes to our readers ?

Most of the hiking in Belgium happens in the Ardennes, which is a mountainous area compared to the rest of the Benelux, but with elevations not exceeding 700 m very manageable also for beginners. Two areas worth checking out are Parc Naturel Viroin-Hermeton and Parc Naturel des Deux Ourthes with their “aires de bivouac”: zones in which it is allowed to pitch your tent for one night, close to nature. This is the only form of wild camping allowed in Belgium and a great initiative. Please act responsibly !

What about the GR20 ? When did you go there ? Which way ? Where did you start and finish ?

In August 2014 I hiked the Northern section of the GR20, from Calenzana to Vizzavona, together with two of my friends.

Group photo - left to right : Gregory - Max - Dylan
Group photo – left to right : Gregory – Max – Dylan – Photo by Dylan ©

We did it as prescribed in the TopoGuide GR by FFRandonnée, in the allotted 9 days, apart from three deviations:

1. At Tighjettu (the end of the 4th stage), we decided to walk down the path for another 30 minutes and set up camp at les bergeries d’u Vallone. Friendly people, natural pools and even a warm shower. Recommended !

2. On our 8th stage from Petra Piana to l’Onda, we went “par les crêtes”, which was great. It is more exposed, so I would go for the lower GR route in case of bad weather.

3. During the 9th stage we hiked to the summit of Monte d’Oru (2.389 m). The never-ending descent to Vizzavona was grueling… But the view from the top is totally worth it ! The yellow way markers however can be difficult making it easy to get lost, only attempt it in fair weather.

What was the context for you to want to go hiking on GR20 ? How did you prepare yourself to this target ?

We heard friends talk about the GR20, saw pictures and videos. It looked wild and absolutely amazing, something which we had to experience for ourselves.

High altitude lakes - GR20 Northern Section
High altitude lakes – GR20 Northern Section – Photo by Dylan ©

We decided to reserve the last two weeks of August early in 2014, but we did not book flight tickets until the first week of August. We ended up hiking August 21st-30th.

Personally, I did not do much to specifically prepare myself for the GR20. I was young, reasonably fit from a bit of running and cycling and went hiking in July to test the legs. The GR20 Nord ended up being an enjoyable experience, but I was definately tired when we arrived in Vizzavona !

Which material did you bring with you ?

Some of the larger pieces of equipment :

Backpack – Gelert Base 65L
Shoes – Lowa Renegade GTX Mid
Tent – Decathlon Quechua Quickhiker 3p
Sleeping bag – Millet Caucasus (comfort temp. 3°C, comfort limit -2°C)
Sleeping pad – Decathlon Forclaz Air (inflatable) + Forclaz M100 (foam)

Camp at Ciottulu di i Mori
Camp at Ciottulu di i Mori – Photo by Dylan ©

Light rain gear (jacket + pants), trekking poles, headlamp, sunscreen, first aid, emergency space blanket, Opinel knife, fork, cooking pot, stove, fuel, phone, camera, power bank, cash, sunglasses, hat, good sweater, softshell jacket, three pairs of trekking socks, light trekking pants, shorts, toilet paper, water purification, quick drying towel, … list is not complete ! I have since replaced some of my equipment with lighter alternatives, but the products above served me well and I would set out with them again. Full pack weight including food and fuel was nearly 15kg (at start).

We carried most of our own food. For dinner, our diet was based mainly around freeze-dried meals (went out for real dinner at Asco-Stagnu and in Vizzavona). For the rest of the day we had all sorts of snacks, from bananas to apples, from dried sausages to power bars and from cup-a-soups to hard-boiled eggs. We resupplied some basics at Castel de Vergio and got bread from the refuges on two occasions. For water, I carried two bottles with a total capacity of 2L (I would say this is the minimum required capacity). We treated almost all of our source water after hearing horror stories of people falling ill on the trail as a result of drinking contaminated water. We had no problems !

Your feedbacks ? 

Positives feedbacksSo much positives !

+ Corsica has an amazingly wild and divers landscape for a relatively small island, the views are amazing. The views ! Untamed mountains, seas of granite, extensive forests, the deep blue Mediterranean in the distance…

Relaxing sunset at Ortu di u Piobbu
Relaxing sunset at Ortu di u Piobbu – Photo by Dylan ©

+ Moving from one refuge to the next can be an adventure, a mental and physical challenge, arriving at your destination and dropping you backpack gives a great feeling of accomplishment.

+ In our case, the weather was perfect.

+ We met a lot of like-minded people from all over the world.

+ And so on…

Negatives ?

– Some of the caretakers in the refuges are a bit grumpy. Luckily, others are really nice.

– Due to its succes, it can get a bit crowded on some sections of the trail. (Bringing a tent makes you less dependent on bed availability in the refuges)

What was your favourite feedback ? And the worst ?

+ Adventure : the GR20 really awakened the sense of adventure in me and I have been longing for it ever since. This is something for which I am grateful.

– Traffic : sometimes I wish we could camp freely in the wild to avoid some of the busy refuges, and enjoy nature even more. But I also understand that it is a good thing that this is not allowed.

Your favorite stage ? And your favorite shelter ?

My most memorable stage must be day four, from refuge d’Ascu Stagnu to Tighjettu (or les bergeries d’u Vallone), over the Cirque de la Solitude. It was exciting and spectacular. Unfortunately, the GR20 has been rerouted in 2015 to exclude the Cirque after a rockslide tragically killed seven fellow hikers. I heard that the new alternative route passes very close to the summit of Monte Cinto and should be at least as spectacular and challenging as the old route !

Cirque de la solitude - GR20 - August 2014
Cirque de la solitude – GR20 – August 2014 – Photo by Dylan ©

Favorite refuge : Ciottulu di i Mori. What a view ! Or les bergeries d’u Vallone, with its friendly people, natural pools, warm shower and nice surroundings.

Night sky just before sunrise at Ciottulu di i Mori - GR20 Northern Section
Night sky just before sunrise at Ciottulu di i Mori – GR20 Northern Section – Photo by Dylan ©

If you should do again this hike, what would you change ?

I would love to have had an extra week to tackle the Southern section of the trail as well. I hope to revisit the island soon…

Which advices could you give to people whom are thinking to go for a GR20’s hike ?

If you are wondering if this trail is something for you, Google for “GR20 about the trail: the quick and dirty facts”. While I think that the tone of that article might be a bit over dramatic, we found it very helpful while preparing for our trip. Try to limit your pack weight and bring trekking poles to save your knees on the long descents. If you want to do it, you truly can ! Go for it and take your time to enjoy the journey.

Cow cooling down in Lac de Nino - GR20
Cow cooling down in Lac de Nino – GR20 – Photo by Dylan ©

Would you like to suggest something else ? 

Yes, important disclaimer : I hiked the GR20 Nord in August 2014 with good weather ; the information provided might be outdated or not appropriate for the conditions. Always check with the official instances for the most recent information regarding the route, trail conditions, available refuges, etc. before setting out.

Max striking a pose near Tighjettu
Max striking a pose near Tighjettu – Photo by Dylan ©

Stay safe and enjoy your adventure !

Thank you Dylan for this interview ! 

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