Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

One of the many ski tours that I have led in Europe is the traverse of the mountainous spine of Corsica following the route of the summer walking trail the GR20, from South to North. This journey was completed over 2 trips in 2003 and 2005.


The team for the first (Southern) section in 2003 was David Hamilton, Ian Steen and Kim Mason. Further details


The team for the second (Northern) section in 2005 was David Hamilton, Kim Mason and Richard Cowper.


Richard Cowper, a journalist with the FT, wrote a report of the 2005 trip that was published in full on the FT website. An edited version is reproduced below.


A SKIING JOURNEY IN CORSICA'S MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS
By Richard Cowper

I was lucky enough to be asked to join David Hamilton and Kim Mason on their second ski trip to Corsica, aiming to complete the journey thay had started in 2003. We were on our first ski day - starting from the ruins of an old castle on a small saddle known as the Col di Vizavona - and we had already been going north for eight hours through dense beech forest, constantly thwacked by low branches and trapped by feathery saplings hidden in the snow.

We had not seen anyone and our bodies were reeling from the tricky conditions, which required us to switch backwards and forwards from normal downhill mode to skiing with skins, to carrying our skis on our rucksacks and climbing in boots with and without crampons. We had to repeat the whole process in a seemingly endless series of equipment changes. We became very slick at it, but exhausted. We looked down on the chasm that almost had claimed Kim and wondered how she had survived.

Just before darkness fell we found the bleak Refuge de l'Onda hut. All was damp inside what was to be our abode for the night. I was beginning to understand why Corsica had a reputation for unforgiving wilderness and why, perhaps, Napoleon Bonaparte cared so little for his birthplace. He never returned there after 1799, though he had nearly15 more years of freedom to enjoy.

Our second day was more gruelling and we found ourselves still skinning upwards on skis towards the highest wind-swept peaks as darkness fell. Disorientated in a small blizzard, which scattered us in spindthrift, we skied on after being on the move for over 11 hours. At last David located the comparatively luxurious but unwardened Petra Piana mountain hut (1,842m) and we lit the wood-burning stove to make soup, before tumbling exhausted into our bunks.

We lazed the whole next blue-sky day in perfect harmony, recovering from our exertions and gazing at the isolated, snow-covered mountains. As anthropologist Dorothy Carrington so accurately observed, they "soar into the sky behind, beyond, above, in rows of cones and spikes and square-topped knobs like gigantic teeth." There at the heart of this great array of deserted peaks lay the flat-topped summit of Monte D'Oro (2,389m) and the glorious pyramid of Pinzi Corbini (2,021m).

After another mind-numbing start before dawn, the following day was to prove the high point and undoubted "crux" of our expedition, for we had to complete a fearful 2km rising traverse with ice-axes and crampons across a near vertical slope of ice and snow, with our skis strapped to our 19kg rucksacks.

The drop beneath us down the slopes which linked the Punta Muzzella (2,125m) and the Punta Alle Porta (2,313m) was over 1,000m. We did not rope up for there were no sensible belays and we all knew that if we were tied together a slip by one would mean certain death for all.

It is for such moments that a ski mountaineer lives and after over an hour of fear and exhilaration in equal measure, as we frontpointed across on the very tips of our crampons, we came to rest under a steep rock cliff, taking in the deserted and rugged mountain scene.

The final delight for our tight-knit three-person expedition was to ski perfect powder snow through a scattered forest of high mountain oaks over a thousand years old above Col di Vergio. In a scene worthy of the film of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings we flicked in and out and around these ancient wind-blown trees, whose shapes were so extraordinary that they resembled the primitive old-gnarled gods of pre-history.

After this it mattered little that time and weather prevented us from quite completing our full Corsica itinerary. I know we are all looking for any excuse to go back.


December 2005






David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
Hartshill
Nuneaton
Warwickshire
CV10 0SG

Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

Telephone:    From UK    02476 395422
From other countries     +44 2476 395422

Skype:  davidhamilton8848

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