Stage 11: Cirque de la Solitude!

Today was, according to most, the toughest stage of the GR20 or so it was supposed to be. In preparation for the ordeal (600m up, 300 down, 400 up and another 700 down) we got up super early and managed to leave shortly before 6AM to attack the warmup — that was our record! The goal was mostly to beat the crowds to the “Cirque de la Solitude” but also to get there before it got too hot.

So on we went… the warm up was a bit brutal, with a very steep hike up to “Bocca Minuta”, the southern entry into the Cirque. The most feared part of the GR20 was in front of us, I was actually really excited about rappelling down the chains but first, we had to hike down another steep path of slippery boulders. Slowly, step by step, we caught up with a group of older folks who were taking their time going down the first chain. We went one by one down the chains, I was very excited, we’d heard so much about those chains! We went through a few more chained areas and then started climbing back up and while
It started somewhat soft we quickly had to let go of the poles and had to start using our hands on the slabs and the near vertical areas of the “hike” back up towards “Bocca Tumasginesca” the northern entrance to the cirque by then, Mary was having the time of her life — this was about as close to climbing as it got. By then we’d passed the group of older folks but we suddenly heard a scream, looked back and saw a massive boulder bouncing down towards the other hikers… one person in the group had gotten slightly off path and had dislodged a ball of granite about 50cm in diameter. Luckily it missed everyone but it was a sobering reminder of the dangers of this particular portion of the GR20.

After finishing the Cirque we started heading down a bouldery field towards Asco which eventually turned into a nice forest path.

Reaching Haut Asco was a relief. We checked in to the hotel took hot showers — a luxury on this hike — and then headed down to the restaurant for a “salade gourmande”: a bit of lettuce with lobster, scallops and a slice of foie gras… quite a feast! We hang out at the bar, walked around and napped our way to dinner where we went all out with an entrecôte au poivre and a “pavé de bœuf aux morilles”.