Saturday, 23 October 2010

Day 4 - Haut Asco to Refuge de Ciottulu di i Mori

Day four brings the even more infamous `Cirque de la Solitude' which many walkers dread, and it is at this point that some decide they have had enough and leave via the road to Haut Asco. It is the length and persistence of the scrambling in this section that gives it its reputation, rather than the difficulty of any one particular bit. Keen to avoid the queues that can sometimes build up here, and aware that after Jack's fall over Easter this might be somewhat of a challenge for him we got up quickly and set off at 7:00 on our route march up to the start (time was still allowed for mouflon-spotting and photos, of course). At the Col Perdu (2183m) we met Martine and Emmanuel.
Martine was gazing nervously over the gap down into the Cirque and admitted that she too was not looking forward to it. Even after all the hype, the down hill was a lot steeper than I had expected, and I often found myself thinking that the fixed chains didn't match up to the sections where I really wanted them. At the top of one of these sections Jack panicked due to some loose rock on the ledge, and froze. Two enthusiastic Italian guys came to the rescue though and scuttled up and down the rock face, giving Jack a quick masterclass in climbing and supporting his feet on a couple of occasions.

This was very kind of them but the whole thing might have been quicker if only one of them had been giving instructions at once! A little confidence regained we carried on slowly but safely to the bottom. At one point The Green People passed us looking as comfortable as if they were just walking down a set of stairs, I didn't even see them turn round backwards once. My attempts to emulate failed. The way back up the other side of the valley was more straightforward, the much photographed metal ladder was a bit of an anticlimax, having only about seven rungs.

We caught up with the French crowd again having a late lunch at the Refuge de Tighettu. Realising we hadn't quite stocked up enough on lunch-type foods at Asco we decided to try and get some here. Martine was astounded to discover that we weren't carrying any bread (a commodity not often available on the trail) and seemed to be so worried about the consequences of this on our health she kindly insisted we both have a slice of theirs. Jack and I were unphased by our lack of bread and had a good lunch of dried fruit, nutella and canistrelli (the delicious local biscuits). Mmm, calories. The French undoubtedly thought us strange, especially after we refused some of their pork liver sausage, but we were being careful to eat plenty of carbs and protein each night for dinner.

The Green People stopped here, but we carried on with Martine, Emmanuel, Denis and Pascal to Ciottulu di i Mori, 4 hours away in the baking sun. Frustratingly we had to pass some very inviting little swimming pools in the river without time to stop. We reached the refuge completely exhausted - the climb had been much worse than expected, a good 800m at the end of the day.
The mountains were also swathed in cloud by the time we got there and it was already very cold. We got straight in the tent and cooked out of the door. For `pudding' I introduced Jack to the wonders of Ovaltine, the most calorific hot drink sachet it is possible to buy (trust me, I checked every single one Tescos had to offer). Just as it was getting dark, I was standing in a queue for the toilets when a French lady came up to me excitedly waving her hands in the direction of a mountain slope and whispering `chamois'. Sure enough there was a herd of small goat like animals running down the rocks and they looked incredibly similar to the mouflon we had thought we'd seen earlier. She didn't speak English, but I asked her what a chamois was. The only description she seemed to be able to think of was that it had a small tail, not entirely helpful. Having done a quick search of the internet just now it would seem there are no chamois on Corsica, so I'm going to go with the earlier guess of mouflon, fairly sensible I think seeing as every refuge we passed had a mouflon information board.

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