The GR20 was my first long distance mountain hike and it totally kicked my ass! I first solo-hiked the Northern part of the trail in 2013 and it was a true sufferfest. My pack weight was well over 18 kilo’s and I sure wasn’t as fit as I thought I was. In 2014, however, I returned with two friends and a much fitter self. I also dropped 6 kilo’s of pack weight. The hike definitely was much more enjoyable this way!
The GR20 is definitely one of the prettiest trails in Europe and probably the world. It is so beautiful, in fact, that people from New Zealand come to hike it. The reason is simple: Everyday the scenery changes completely as you hike through many different microclimates. Anyone who braves the full 190 kilometers of the hike will pass desert, ancient pine forest, high granite peaks, snow fields, crater lakes, lush alpine meadows and countless streams.
Video about the GR20
In July 2019, I hiked the GR20 again. This time I brought my camera and my best friend. If you want to see what the GR20 really is about, I recommend checking out this video!
General information about the GR20
The GR20 is about 190 kilometer long and involves roughly 12.000 meter of ascent and descent. The route is divided into 15 stages, each one starting and finishing at a mountain hut, hotel or town. All of these places have their own campground. Basic supplies are available at all huts, as is cooking gear. That’s right, you won’t have to carry a pot and stove to enjoy freshly cooked meals each evening! Bring your own tent, however, as sleeping in the huts is not recommended. Every 3-4 days or so you’ll encounter a small shop to stock up on supplies.
Nature of the hike
The hiking itself is mostly on rocky terrain and sometimes involves consistent but easy scrambling. You won’t hike very quick or very far on this steep this terrain but won’t have to. With the exception of stage 2, 12 and the rerouted stage 4 you will never have to hike longer than 7 hours.
Weather on the GR20
The weather on the GR20 generally has the following pattern. Sunshine in the morning will lead to cloud build-up. In the afternoon it is mostly cloudy with rain and severe thunderstorms possible. Because of this you’ll want to leave camp early, as getting caught out in a storm can prove lethal. Even when there is no thunderstorms clouds will most likely cover the sun by 3 pm, leading to chilly afternoons and evenings.
When to go?
The best window lies between half June and late July. Before that the huts won’t be opened and significant snow lies on the high passes. August is really crowded and sees an increase of thunderstorms. Trying the GR20 in september is a gamble. Some years the weather is really good, in other years see the onset of autumn with severe coldfronts passing through. At any rate, the nights in September will already be much longer and colder than those in June.
The Cicerone Guidebook by Paddy Dillon provides excellent information and is recommended to anyone who plans this hike.
So how tough is the GR20 exactly?
The GR20 is billed as ‘the toughest trail in Europe’ and at first glance this seems true. The internet is full of stories of people who also got their butt kicked on this trail and a cursory glance at the informative but somewhat grim ‘quick and dirty facts about the GR20‘ will definitely scare away any sane person considering this hike. The main reason for this gruelling reputation lies in the trail’s popularity. Every year, dozens of uprepared idiots like me descend on the route. Every year, like me, they get their but kicked.
But, truth to be told, the GR20 is not that hard.
Yes, there is a lot of scrambling on the way from Calenzana to Conca but it’s all easy scrambling with fixed chains to aid you along the way. Also, most of the days are relatively short, allowing for plenty of rest. The renewed stage from Haut Asco to Aubergu U Vallone (stage 4) is an exception to this, as is stage 2, but the other days are mostly short and straightforward. Anyone who is reasonably fit, experienced and prepared can do this.
Now don’t be lured into complacency. If this is your first long distance mountain hike, you will suffer. Climbing up and down steep terrain every day is very hard to the unitiated. Don’t expect too much from the mountain huts either; sometimes you have to cue for hours for a cold shower and the toilets are typically french (a very, very, dirty hole in the ground). The campsites around the huts are often sparse, rocky and uneven. Sleeping inside the huts however is a bad idea, as the huts are plagued bedbugs and lice.
Whatever you do, however, don’t complain. Since you’re reading this, you already know all this. You are forewarned. You know it’s going to suck. If you go hike the GR20 (do it!) this is what you sign up for. I for one, still really like the huts. On the balance, they’re beautifully located and they provide shelter and food for the weary traveller. And hey, roughing it is part of the experience!
- Stage 1: To Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu
- Stage 2: To Refuge de Carozzu
- Stage 3: To Haut Asco
- Stage 4: To Auberge U Vallone
- Stage 5: To Hôtel Castel di Vergio
- Stage 6: To Refuge de Manganu
- Stage 7: To Refuge de Petra Piana
- Stage 8: To Refuge de l’Onda
- Stage 9: To Vizzavona
- Stage 10: To Bergeries d’ E Capanelle
- Stage 11: To Bocca di Verdi
- Stage 12: To Refuge d’Usciolu
- Stage 13: To Refuge d’Asinau
- Stage 14: To Refuge d’ I Paliri
- Stage 15: To Conca