This round trip makes use of the marked trekking trail GR20, which in the area of Col de Bavella divides in two branches, the regular one and the so-called alpine one. Both can be combined into a loop starting end ending at the Col. It should be marked, however, that the regular branch is somewhat lame, a hiking route, more or less keeping elevation, which traverses the west slopes beneath the Aiguilles de Bavella. The omnipresent macchia is interspersed with Larico Pines, all of which reduces visibility and views.
The alpine branch of GR20 is a stunning scramble among the aiguilles. The ascent from Col de Bavella is extremely steep and there are a number of scary scree slope traverses. Crux is the south face of Punta di l'Ariettu, where a 45° slab das to be descended. There is a loose chain protecting the descent but its protection is rather psychological than real. The slab can be circumvented by descending a chimney-like cave, easy in rock climbing shoes but almost impossible in hiking boots.
Aside the tour lies Punta a la Vacca, which can be climbed by a UIAA II chimney. All other of the aiguilles require real climbing skills and equipment.
You start the climb towards Punta di a Vacca from Col de Bavella. The saddle can be reached as follows:
- From either Bastia or Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio
- Take the coastal highway RN193 to Solenzara.
- Switch to RD268 which takes you through a long and beautiful valley to Col de Bavella
- From Ajaccio
- Take RN196 to Sartène
- After Propriano but before Sartène the road to Col de Bavella, RD268, turns off to the left
- Start altitude: 1214m
- Summit altitude: 1681m
- Prevailing exposure: E
- Type: Hike and Scramble
- Protection: One chain on the slab benath Punta di l'Ariettu's south face
- Start altitude: 1214m
- Effort: 2 - 1000m elevation gain
- Power: 2 - Long and Strenuous
- Psyche: 2 - Little direct exposure but tricky unprotected sections on steep scree slopes
- Difficulty: 2 - Very steep ascent
- Orientation: 2 - Marked and easy. Lots of hikers and trekkers on the route
From the parking lot at Col de Bavella follow the road to the the Madonna at the apex. Here GR20 turns off to the right (north) and heads for the base of Punta di l'Acellu. Right befor you reach it the alpine branch of GR20 turns off to the right, heading up the extremely steep slopes between Punta di l'Acellu and Punta di Bigornu. At the former you can hear the clanking of climbing gear at almost all times. The path winds between several impressive tafoni towers, finally heading through a couloir towards the col between the two Puntas. This, Col de l'Oiseau, offers a grand view of the eastern Aiguilles de Bavella, most impressive of all Punta di San Gio Agostino, which towers more than 500m above the canyoon underneath.
A ledge traverse through the east face of Punta di l'Acellu leads towards the next saddle but before it is reached the path crosses a scree field towards the western base of Punta di l'Ariettu. Winding towards a kind of balcony in the south face of the tower the path quickly gains elevation. On this balcony the tafoni structure of Punta di l'Ariettu is revealed. A large cave is located between the bacony and the tower, one of the possible descents from this place. The regular route, however, follows a large slab on the outside (to the south) where a single chain (loosely fixed at only a few bolts) offers some kind of psychological protection.
Once at the base of the slab the difficult parts of the route are mostly over. A steep ascent leads to the saddle between Punta di l'Acellu and Punta di a Vacca. The following section offers the best views of the whole trip with all of the towers visible from different angles. The path negotiates the south face of Punta di a Vacca, passing towards the next broad saddle to its north-east. It follows another ledge through the south and east faces of the tower.
Now, from this saddle Punta di a Vacca can be most easily climbed. An unmarked path leads to the base of the tower, where a steep grass slope takes you up by about a quarter. Now you have to climb across a number of granite blocks towards a narrow grass ledge. Here a narrow chimney takes you all the way to the east summit of the tower, a UIAA II affair of some 15m length. (Alternatively you can climb a steep straight ledge to the right od the normal route which leads to another very exposed balcony. Once across, an easy hike leads you to the summit (UIAA I but more exposed).)
Back at the saddle a steep ascent leads to Boca di Pagornu underneath Punta di Pagornu. Together with the Puntali di Pampalonu it forms a crest perpendicular to the main ridge on which the bigger towers are located. Shortly before the saddle you reach a rock windo - nice pics of the Puntali possible. The path now leads to the northern side of Punta di Pagornu from where Monte Incudine, Corsicas southernmost 2000er can be seen fro the first time. The path runs beneath the north faces of Punta Longa, Punta Alta, Punta Iolla and Punta u Forti, and starts to lose elevation. It quickly dives into the forest of Larico Pines which obstructs almost all further views.
(This forest is infested by caterpillars of the Pine Processionary (Taumetopoea pityocampa). The hairs of the caterpillars cause allergic reactions (rashes), which itch and hurt like hell.)
The path starts to descend more and more steeply, heading towards the intersection with regular GR20. To the right Monte Incudine can be climbed (3 - 4 hours), to the left the trail leads back to Col de Bavella. The first half of the hike are rather lame and boring, following the tree and macchia covered slopes underneath the Aiguilles de Bavella in south-westerly direction. However, right after you turn a corner to head east towards the col better and better views develop. First occasional clearings offer views of the aiguilles but later, after a profound valley has been passed you find impressive tafonis with views towards the long ridge of the towers on the south side of Bavella. Finally an surprisingly steep ascent leads back to the road saddle.