23 January 2011


And now a break from our regularly scheduled program...

Yes, there are barriers to a productive ski season and they come mostly in the form of that on which a ski season depends. So while the bise wind is petrifying whatever snow was able to survive the foehn wind, let us reflect on times of Mediterranean tranquility and high alpine bliss.

The ancient Greek word for Corsica is kallisté. This translates to something like "the most beautiful." That's a fair approximation. Granted the ancient Greeks hadn't seen Southern Utah, Northern Idaho, or the Great Basin, but for their time and place, sure, Corsica would probably take top billing. And so it was in Corsica that we found ourselves in late October, after all the Germans and Brits returned to their respective countries and the summertime crowds a distant nightmare.

Corsica is a small rock, and it's a rock that sits quietly in the Mediterranean just above the larger Italian rock of Sardinia. Mountains comprise two-thirds of the island. Monte Cinto is the highest of these mountains and at 2,706 meters (8,878 ft) the top of it was one of my goals for the trip. An early, cold storm brought heavy rains and high elevation snow two days before I set off for a day of climbing around Haut-Corse.

I knew the interior was rugged but I was struck by the aridity and resemblance to places I know and love, like the Rocky Mountains. The Corsican pine tree is beautiful and big and reminded me of a combination of the Ponderosa pine, with its long needles, and a Bristlecone pine, with its hardscrabble environment in which it thrives.

The day was long, cold, and quiet. In the end, though, the mountains won and I was forced to stop about 1,000 feet below the summit due to deep, drifted snow and soggy feet. The climb was very rewarding and included quite a bit of scrambling, rock-hopping, and route finding. Plus, new snow is always a thrill.

Under the summit of Monte Cinto and the turnaround point:

I decided to descend into a different valley to make a big loop out of the day. More solitude. More views. More waterfalls, Aspen groves, and pine trees. Good day.

With that accomplished, and because the other members of the party weren't interested in alpine scrambles on ice and snow, I set my mind to other pursuits: trout fishing! Trout fishing under the disguise of family picnics, of course. Cold, clear, fast moving water flows from those big peaks and native Brown trout make their home in Corsica's rivers, streams, and lakes.

Then there was the Mediterranean, where two-thirds of the party preferred to spend their vacation. Luckily, as a small rock surrounded by it, you're never too far from its shores. Even I admit it was pretty nice.

What else do you do in Corsica? You eat and drink well. The people on that rock take their food seriously. From fresh-caught seafood to wild boar, house-made pastas to sheep's milk cheese, the menus vary widely and reflect the Corsican pride in locally raised and produced products. The wines, too, with funky, indigenous grape varietals like Nielluccio and Sciacarello make for a new world of exploration. To eat and drink in Corsica is worth a trip alone.

Beyond that, driving in the foothills, staying in ancient villages, and doing a whole lot of nothing is good enough, isn't it? Corsica's own blend of Old World Europe--a little French, a little Italian, a little Portuguese--lends itself well to lazy, dreamy days.

All in all, a great way to spend a week.

There is skiing in Corsica, weather permitting. It’s better in the spring, apparently, when weather systems are more predictable and less violent. There are a few rudimentary lift operations and many backcountry touring possibilities. I came across a guide book called Corsica Bianca that details some routes and if I can catch another EasyJet flight for 300 CHF then spring skiing is a real possibility. At this point, and with these weather conditions, even skiing mid-winter on a small Mediterranean rock can't be much worse than the current state of the Alps. Bad snow conditions in the Haut-Corse? Go drink Vermentino and eat langoustines at a seaside restaurant for the day. In Corsica there doesn't seem to be too many reasons to fret. Life is good and slow. Kallist√©. Then and now.

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