An homage to my favorite European hike: to the top of Mont Salève

Followers of this blog are aware that one of my favorite things to do is go hike up Geneva’s “neighborhood mountain” Le Salève.  I first wrote about it HERE when I unexpectedly hiked both up and down the mountain.  And I recently wrote about it HERE when I discussed some of the fun and interesting people I’ve met on the way up. I first learned that it was possible to hike to the top in the summer of 2016, and since the mountain is just a short bus ride or car trip from our apartment, I soon found myself using it as my own personal “stair master”.

My sons Pat and Chris were in town on a visit that summer, and so naturally I took them for a hike up the Salève.  One of them asked me how many times I’d hiked it, and it was easy enough for me to count, since that was just my 5th time up.  Then a funny thing happened: from that day on, I kept count of how many times I had hiked to the top. Shortly thereafter, I set a completely irrational goal for myself: I would hike up the Salève 100 times before our time here in Switzerland is done.

As a reminder, here’s what the mountain looks like from “base camp”.  I remember that the first few times I prepared to hike it, the view from down below was a little intimidating.  But the more I did it, the less threatening and more fun it became.

Le Saleve

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

Another thing I learned about the mountain 30 or so hikes in was that there are two ways up. For the first 30 hikes, I always took what I came to call the “Easy Salève”. On the map below, the Easy Salève is marked in yellow. It’s only about a 4-and-a-half mile hike to the top, but you gain about a half mile of altitude on the way up. The “Hard Salève” is marked in white and is a 7 mile hike that takes you up through the “Grand Gorge” and terminates a little higher on the mountain.  (As one can see from the map and photos, the Salève is a long mountain, not one with a single peak at its summit.)

Saleve trail map

The Salève trail map.  The “Easy Saleve” in yellow.  The “Hard Saleve” to the right in white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the Hard Salève takes a good hour longer to complete, most of the time I opted for the quicker Easy Salève.  I didn’t keep a precise count of my Hard Salève hikes, but I estimate that I completed that about 20 times. So more often than not, my objective for the day was to get to the mountain, go up the Easy Salève, get back home, and get on with the rest of my life.  But then one day, I said to myself, “I wonder how hard it would be to complete two Salève hikes back-to-back, because if I’m going to get 100 of these hikes in, I might need to pick up the pace a little bit.”  So on numbers 13 and 14, a day I had a little more time on my hands, I decided to attempt my first “Double Salève”.  Here’s a selfie I took after completing the epic feat.

 2 X Saleve

Documenting my first “double Salève”

Another challenge that someone trying to hike the Salève 100 times needs to confront is weather.  The téléphérique (cable car), which is my preferred means of transportation back down the mountain is out of service from December through February, so unless you’re willing to hike both up and down in the snow, you have to do most of your hiking during the other nine months of the year.  But even then, sometimes you can’t avoid encountering a little of the white stuff above a certain altitude.  For example, I shot the two photos below at the same spot on two different hikes.  Notice how the trail on the left looks a little more enticing than the same trail on the right.

Saleve in AutumnSnow Saleve

Most of the trail consists of packed earth and rocks, but at certain points the trail forces you to gain significant altitude in a short distance.  So for those segments, the pioneers who laid this trail out used the technique illustrated in the photo below.  These stones are planted into the steep trail at about a meter apart for erosion control, but also to provide “steps” for the climbing hiker.  I always counted these steps as I ascended them on my way up to the village of Monetier, the “halfway point” of the Easy Salève: 108.

Saleve stairs

When I tell people that this is my favorite hike and I intend to do it 100 times before all is said and done, I often get the following reaction (from non-hikers, mostly): “Doesn’t that get boring?” No, it’s not boring at all.  Each hike seems to come with some unique experience that makes it different from all of the others.  Sometimes its the weather that makes the difference, or the people I meet on the way up, or the people I’m hiking with that day.  And then sometimes something completely unexpected happens.  Like this:

Then about a year ago, I was ready to attempt a new Salève challenge.  By this time, I had completed 8 or 9 “Double Salèves” (up the Easy Salève twice back-to-back) but I had not yet attempted what I came to call the “Salève Figure 8”: Up the Hard Salève, down the téléphérique, up the Easy Salève and back down the téléphérique.  That’s at least a 4 hour hike involving over a mile of vertical ascent.

Here’s a video I shot from “base camp” (the parking lot) that shows the mountain and the “Figure 8” hike I was preparing for as I approached my 100th hike to the top.

Of course, the best time to do this hike was on a good weather day.  I’ve tried to describe the feeling one gets after a long hike to the top, and the magnificence of the view from the top, but its impossible to describe with mere words.  On clear days, the view toward Europe’s highest peak Mount Blanc and the surrounding “massif” is so spectacular, it takes what breath you have left away.  On clear days, I would stand or sit there for 30 minutes or so and do my best to burn the image of that view indelibly into my memory. (Trust me, it looks even better in person.)

Saleve summit viewAnother great Saleve view

 

Are you wondering if I made it to 100?  Of course I made it to 100.  In fact, I made it to 101.  Here is a video I shot of my last 100 meters of my 101st ascent of Mont Salève, my favorite mountain in all of Europe.

Walking down is not nearly as fun as hiking up, and it hurts my toes, so this is how I would (almost) always go down.

Saleve telepherique

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