Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

Summer hiking

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After our wedding and honeymoon trips, all that remained of my university summer vacation was August and half of September. I know: what a hard life.

The summer activity I have most enjoyed is hiking, which fits well with Swiss culture. Every Sunday, when 99% of businesses are closed, the Swiss lace their hiking boots, shoulder their packs and ride the train to their favourite hiking spots. In the Swiss spirit, I have shirked my house-husband duties every so often and escaped to the hills.

One Sunday early in August, Eileen and I travelled by train to the nearby town of Satigny, the heart of Geneva’s wine growing region. No, it is not what you think: it was all hiking and no drinking (the wineries were closed). Our route went north from Satigny to the French border, from where we turned west and eventually south, following the Allendon River that represents the French-Swiss border for most of the way. The hike was fairly flat, the scenery average. But it was fascinating to see the Genevan countryside. We found two odd spots: a huge trailer park with permanent-looking residents (perhaps escaping Geneva’s high rents?) and a section of the Allendon River that seemed to cater to gay nudist men. No clothes, no women for a stretch of a couple of kilometres. Eileen was perplexed by one man who was walking near us, wearing only shoes and a backpack. He moved at our speed, so she had a long time to observe him. Unfortunately (or not?), no photos of either place.

The following week I followed another local trail, this time from Divonne-les-Bains, a town just across the border in France that is popular with the retired crowd for its casino and hot springs. I walked past both of them to a westward trail that crossed Mont Mourex, in the Jura Mountain foothills. From there, I walked south and followed the Swiss bank of the Versoix River west along the border before veering south until the river emptied into Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) at the town of Versoix.

I learned two things on this hike. First, the photo below shows the rounded summit of Mont Mourex, with Geneva and its Jet d’Eau visible in the distance. A short distance from the summit, a marker indicates the approximate spot below which tunnelling stopped for the famous particle accelerator built by CERN, Europe’s nuclear research agency that is headquartered in Geneva. You may remember a few years ago when CERN ignited its new atom collider, many loonies predicted the world would implode into a black hole, thus ending all life in the universe:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2650665/Legal-bid-to-stop-CERN-atom-smasher-from-destroying-the-world.html. I digress: I learned I was standing over a very long tunnel.

Second, I learned that even though it may look inviting on a hot day, the Versoix River is too cold for swimming.

In her blog (http://pikanation.wordpress.com/), Eileen wrote about a weekend we spent at a tipi village near Lac de Joux, organised by our good friend Jen Infanti. It was odd for this Canadian to spend his first night in a tipi in Switzerland, and disappointing that the package did not include a peyote vision quest. Second best was a campfire (my first in Europe, I think) and a short hike up the Dent de Vaulion on Sunday, which offered wide views of the valley.

My birthday this year fell on a Wednesday, so Eileen worked during the day and organised an evening with friends. That left me the day to explore the Mont Salève for the first time. It is the nearest and most prominent mountain around Geneva, although it sits just across the border in France. I started late so ascended in the téléphérique, walked along the ridgeline, then out onto a narrow cliffside trail at Trou de la Tine, before descending by the Grotte d’Orjobet. The latter is a vertical cave through which a trail passes via stairs and ladders – they have panels showing it has been a tourist attraction from Geneva for over a century.

A couple of weeks later, Eileen and I joined our friends Hélène and Gianfrancesco for a hike up another prominent mountain above Geneva: Le Môle. Eileen and I are usually an organised pair, but we were pathetic that Sunday: no moleskin for Eileen’s blistered heels, no lunch and no euros (Le Môle is in France). Thankfully Hélène and Gian were patient and prepared enough to babysit us. I really enjoy our time with Hélène and Gian, not only for their warm company, but because it is all in French. Ironically, despite living in a francophone region, I do not satisfy my appetite for French.

Most recently I travelled beyond the eastern end of Lac Léman to a mountain called Tour d’Aï. The journey runs from Geneva to Aigle by regular train, then up a steep, rack-and-pinion rail line (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rack_railway) to Leysin, a resort town clinging to the side of a mountain. From there a gondola delivered me to La Berneuse, a ski station. I began my hike from there, aiming for the Tour d’Aï. But I misunderstood my French guidebook, and even though the mountain is always in view, wandered around puzzled for two hours before realising my mistake. My misunderstanding stemmed from the fact that the guidebook mentioned a via ferrata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_ferrata) route as well as a “normal” one. I assumed, incorrectly, that the two were near each other. But my detour was worthwhile, as I stumbled on Switzerland’s national animal: the marmot. After the guy in the photo below, I saw another in a crack midway up the cliff.

Once I found it, the trail to the top was steep but easy to follow to the summit. At times it was quite narrow, so I will never bring Eileen and her vertigo here, but always felt safe.

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