Meet my good friend and notoriously-slow-Snickers-candy-bar-eater Pat M. He was just here for six days. I’ve known Pat since we were teammates on a powerhouse third grade boys soccer team back in the late ’60s. These days, Pat spends much of his time working outdoors as a wetlands scientist so I knew he would be up for a solid week of hiking and exploring in the Swiss and French Alps. He did not disappoint.
When we receive guests, I generally try to design an itinerary to suit each individual or family. This time for Pat, I knew he would enjoy spending as much time as possible in the great outdoors, seeing the natural beauty of the mountains surrounding Geneva. And while I enjoy sharing the trail with any and all of our visitors, Pat is an especially enjoyable hiking companion because he knows so much about many of the natural features that one encounters along the way, especially on high alpine wetland trails which characterized many of the hikes we took together this week.
One more thing about Pat: he’s a tad competitive. When I told him of the adventures I’ve had with others who’ve come to visit us and have also enjoyed hiking, he was interested to know how far and how strenuous those hikes were. Pat came determined to best the previous standard bearer, who I believe to be Greg, for the “Most Miles Hiked By a Friend of the Swiss Sojourner During a Visit”. And because he’s a scientist, he came armed with a phone app that measures his total mileage, number of steps, and if it can be trusted, the equivalent number of “floors climbed” during a given hike.
Here is a rundown of our week’s hiking, according to Pat’s phone (which incidentally takes pretty good pictures and video, too!)
Day 1 – Walk around Geneva; 6.6 miles
Pat arrived from Ireland, where he had spent the previous week working and visiting friends, at about 3:00 PM on a Sunday. We checked him in at our place, then proceeded to take our regular “walking tour of Geneva”. The walk takes us over to the United Nations European headquarters, then down through the Botanical Garden, a particular favorite spot for an environmental scientist like Pat, or anyone that enjoys looking at and learning about interesting plants, like me. Then the walk goes through a pedestrian tunnel where one emerges on the other side of the busy roadway Route de Lausanne at the shoreline of Lake Geneva. We planned to take the “mouette” taxi boat across to the other side of the lake to continue walking from there, but we were denied a spot because too many other people had arrived before us with the same idea, so we continued down the shoreline walkway toward the heart of town. A mile or so further on, we turned away from the lake, walked uphill to the train station and on back to our place. We all agreed that it was a good warm-up for what was to come the rest of the week.
Here is a fun photo from the botanical garden.
Day 2- Chamonix – 8.4 miles, 140 floors
A favorable weather report for the Mount Blanc area led us to Chamonix on Day 2, just a little over an hour from Geneva. Our original plan was to repeat a hike I’ve taken three or four times along a ridge in the shadow of Europe’s highest peak, Mount Blanc, but the gondola that carries one up to the trail head was out of service, so we had to devise a Plan B. A shopkeeper recommended a trail called “Le Petit Balcon” on the opposite side of the valley. This hike offered a magnificent view of Mount Blanc and the 7.5 kilometer long Bossons Glacier, which has the largest altitudinal drop of all the alpine glaciers in Europe, and is approximately 7.5 km long (and shrinking, sadly), with a surface area of approximately 10 square kilometers.
If you look closely of the photo below (click on it to make it bigger), you can clearly see the “snout” or terminus of the glacier. We both thought it resembled a snake’s head.
We celebrated the hike by enjoying a cold beer (or two) and a hamburger in Chamonix.
Day 3 – “Easy Salève” – 5.8 miles, 220 floors
Regular followers of this blog will recognize this hike, which I have previously chronicled here. I have since discovered a longer and steeper way up the Salève, a route called “La Grande Gorge, but since the week was young, I opted to lead Pat up what I have come to call the “Easy Salève” hike, which involves an 800 meter vertical climb. This photo sort of sums up the vibe of the “Easy Salève” hike.
We celebrated our successful ascent of the Salève by visiting Philippe and Linda at ArtyGlaces and enjoying the world’s greatest ice cream.
Day 4 – Lauterbrunnen 11.1 miles, 160 floors
Regular followers of this blog will also recognize Lauterbrunnen from this post detailing my snowy ascent with son Patrick last year all the way to Piz Gloria, and this post where I announce that anyone who comes to visit us will be taken to Lauterbrunnen, whether they like it or not. Fortunately, my friend Pat was all in. We rode the gondola up to Grütschalp, then hiked along the ridge with the spectacular views of Jungfrau, Monch, and the Eiger to the town of Mürren. After arriving in Mürren, we took the Mountain View Trail, a three hour circuit through alpine pastures. Returning to Mürren, we rode the gondola down to Stechelberg, and walked back along the Weisse Lütschine river.
When you’re not gazing up at the snowy mountains, there is plenty of beauty to behold right at your feet. Alpine pastures this time of year are filled with colorful wildflowers. Acres and acres of them. Or maybe they’re called hectors in Europe, I’m not sure. Here’s a shot of a little bouquet I collected for someone close to me. (Not Pat.)
We celebrated the hike by stopping in Bern on the way home and enjoying a cold beer.
Day 5 -Simplon Pass 8.2 miles, 160 floors
On Day 5, our strategy was to venture a little further afield and overnight in the Sion Valley, which extends into the Swiss Alps along the Rhone River, east of Lake Geneva/Lac Léman. Because we arrived mid-afternoon, we only planned a short hike, an “out-and-back” of maybe 4 or 5 miles, originating at Simplon Pass and heading gradually downhill toward Simplon Dorf. As we hiked along, though, we changed our plan, figuring that there was really no point in stopping and turning around when it was clear we could easily hitchhike back along the main mountain pass that parallels the hiking trail. (Pat and I have a history as hitchhiking partners.) Or worse case scenario, catch a bus that runs each half-hour back to Simplon Pass.
But as fate would have it, neither of those options panned out. The last bus passed 20 minutes before we got there, and our hitchiking efforts were met with many sympathetic expressions, but no takers. Then we attempted to bribe a family who was gathering for a small soirée to drive us back, but our 10 swiss francs wasn’t enough to persuade them to change their plans. Undeterred, we turned around, and reversed our course back uphill the three or so miles to our starting point.
We celebrated the hike with a cold beer and some pasta at the restaurant in Simplon Pass.
Day 6 – Zermatt/Matterhorn 7.5 miles, 130 floors
Pat’s last day in Switzerland, so we were going out with a bang: Switzerland’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn. Just 15 minutes or so from our hotel, we climbed aboard a cog train in the town of Visp (“2007 Alps Town of the Year!” according to a tourist sign) and began the hour-long ride up to Zermatt. We sat across from a young couple (from San Francisco), who suggested we take the “5 Lakes” hike, which offers an awesome view of the Matterhorn and other incredible peaks, the names of which I did not bother to learn. The hike passes by lakes called Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee and Leisee, each with its own unique characteristics.
Incidentally, during this hike, some of the other people we made brief friendships with included the following: An older couple from Great Britain who once had a 20 minute conversation with the Queen; A young couple on vacation from Madison, Wisconsin; A young man from Great Britain wearing a Washington Redskins hat (like Pat and me, a lifelong fan, having attended 13 games in his life!); and a woman from Melrose, in my home state of Minnesota, who humorously expressed her displeasure that there was someone from Wisconsin on the same mountain.
The Matterhorn is reportedly the world’s most photographed mountain, and we did our part to widen it’s lead over #2.
To provide a better sense of the view from up there, here is a short video of Pat and me on the trail.
We celebrated the hike with a picnic on the way back home, along the vineyards of Vevey on Lake Geneva’s northern shoreline which included grocery store sushi, some Gruyere cheese, and some really nice red wine.
I accompanied Pat to the airport the following day, a Saturday. As we discussed the week’s activities, I told him that I was pretty sure that we covered more ground in six days than I’ve covered with any other guest. I did mention that my friend Greg is returning in September, and he also likes to hike every bit as much as Pat, so we’ll see what happens. Pat’s message to Greg: “Bring it on!”