With winter thawing, vacation days soon expiring, and few months of no travel I threw together a planned and set out on a ten-day solo adventure to explore Corsica. Ended up pushing my limits with rough mountain trails, very dynamic conditions, and challenging wild camping. Hopefully, the following information will help others seeking to tests their resolution against these island mountains.
This was first wild camping backpacking trip since coming to Europe so approx 1/3rd of the gear, sleeping pad and clothes, was on its first trip.
Sun protection – aka. (sunblock, sunglasses, small camp towel, cycling cap) During the day it was very hot and dry on the trails and at high altitude, there were no trees for shade. Being protected from the sun kept burns to a minimum. The joy of putting freshly creek dipped camp towel on the back of your neck.
Foam seat – Initially thought of a luxury item I found my foam seat absolutely indispensable this trip. It turned many an uneven rock, log, or patch of dirt whether it be wet or not into a dry warm comfortable seat.
Bivy – After a night of rain waking up to a wet underside of sleeping pad and wet set of extra clothes in the bivy was a disappointment. Still not sure if it was my fault for putting the cloths alongside my sleeping bag in contact with the outside wall, maybe having to big of a sleeping pad, or if my bivy is just getting old.
Deodorant – Personal decision, but for me just not needed. First thing I threw out when I got to a waste bin in one of the small towns along the route
Shorts – Turns out hiking pants keep you pretty cool and the sun protection is well worth it.
Fountain pen – Ran out of ink halfway through the trip, limiting my journaling abilities.
Took flight with Munich to Pisa with the pack checked in an airporter bag.
Once in Pisa simply stowed the airporter bag in the outside pouch of the pack and hit the streets in search of camping gas. Felt like a badass with the trekking poles strapped to the outside of my pack. Ended up finding gas on the outskirts of town, Campo Base, and by the time I made it back to city center it was getting dark so I boarded a train to Livorno, (4 EUR, 20min, very easy).
This was great planning on my part as I must be the only tourist to go to Pisa and not see the leaning tower. Once in Livono took a bus to the port, (Free as could not figure out how to buy ticket and it was late). I stayed at nice Airbnb that is walking distance to the ferry port, (30 EUR, very easy).
Woke up early to catch the 8:00h “Corsica ferries” ferry to Bastia (32 EUR). This was my first ferry ride since crossing Lake Michigan on a Badger ferry years ago. I had fun exploring the ship which seemed more like a cruise ship as it had cabins and multiple eating areas. Eventually settled outside on the deck where I climbed to a less traveled area and found a comfy spot with my foam seat. Got some good use out of my binoculars inspecting passing freight ships and other islands.
Once in Bastia, I sourced some topo maps from a local books store, which had a ton of great maps, then booked and boarded a bus, south. I can’t find the info on that bus ride but buses leave from here headed south few times a day also carrying school childern.
The bus ended up taking longer then I had planned so I arrived in Moriani with only an hour of sunlight left. Little bit worried I continued on and purchased some lunch food from a nearby grocery store and headed for the trail as fast as I could. Of course, I immediately got lost winding around backcountry neighborhood looking for the trail. My worries increased because wild camping is something that should be done with great care not to disturb locals and I was running out of time quickly.
With some grace, I found what appeared to be the start of the trail leading out of the neighborhood. There were orange markers on the trees marking it as a hiking trail so went in 500m and found after much searching a flat place to lay my head for the night between two ruined buildings.
( Disclaimer: Wild camping is not legal everywhere and I’m not encouraging doing so blindly. I’m of the belief that land has a certain capacity for wild camping. In nonbusy areas, if leaving no trace, and not disrupting anyone animal or human I think it’s ok. Also reccomend picking up any waste others may have left ).
The first night was not without event, there were sounds of the wind in the trees and animals off in the distance. Then came 23:00h when I was awoken by three young boars around my bivy. In the dark, this was more than enough to get the adrenalin pumping. The black creatures were bigger than a house cat but smaller than a golden retriever. At first thought, I was preparing for a fight but simple smack of the trekking poles on the ground got them to move on, a use of the trekking poles that would be a recurring theme throughout the trip. Afterward, I fell back asleep no problem.
I woke and broke camp just before sunrise at 6:00h, best to be on the move early when wild camping. Just as I was getting properly started with the trail I entered my next wild animal encounter. Coming around a corner of a narrow trail I was met face to face with a black bull, horns and all. Now I grew up in Wisconsin so I’m somewhat used to cows but seeing how’s I had my bright red raincoat strapped to the outside of my pack I decided it best not to test the bull getting mad at red theory. After I stowed the coat and with the help of banging my trekking poles together, I was able to coax him to the side of the trail so I could pass.
It was about this time I reached San-Nicolao or one of the small towns along D34 and found they had water and waste stations for hikers. I seised the opportunity and made some oatmeal for breakfast with my MSI pocket rocket stove, a meal I had every day for breakfast in the backcountry. Not being sure where the next water source would be I filled up to 4 liters for the trek.
I reached Pienti at midday, my original goal for day one. Seeing how I still had the energy I decided to push one towards Perelli. As I hiked along the vally, I passed several rustic pig farms and even had to fend off a horse while eating my lunch, he must have liked the smell of lunch meat and waffles. After Pienti the trail got significantly harder it started gaining altitude fast and the state of the trail also deteriorated with a lot of loose rock and dirt.
By 16:00h I was quite tired having risen from approx 400m in the valley to 1100m near Mt Castello d’Osari. I was pretty done for the day but after the boars the night before and passing what appeared to be an old hunting stand. I really wanted somewhere a bit more secure, so I dug deep and picked up the pace onward all the way to the Saint Alessio Chapel.
Man was it worth it, the chapel is situated up on a ridge overlooking the entire Alesani valley. It is gated, has a nice patch of flat ground, and is only accessible by trail. For me, it was the perfect place to stay the night, with absolute respect for the religious purpose of the structure I simply bived on the small grounds.
Sitting on the rocks looking back over to the sea the reality of this trip hit me. Being March there were absolutely no other hikers on the trials even though at that point they were completely passable with no snow at all. Also, the mountains are unforgiving with washed out trails and hot beating sun, basically spent half the day with my t-shirt completely sweat through the chest. This situation leads to a serious mood where an injury is not an option. Non the less I was enjoying myself.
A new day a new challenge, crossing one Alesani how hard could it be? After the daily oatmeal and setting my altimeter I set off with the goal of reaching Pianello.
Just as I was getting confident in my navigation skills following orange markers on the trial to Pie d’Alesani I noticed something strange, there was a lot more animal dung then normal besides the trail and wait I’m face to face with two donkeys and a french man is shouting over to me. Turned out that gate I went through baring an orange mark was an animal pen and not the route down the valley. After an extensive and deep conversation with the farmer of which I understood very little I embarrassingly shuffled down the correct path.
My understanding from the local was to follow the trail to the road then walk along to the “barracks” at the bottom of the valley. From behind that, the trail was supposed to rise up. Well, I made it to the valley floor and found a barn that could have been a barracks in a former life, it even had a trail leading off behind it. It led to a quaint waterfall but didn’t seem to go. Channeling my inner manily refusal to accept the obvious, I decided to climb the side of the waterfall and proceed through several thorn bushes and over a down barbed wire fence. Turnes no matter how much you want it sometimes there is no trail and in Corsica backtracking early is usually better.
After that excusion, I resorted to following the D17 towards Perelli. Walking the road sounds easier but steep, hot, black pavement presents its own challenges. Though hard this route provides a great lunch spot. Following a tiring section by the Couvent d’Alesani a shortcut trail goes off to the left and is well worth taking. There is a beautiful waterfall, place to filter water, and even a huge overhanging rock that creates shade.
Eventually, I made it past Perelli and up to the top of the ridge. Looking over the valley I could see all the way back at the Alessio Chapel, a real special. With another chapel on the map, I put some kilometers behind me in the afternoon and pushed all the way to the Riv de Bravona. Once there I did not see said chapel but there was an abandon farm house right on the river which was not gated but provided sufficient cover. After pulling a splinter out of my foot, an ice cold shower via the cooking pot plus river, and a freeze-dried meal and tucked in for the night.
On day five I awoke to the soft bubbling and gurgling of the river flowing by and cold fresh air morning air. Sleeping next to running water is one of the best parts of backpacking. My goal for the fifth day was trekking down through another valley and back up to Sermano. At this point of the trip, I was worn but still doing ok physically and mentally except getting a bit tired of hotdogs at every dinner.
The night was pretty refreshing and I was quite satisfied with the comfort of my equipment. This was the one and only night I pitched the tarp and had the bivy under it, definitely not worth hauling the tart all those kilometers but since I had it I at least had to use it once. With a fully extended trekking pole at the entrance and a collapsed pole extending the rear, the tarp created quite a roomy space. Inside had plenty of space for gear but after years of bear camping, I get nervous about even storing my medkit close to my tent. I don’t want an unexpected animal encounter at night over some chapstick, so I store most of my belongings approx 10m away from my sleep shelter in my pack with the rain cover on. The main lesson learned was, only bring the tarp on group trips.
Leaving camp I headed up the river along the bank. After 1000m or so the brush got quite thick and I moved on to a crumbling concrete path following the bank. Unfortunately, after about 500m it disintegrated into nothing and the river became impassable without venturing into the water. At this point, I backtracked to a dirt road that ended across the river from the old stone farm building I slept next to. As I started that road I noticed the changed in biome, the coastal vegetation had given way to an equally dry evergreen pine forest. It reminded me of this part in Colorado Springs where I grew up, very beautiful. After a kilometer or so I rejoined the Mare a Mare as it continues to climb.
Eventually, the trail meets Mazzola and from there to Alando its mostly paved road. This is nice at first, seems easier, but after a while, the roads are like an oven in the mountain sun. The traffic is low and the roads felt quite safe. I appreciated the company of cyclist also out enjoying the outdoors. In peak season there are some little shops to stop at, but when I was there everything was closed all the way to Sermano.
In Sermano I was hoping to sleep on the San Nicolao chapel grounds but this was a much more inhabited area and the chapel had a full graveyard which I was not looking to distribute. Luckily directly outside the chapel grounds in the back, there is a corner in the stone wall that provides nice protection and a great view. Having shelter with such a small footprint continued to open possibilities like this. Also beyond following a very rough overgrown path is a river for showering and refilling water. All and all another successful day in the mounts of Corsica.