I hiked all the way to the top of Le Salève. And unexpectedly, back down again.

One of the things that I’ve been meaning to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet is hiking up Le Salève, Geneva’s local mountain. One morning last week I got up with a whole Saturday to kill, so I decided to head over on the 8 bus to Veyrier, France, at the foot of the mountain, and do some serious hiking.

There are a number of different routes up to the top of the Salève. My plan, as you would expect, was to take the “easiest” one, which still requires a 665 meter, 2-hour vertical ascent to the mountain’s téléphérique station, and then another 5 kilometers climbing 400 meters in the process to the actual “summit”, which affords a spectacular view over the “back” of the mountain of the French and Italian Alps. Then I’d retrace my steps back down to the téléphérique station and enjoy the ride back down to the base.

Here’s my view from the trail head at about 12:15. I’m on my way up there.

Le Salève

That’s my destination, up there just under the airplane contrails

European hiking trails do a good job of providing reliable estimates of hiking time to a given destination. You see these bright yellow signs everywhere.

Trail sign

I’m headed for “L’observatoire”

In order to climb over a thousand meters in 4 hours, the trail has to be pretty steep. So it is.

Le Salève Trail

This is a pretty typical section of earthen trail. Note the “m” (slope!).

Here’s another segment of the “trail”.

Stone stairs on La Salève trail

This steep stark stone staircase stoked steady strain.

I also shot a quick little video. Excuse the panting.

As I trust you’ve gathered, this is a rigorous a hike, so I found it necessary to stop every 20 minutes or so and catch my breath. Stopping is also nice because it allows you to take in views, like this one…

Nice view from 1/3 of the way up Le Saleve

This is a lovely view, but still just 1/3 of the way up.

…and this one.

After 2 and a half hours of hiking, I made it up to the téléphérique station, but only stopped long enough to buy a sandwich and a couple beers that I would consume at the summit. The trail levels out somewhat at this point, but I still had about 5 kilometers of mostly uphill hiking to get to my final destination.

Nearing the summit, I turned around and shot this video below back down toward Geneva and the Rhône Valley.

4:00 now, and I’m 30 minutes from the summit. At this point, I’m hiking along a gentle grassy knoll (all knolls are grassy) up to the highest point. Here’s what that looks like.

Le Saleve "summit"

That’s my destination, straight ahead.

And then there’s the final payoff. I know I promised to dial back the Alps posts and photos, but that was a while ago so I’m due. This is the view southeastward, facing away from Geneva. The close mountains are in France, the ones way off in the distance are in Italy.


I sat and looked at this for a while.

Now it’s 5:00, and I’ve basically been hiking uphill for the last five hours. Good thing I’ve only got to hike back to the téléphérique station and buy a ticket with the cash I brought along for a nice easy ride down. So 45 minutes later, I’m at the station and I’m looking for the ticket booth. And I’m not finding one. I am finding a vending machine that only takes credit cards, which I did not bring along because I’m hiking, not shopping at the mall. At the base station, there are real live people who are happy to take cash to sell you a ticket. Turns out, this is not the case at the top.

The only way you are riding down in this…

Le Saleve Telepherique

This is the easy way up. And down.

… is to purchase a ticket with a credit card. I did wave my 20 Euro note in front of the ticket taker and politely asked whether I could just buy my ticket at the base at a cost of 4 Euros, which seemed like an innocuous enough suggestion, but he was having none of it. So I just muttered “merde…” and started hiking back down from whence I came, adding another 90 minutes to the hike. Yes, it’s steep downhill, but still. Made it back to the bus stop at about 7:30.

Note to self: Take a credit card with you next time you hike up the Salève.

6 thoughts on “I hiked all the way to the top of Le Salève. And unexpectedly, back down again.

  1. Wow Matt. What an incredible story! Who would think to carry a credit card on a hike in the Alps. Kudos to you and your orthopedic surgeon for being able to hike down.

  2. Wow, I think I would have been in trouble. Going down hill for me is so much harder on the joints. Great story and pictures of the view. What amazing adventures you continue to have!

  3. Great pictures. Was that a motorized hip they implanted? Or are you really in that great a state of fitness? I¹m tired from just looking at the pictures.

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