Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hiking in Corsica

I remember as a nine year old when, during my family's month-long cross-country trip, we crossed over the "Continental Divide," the roughly north-south line in the US where the rivers begin to flow towards the opposite sea.   Last week my husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to hike along a similar kind of watershed in the French-owned Mediterranean island of Corsica (pictured above) for three days before crossing down into village-laden valleys and through lower, but still daunting, peaks for another four days to reach the beach at the other side of the island.

Coming from Utah as I do where world-famous mountains, lakes, and desserts could be reached in a matter of minutes (sometimes just outside the back door), backpacking is one of my favorite past times.  I fondly remember the trips with my dad, where I carefully planned the entire excursion, set out where we would go, and packed the the backpacks, sleeping bags, and tents.  Later, at BYU, I was lucky to find friends who shared my passions and hiked all of Utah's national parks, Zions, Moab, the Uintahs, and even 90 miles in Montana's Bob Marshall wilderness. (We thought that one was only a 50-miler, but hadn't accounted for the switchbacks.  It made for a rough week!)

Last week I learned that hiking in Europe is a completely different experience.  Their trials through the Alps and its subsidiaries are dotted with small lodges every 15-20 kilometers, providing shelter, beds, and evening and morning meals.  In Corsica they were called gites (something between a hostel and a bed and breakfast) and refuges (more primitive, but can often serve delicious meals).

This was a revelation to me.  In the states, backpacking is a long-distance endurance test to see if you can carry your means of shelter and all your food on your back.  Water purification is a must.

Here, not only can you save yourself the weight of a tent and mattress (we didn't know that you should at least bring thin sacs or sleeping bags to put on the often bare mattresses, but we made do), but almost all of your food.  Water is provided by "sources," or stream heads which have been engineered to tap natural springs.

This method of backpacking took almost all of the pain out (the peaks remained to be conquered), and left all of the pleasure (the views, the quietness, the raw connection with nature).  I'm completely sold.  The problem, of course, is that we will move back to the States at some point, and my husband has a life-long dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail someday.  By then I'll be spoiled.

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