Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Running in Corsica #2: Calenzana - Galeria (Mare e Monti North)

Please check my previous post for a few words of introduction of my stay in Corsica and this series of articles. If you visit the area of Calvi and you like running or hiking, there may be a major reason, the GR 20. As I stated a couple of weeks ago when I ran on the GR 223 around Granville, GR stands for Grande Randonnée or Chemin de Grande Randonnée. The GR 20 is a famous destination which crosses Corsica vertically between Calenzana to the North and Conca to the South of the Island. About 200 kilometers of tough, rough and technical trails which usually take 15 days for hikers to cover but which Killian Jornet ran in a record 32 hours and 54 minutes in June 2009! The GR 20 has its own website, legr20.com.
Now, Calenzana is also the start of another trail called Mare e Monti (Tra Mare è Monti in Corsican), literally Sea and Mountain, which shares the first mile with the GR 20 before turning right toward the Mediterranean Sea. There are actually two Mare e Monti trails, North and South, and three Mare a Mare (see to sea) trails crossing the island horizontally (North, Central, South). The trail between Calenzana and Cargèse is the Mare e Monti North and typically takes 10 days for hikers to cover.

While wikipedia states that it is less technical than the GR 20, I still found many sections hard to run because of the number and large size of the rocks or roots, or slippery sections of sandy stones, not to mention the narrow trails with thorny bushes scratching your calves and hiding rocks on the trail... As Killian said after his GR 20 record, running on such trails requires extreme focus and Killian even said that it was the hardest thing he had ever done before 2009 which says a lot...
Despite the trail challenges the views are amazing and the vegetation between Calenzana and Galeria is actually quite varied, from very dry areas to sections along refreshing streams. After the first common mile with GR 20, you leave the main trail on the right and get to the Bocca au Corsu pass. The next mile is quite technical then you get on 2 miles of downhill fire road.
While it took me one hour to cover the first 5.5. miles, it took me an hour to climb back the next 3 miles and another hour for 4 other technical miles. I'm really not used to such a 20-minute/mile pace... The last miles to Galeria include one mile on the road before the trail gets back in the woods with low branches, another trick for the backpackers. A last climb gets you to 500 feet over the bay of Galeria for some very nice views of the beach and small harbor.
In 5 hours and 31 minutes of running time, not counting the breaks to take pictures or water from the streams, I covered three stages of the overall trail: Calenzana > Bonifatu (5 hours), Bonifatu > Tuarelli (6 hours) and Tuarelli > Galeria (5 hours). 24.6 miles and 5,600 feet of cumulative elevation.
Of course, I wasn't carrying the 40 or 50-pound backpack which I saw on the a few hikers and I must admit that I would have hard time hiking with such a load on such technical trails on which you basically have to stop at every rock/step, even more so in the steep downhills.
If interested, you can download the detailed route from Garmin Connect, and/or more likely look at the pictures I uploaded onto my Picasa album.

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