Heavy Lifting

Week 5

Eight tons per cubic meter

Cart sits at the end of an LHC dipole (?) section
67 kB - 11 Feb 2004

If my understanding is correct, this cart is inserting a device called a "cold mole", a name which never ceases to make me smile. The superconducting electromagnets are being cooled down and then turned on for testing. The cold mole travels down the beamlines and measures the magnetic field.


I almost didn't hear about it. The email announcing the time and location of our crane training course wasn't sent to me. I am assuming Jeff also didn't get the email because he didn't show up at all. Thankfully Reza did get the email and he mentioned it the night before. There was talk of getting training to use the crane in our building, but up until the night before I hadn't heard a specific date. Unfortunately Reza didn't note the location of the course until after we had left CERN, so we weren't able to look it up online (there is no Internet at the hostel and I don't have a map of CERN). I rode into CERN at gate B on my bike and stopped at the guardhouse to ask directions to the building; I was looking for SM-18. (Oh yeah, we don't have the car anymore, but now I have a free CERN bicycle. Maybe I'll discuss the bike in next week's entry.) It turns out SM-18 is on other side of the street and I had passed it when I rode in. Plus, she didn't speak much English and I misunderstood part of the directions so I ended up riding past it twice. Oh, the inefficiency!

We had requested a crane training course because CERN rules require that everyone operating a crane pass such a course. Our work involves shuffling around large crates all the time and so it would be very desirable to not have to call a crane operator every time we need one. In addition, even when you call them the crane operators sometimes don't show up on the day you need them, which can slow us down a lot. I'm told they have been relatively reliable this year, but there still can be delays.

Wires and tubes connect to the ends of 1m diameter LHC
     sections, unlit sign announces RISK OF LIQUID AIR
63 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Life is always more fun when there is a RISK OF LIQUID AIR. These are the ends of the large blue tubes (sections of the LHC) seen in other pictures.

Unfortunately the really useful crane is the gantry crane overhead, and we have been told that even if we pass the course we won't be able to operate it. It has both a 5 ton hook and a 30 ton hook. We would be authorized to use a 5 ton crane, which is all we need (the heaviest box is only about 3/4 ton, and we never move more than two at a time), but because it also has the 30 ton hook we can't touch the crane at all. Someone (maybe Helmut) suggested the possibility of physically disabling the heavy hook somehow, but supposedly even that is not acceptable. We can only hope that someone will change their mind or tell us differently after we pass the course. If not, we are stuck calling the crane operators. Or, in a pinch, we can put dolleys under the crates and wheel them under the small crane on the side, but that would be much more cumbersome. That crane would just let us mount and unmount the chambers from the frames we use to flip them over, but we still couldn't move crates on or off the large stacks. But, even if none of us ever end up operating the crates, at the very least the crane training should make us safer when we are working with the crane operators. When a chamber is being moved from crate to frame or back again we need at least 4 people around the chamber holding onto it to be sure it doesn't bump into something and dent a tube or worse break off an extension tube (ET). The ETs are where the gas flows in and out of the chamber when they are flushed and pressurized.

Four magnetic coils surrounding a central tube
43 kB - 10 Feb 2004

This is a reference quadrapole (a particular configuration of magnet fields) sitting on a bench in one of the fenced off storage areas.

The Fun Begins

I had no idea what the crane course would be like and right at first it looked like it might quickly become tedious. The company that CERN hires to do the instruction has no English speakers, so our instructor, Bernar, only spoke French. In the end, though, I found the language difference made otherwise boring lectures a little more challenging and fun. The class was just for our group: Zhengguo, Helmut, Ed, Curtis, Reza, and I were there. Ed and Curtis know a few words of French but we still needed some vigorous discussion at times to translate critical phrases. Bernar handed out a page of translations for many of the technical words, but even with hand gestures that wasn't always going to cut it. Luckily, the UM Atlas group has one person who can speak respectable French, Rachel. She doesn't do hands on work with us in 184 so she wasn't signed up for the crane training, but, as always when we are in a tight French related corner, Zhengguo called her and she showed up shortly. She arrived about 45 minutes into things and stuck with the training for the whole two days.

39 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Off to the side was this large tube infested creation. It looks like it may be the same as those to which the LHC sections are connected during the work here.

The fun started after lunch when instead of the conference room Bernar told us to meet in SM-18, the large building nearby. Walking in we had to dodge a variety of massive vehicles moving large blue tubes here and there. There were cranes and huge flatbed trucks and the Robotruck, which you will hear about shortly. The door was labeled for "authorized personnel only" and had a key-card lock, but they seemed to not be using it, we just walked in.

The building is very large, approaching the size of building 180 but not nearly as tall. As you walk in the door there are a variety of posters describing technical aspects of the LEP and the LHC. Behind the posters is a collection of large cylindrical devices of which, like most everything else in the building, I do not know the purpose. Just past these things we come to a fenced-in storage area containing all the equipment for the cranes. This is what we came for. There is a rack of lifting straps, eye bolts, u-bolts, and the controls for the cranes that have remotes. (Some cranes have tethered controls while others have remote controls, this building has both.)

LHC sections connect to an elaborate two story apparatus
68 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Here you see the sections of the LHC (blue tubes) plugged into the equipment in the center of building SM-18 for testing.

Bernar grabs a long, industrial strength remote control off its charger and leads us down to the other end of the building. The walkway goes down the center of the second of the four corridors suggested by the structure of the building. Along each corridor runs a gantry crane we discover. I later make more careful note: there are two cranes in each of the outer corridors but only one in each of the middle corridors. With a clear walkway almost the whole length of the second corridor a tethered control on the crane works fine. But, the third corridor requires a crane with a remote because a large apparatus (seen in the picture with the green stairway) involving a heap of piping is filling up the middle. In order to run the crane over the top you need a remote control. The huge blue tubes with shiny end-caps, which we quickly surmise are parts of the LHC, are attached to this apparatus.

Round iron magnetic core containing two holes. 11 Feb 2004

This was an example sitting off to the side. It is from the center of one of the electro-magnetic tubes making up the LHC (the blue things seen in other pictures). You can see the two holes which will carry beams of protons in both directions near the speed of light.


I will take a moment to describe what the LHC is. I'll try to keep this reasonably basic and quick, skip this paragraph if you wish. There are two components to an experiment like the ones people work on here. The first is the production and acceleration of particles, things like electrons, protons, positrons, and antiprotons (hopefully you have at least heard of the first two). The second component is the measurement of results from the collision of these particles. Atlas, the project I am a very tiny part of, is a component of the second sort, carefully watching the results of the collisions. The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is of the first sort. It is all the equipment which will be installed in the 27km circle hidden below the ground here in the (mostly) French countryside. Its job is to guide, focus, and accelerate protons to near the speed of light. It is made up of tube sections such as the blue things you see here. Each piece is close to a meter in diameter. Mostly they contain superconducting eletromagnets which are cooled to only 1.5 degrees above absolute zero and use about 12,000 amps of current. (When the LHC comes online it will use about 1/6 the electrical power that all of Geneva consumed in 1997.) In the middle of the large tubes are two very small tubes, maybe 3cm in diameter which carry the moving particles. In this case the particles are protons. They circle in both directions, hence the two tubes. Devices such as Atlas are set up at points around the circle where the particles circling in both directions are brought together to collide. The LHC is a new and improved collider which replaces the LEP (Large Electron Positron collider) which formerly resided in the 27km tunnel.

Demonstrating the crane, only hook
72 kB - 10 Feb 2004

Bernar demonstrates the crane.

Swinging Things

We walk toward the far end of the building where our cranes await us. They are both 16 ton gantry cranes (running on rails just below the ceiling). Bernar grabs the tethered controller for one of the cranes and shows us how to turn it on. He then moves it into position and brings down the hook. The first lesson, in fact the major practical lesson for the whole two days, is how to start and stop the motion so that the load doesn't sway. It is very nontrivial and Bernar's initial demonstration implements it perfectly, eliciting great praise from us all. It is immediately clear that the technique will take some work to master and after some initial hesitation we were all itching to practice. For the first day we practice using only the hook; there is no load attached. A 16 ton hook is a heafty thing all by itself so we have plenty to work with.

Hook runs into marker
57 kB - 10 Feb 2004

Someone went a little too far. Bernar signals to stop. (Thumbs up means stop.) That piece of pipe may not actually fall, they have weight in the bottom.

The basic issue is that when you start moving the crane what you are really moving is the aparatus at the top of the cables. The hook and load hang below on long cables and so lag behind the motion. It is desirable to keep the load directly below the crane when in motion and this can be be done, but with a trick. What you need to do is start the crane in motion and just as the load begins to start to follow along you stop the crane momentarily. Just as the load catches up with the crane you start it up again and continue along. In this way the load stays under the crane as it moves, with the cables straight up and down. Stopping is more critical because you need to carefully bring the load to a stop, but it involves the same stopping and starting trick. As you approach the destination you judge how far the load will swing when you stop. When you are about this distance away you stop the crane and let the load continue forward. As the load approaches the end of the swing you move the crane forward just the amount necessary to catch up. If done right the whole thing comes to a complete stop with the load never swinging at all. In pratice you never implement this process perfectly and some additional adjusting is necessary to stop the swinging. To do this you just do the same thing, wait until the load approaches the end of the swing and then quickly move the crane so the cable is vertical. When done right it is sort of miraculous how the load suddenly stops swinging. Of course if you move the crane at the wrong time you can make the swinging worse. The reason you do all this is because obviously you don't want the load swinging as you set it down and when you are carrying something that weighs 10 tons you can't possibly have someone standing nearby to grab it and stop the swinging, it has too much momentum.

Both cranes in operation
71 kB - 10 Feb 2004

Here you can see both of the cranes we used. The one in the foreground run by Curtis is remote controlled. Bernar watches. In the background you can see Reza operating the wired crane and Zhengguo walking by.

After Bernar's initial demonstration we looked on with delight and a bit of fear as he brought out two pieces of PVC pipe, weighted at the bottom, and set them a few meters apart. The task was to move the hook between the pipes, stopping as close as possible without knocking them over. We took turns trying this out with Bernar standing behind the hook giving directions such as start and stop. (Waving his hands in the direction for start and holding his fingers or just his thumb up and still for stop.) After a bit of experience I discovered that his direction was often only helpful in retrospect. My reaction time was too slow to catch the hook at just the right point in the swing. Also, to judge the last little movement of the crane you really need to be looking up at the carriage and not down at the hook. As Bernar often reminded us, the trick is to watch the swinging and measure half a period then look up at the crane and move it exactly that distance at exactly the right time.

Zhengguo, Reza, and Curtis walk past long tubes on racks
72 kB - 10 Feb 2004

These tubes might be part (or all) of the assembly that is put in the core of the large blue tubes shown in other pictures here. Zhengguo, Reza, and Curtis walk away to go acquire steel-toed shoes (along with me) at CERN stores.

After the initial demonstrations and attempts we were introduced to the other crane. It uses a remote control which involves an interesting safety mechanism that wouldn't have occured to me initially. The problem with a remote control crane is that someone could accidently turn it on and start using the control without being anywhere near the crane. For example they may have picked up the remote control for the wrong crane. To prevent this the control has an infrared transmitter on the end. The crane is turned on by turning the key, switching on the power, pointing the infrared transmitter at a small box on the crane, and pressing a button. If all is ok the crane sounds a horn signalling that it has been turned on. The horn sounds like a single cycle of a lower pitched truck-backing-up horn. (Incidentally, a horn indicating that a truck is backing up doesn't seem to be required here. I think it was Reza who pointed out that he hasn't heard a single one since arriving here.) Once the crane is enabled it is controlled entirely by radio. This is exteremly convenient because the crane operator can easily move around to every side of the load and watch where it is going.

Weight scale in CERN stores
60 kB - 10 Feb 2004

The lower level of CERN stores, near the shoes, has this very cool scale.

We discovered that the two cranes behaved in slightly different ways. For one, the first crane has continuously variable speed in the translation direction. (Translation is when the crossbeam holding the crane moves along the rails running the length of the building. The other direction of movement is produced when the crane moves along the crossbeam.) The farther down you press the button the faster it goes. On the second crane there are just two speeds. You change between them with a switch. Also, the second crane takes longer to come to a stop in the translation direction. These differences kept us on our toes as we switched back and forth between the cranes as we rotated through the exercises.

Spools of wire and pallets of other things shelf three stories high
79 kB - 10 Feb 2004

The shelves of material, about three stories high, at CERN stores.


After we got things started we split up into two groups, each group leaving in turn to visit the CERN stores. We needed to do this because technically the course required "proper safety equiptment" which included steel-toed shoes. After telling our sad story about how we were only informed of this issue days before the class and then never received a response to our questions asking how to deal with this requirement, Bernar offered to let us continue with the course. But he did so only with great hesitation. To satisfy his concerns we discovered on our own that the CERN stores sell steel-toed shoes and planned to pick them up that afternoon during class (you can't do it during lunch time, nothing is open, including the stores).

My desk sitting on my toes
kb - 17 Feb 2004

My steel-toed shoes in action. That's my very heavy desk resting on my toes.

It was the first time I had visited the stores and it was fun in and of itself. The racks holding supplies are huge, at least three stories high, maybe more. The shoes are stored on the ground floor, which we couldn't find without asking, you go in the first floor and then in the middle of everything behind a wall you find a stairway going down. There are two types of steel-toed shoes. You can get grey canvas boots and black low tops. Everyone but Curtis choose the black ones. There a greater selection of sizes for the black ones and I thought they looked a little better. Curtis choose the boots because he said his shoe collection lacked something with ankle support. According to Bernar the typical steel-toed shoe can hold about 1 ton of weight. Later we will practice with loads much heavier than this, but the idea is to protect yourself from maybe part of the load or from small objects that might have been left on the load but then slide off as it's moved.

Zhengguo moving a rusty colored block of concrete with the crane
51 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Zhengguo slips our first practice load between the markers. Bernar watches closely behind him, Helmut is on the left.

Things Get Heavier

The second day started with more classtime. We learned things like the density of steel, the strength per square millimeter of steel cable, the color coding of lifting straps, and how to calculate the required rating for the straps/cables. For example, when the straps make a 90 degree internal angle you need to multiply the weight by 1.5 (≈ sec 45°) And when you use four separate cables to four corners of the load you should calculate the rating assuming the load is distributed over only two of the cables (in case the cables are not all of equal length). We ran through some example calculations in preperation for our exam later that day. Yes, an exam of course!

Markers delineating a crane obstacle course, load lifted
     over initial point
39 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Here you can see the typical obstacle course. Lift out of the four marks in the back, move around the corner in the foreground and head left, at the next corner move away, then move the right, lift the load and drop it in the four marks where it started. From front to back: Bernar, Rachel, Ed.

Finally, after the morning coffee break, our crane cravings were provided for. (By the way, coffee machines in the barracks outside SM-18 only charge € 0.35 ≈ 0.55 SF instead of 1 SF in building 40! Before I left that day I hung around and grabbed an extra cup of hot chocolate for the road.) We convened in SM-18, grabbed the keys and the remote crane control, and headed over to our training area. A rusty colored block solidly planted by a fence was our first victim. Of course first we needed to compute the weight; there must be no modesty here. Measuring ensued. If I recall correctly we concluded that it weighed about 2 tons. (I think it was concrete enriched with iron ore, something that is often used around particle physics experiments because its density means it absorbs more stray particles.) Then we had to verify that our strap was rated for the weight. Finally, we lifted it away from the fence and into the open. Bernar quickly set to work building a rigorous obstacle course.

Ed and Curtis lift a concerete cube past the markers
54 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Ed lifts a 0.8 m square block of concrete weighing about 1.5 tons while Curtis observes. The goal here is to lift the load out from between the four markers, carry it through a narrow right angle and then reverse the process.

Lifting 2 tons really didn't seem much different from the empty hook. The only major difference is that if something went wrong we could do a whole lot more damage. In fact, the extra weight made things a bit easier at times because it reacted slower and smoothed out the motion. The only difficulty I can think of is that, because of its significant weight, the hook would sometimes swing out of sync with the load. In such a situation it can be hard to decide how to correct. The real difficulty came from slightly more elaborate obstacle courses. The load was set on the ground surrounded by markers (what I will call those pieces of PVC pipe). Pick it up and over the markers, bring it close the ground (you always carry the load as close to the ground as possible) and then move it through a square with markers inside and outside all the corners. Finally you lift it up and back down into the original spot. Of course to give the next person a challenge you make sure to move the crane a bit after you set the load down. Getting the crane positioned directly over the load before lifting is an important part of the challenge. Throughout the whole course there was never more than 5cm clearance when you were passing markers, sometimes less.

Reza uses remote control crane to lift steel, Helmut and
     Rachel stand by.
58 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Reza does the initial lifting of a not-so-cubic cubic meter of steel which sits very close to a small building. Helmut and Rachel watch on. He'd better not let that load swing.

We were given another object to lift, this time a cube of concrete about 80 cm on a side. That comes out to about 1/2 a cubic meter or about 1 1/2 tons. We lifted it with the remote controlled crane and set up an obstacle course so two people could be practicing at once. We also tried to always have another person watching to help if the load started to twist. It usually doesn't twist, but if it does there is nothing the operator can do. The helper has to steady it by hand. Of course this leaves no more than 4 of the 7 of us occupied, so you know why I have so many pictures.

Reza moving the steel with the remote crane.  Curtis behind, Bernar walks by in front.
38 kB - 11 Feb 2004

The steel doesn't lift level because of its odd shape. Reza is controlling, Ed looks on from behind, and Bernar walks by in front making sure we don't destroy anything.

As our final challenge we were asked to compute the weight of an oddly shaped piece of steel. An accurate calculation of the volume is fairly involved, but I came out with a slight overestimate of one cubic meter. That is about eight tons. Some of us were sent to fetch the appropriate gear to lift it. For a while we had some concern that there were no straps rated high enough, but then we realized that we would be using the straps doubled over and so we could safely double the load rating. Our first rigging of the straps needed some adjustment because the load was oddly shaped. Adding some length to the straps on one side corrected the problem somewhat. Then it was time to go at it again. We made an obstacle course for our big piece of steel and tore around it with those little PVC pipes quaking on their weighted bases.

Steel piece hanging in the open above some markers.
54 kB - 11 Feb 2004

Just like the other loads we praticed with, the task is to pick up this piece of steel from between the markers, move it through some others, and then put it back between the markers. The fit is much tighter than this picture suggests.

Finally, the day was almost over and it came time for the exam. There was a two-page written portion with questions regarding procedures, safety, and computing the appropriate load rating for cables and straps. The practical portion of the exam had us each running through a square course much like the one we had practiced on. You start with the crane off to the side and have to attach the strap, lift the load, carry it through the course, and then leave it where it started. I was the last person to take the test and so while some of us were waiting Bernar kept us entertained by asking us to go use a new crane to lift a long slab of wood being used as a table. We tried it three different ways. It's trickier than the other loads because it has no good attachment point and so the straps can easily slip. When it came time for my practical exam I did fine except on the last stretch when I knocked over a marker. Being the only one left I felt a bit hurried and should have taken it slower. The only ones still around when we left were Bernar, Rachel, and I. We talked with Bernar (or I should say, Rachel talked with Bernar and we nodded and smiled). He said everyone did fine on the practical exam and if we did fine on the written exam then we would soon receive our crane operator's cards.

Fully mobile crane, the ROCLA Robotruck, straddling and
     lifting LHC tube
57 kb - 10 Feb 2004

This thumbnail is a three frame animation of the Robotruck lifting one of the LHC sections. Clicking on it leads to a static image of the middle frame.

Crane Creatures

As fun as operating those cranes was, there is always room for crane envy. My envy points clearly in the direction of the ROCLA Robotruck. It is a table-shaped creature with large cowlings concealing fully independent steering on each leg. The load, in this case the blue LHC sections you see in these pictures, is suspended undernearth, cradled by three straps. They use the Robotruck to move those blue tubes in and out of the building, and on a couple occasions we had to move out of the way as they drove through. There are usually two operators, one on each end. They are controlled by radio remote with small boxes that fit on one hand. This leaves the operator very mobile. You can see an animated image on this page showing the Robotruck lifting one of the LHC sections. I also have a couple movies of it inching around the corner where we were practicing with the cranes, but I won't put one up on the web page unless I can compress it down more.

Eight steps per vertical meter

Fields and the edge of the Salève in fog
19 kB - 13 Feb 2004

It was a foggy day and, very near, were are only just getting a view of the Salève rising straight up from the Rhône valley.

I Know There Is a Trail Here Somewhere

Ed and Helmut had been considering a road trip for the weekend but they hadn't planned ahead enough and things fell through. It turns out it is very hard to rent a moderately priced car in Geneva on short notice. It is strange to have to rent a car when you already have access to one, but that is the way of CERN. Our group has two cars rented from CERN but our range is very limited. They are only insured for trips in the immediate area and ostensibly on CERN business.

Shrine in nook of rocks with view into foggy valley
75 kB - 13 Feb 2004

A small shrine to Mary with candle burning squeezed in a nook along the trail.

Given the distance constraint they started to consider some more nearby options. I think something toward the Jura was discussed, but we quickly settled on finding a trail on the opposite side of the valley across Geneva. At some point Reza and I were invited along and we didn't need to give it much thought. I always appreciate a nice trail and had been eyeing those cliffs on the other side of Geneva almost from the moment I arrived. The top had to provide an incredible view!

Climbing steeply through the narrow section of the gorge
59 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Reza climbs up the tight switchbacks just as the trail wraps into the gorge and begins to climb out of the funnel.

The plan, hatched on Friday, was for Saturday. There was the hope that the weather would be kind and some talk of aborting and trying for Sunday if it looked bad. The weather report was promising, indicating "partly sunny" and probably the clearest conditions during the surrounding five-day period. But, after tearing myself out of bed Saturday morning I was a little disheartened to see no sky and the suggestion of rain drops on the window. The rain wasn't too threatening, but still, conditions for a hike to a viewpoint were certainly poor. We could only hope that it would clear. I was not keen on aborting since I really wanted to make Sunday my day for sleeping in.

Stone marker in small cliff face with icicles nearby
50 kB - 13 Feb 2004

I don't know what this sign is about exactly. It says "Grand Gorge / 1864 - 1954" and the words below have been scratched out. To the right are icicles. We are very near the top here.

Helmut was driving and Ed was navigating. The goal was to cross Geneva, the super highway, and run into the base of the hills. At that point we would just have to wander around until we found a promising trailhead. Ed knew of the trail but not precise directions. The task of travelling through Geneva is very nontrivial, there certainly isn't one major road that goes straight through. We had to simply maintain a general course and find our way down the winding, dead end, and one way roads as best we can. The trip was a bit tense at times as Ed's directional vagueries conflicted with Helmut's need for quick and decisive directions.

Wisp of fog crosses a road
64 kB - 13 Feb 2004

The view to the right just as we attain the ridge. On the left is part of the pasture we stopped in for lunch. The tower is down the road in the opposite direction.

Shortly after crossing the border into France (Geneva is surrounded on almost every side by France so we went in a relatively straight line from our hostel in Saint Genis, France through Geneva and then back into France) the building density dropped off dramatically and the cliffs called "Le Salève" which overlook Geneva came into view through the low clouds. Yes, the weather was still not looking good for a view. All of Geneva was covered in clouds and as we approached the base of the cliffs the conditions got dimmer and foggier. Looking up at the Salève it was hard to imagine we would find a way up, but Ed assured us he had seen many people arriving at the top via a trail during his last visit (The top is also accessible by car, but there's no sport in that.)

Clouds filling the Rhône valley
46 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Clouds filled the valley almost to the highest edge of the Salève, sometimes you could see them spilling over into the lower clouds on the other side.

Into the Clouds

Amazingly enough we found the trailhead without much inefficiency. The signage on the trail wasn't entirely clear, but with a little wandering around we soon found ourselves at a clearly marked intersection. Our trail, which had been running level along the base of the Salève intersected a trail heading determinedly up. So, up we went.

Reza and Ed on hill which disappears into the clouds,
     mountains in the distance
38 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Ed points roughly toward where Geneva should be. In the background is the peaks of the Jura. Reza is on the right.

The trail is almost entirely switchbacked but it still seemed steeper than most trails I recall from the mountains around Seattle. Also in contrast to my familiar Washington State trails is the open forest and trail littered with last fall's leaves. There was no snow on the ground at the lower elevations but around halfway up we started to see patches of snow here and there. Around 1/3 of the way up Helmut decided the climb was not being kind to him and he decided to head back to the car. I can understand, the climb was quite unforgiving and the prospects of a view seemed slim.

Building half obscured by fog
28 kB - 13 Feb 2004

A building just below the viewpoint and tower disappears into the fog.

Reza, Ed, and I continued up in hopes of clearing. Shortly after leaving Helmut the trail seemed to get even steeper. It was aiming for two gorges appropriately named "Grande Gorge" and "Petit Gorge". At one intersection we saw a sign on a rock pointing to Petit Gorge but above it was painted a warning not to go that way. We heeded the warning and headed toward Grande Gorge.

We saw very few people. There was one man heading down fairly quickly using ski poles and who was obviously very fit. I wondered if he is one of those who runs up trails like this, something that I'm almost sure would kill me. In any case, I soon realized why those ski poles were very handy. After climbing up through the narrow part of the gorge the way became more and more snowy. It was wet, icy snow. I began to ponder the possibility of hiking back down, something which was surely more trecherous. In addition there were a couple stretches of the trail where the way traversed a wash with no bottom in sight, getting steeper before it leveled. Thankfully, those couple stretches offered mostly clear trail.

Trees sprinkled with snow on one side below a view of Mont Blanc
66 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Here you can see that the pine trees held a slight bit of snow, but only on their north facing sides. In the background is Mont Blanc.

I was moving slowly near the top and also frequently stopping to take pictures so Reza and Ed were a bit ahead as we approached the top. About that time a man passed with his dog. He would throw a stick up hill to the side of the trail and the dog would run up and back down to retrieve it. That dog must have climbed twice the mountain that we did and with a little too much relish. I liked the system, it kept the dog from running ahead and getting into trouble with an excess of energy like some other dogs. Of course this was only possible because of the very open forest.

Alan, rock star style, framed by blue sky and building
19 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Alan at the top of the Salève, rock-star style. This picture is mostly here because Mom said I don't have enough pictures of myself.

We had just passed an icy rock wall and a sign announcing "Grande Gorge" with some mysterious dates when a miracle happened. I turned a switchback and in the distance I was greeted by direct sunlight splitting the trail in two. It was a beautiful sight. The top must be clear!

Mont Blanc
104 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Mont Blanc, at 4810 m is the highest mountain in Europe.

The Alps Appear

Arriving at the top, after climbing about 600 m (≈ 2000 ft), I stepped out into the open along a gently winding road placed right on the crest of the ridge. Ed and Reza were a little bit ahead of me, so here is where I joined back up with them. Wisps of clouds spilled over the road just a short distance away, but otherwise all was very clear. Across the way the area was clearly more gently sloping. Gentle enough to support some pleasant pastures. We walked along the road heading slightly downhill. Ed was leading us back toward an elaborate radio tower that stood above a cleared and rounded over point only the ridge that he had visited before. Not far from the radio tower we hopped over a fence and found ourselves a nice rock in the middle of a pasture on which to sit for lunch.

Snow, barb-wire fence, and mountains beyond
68 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Wide shot of the Alps and the partially melted snow along the fence paralleling the road.

The view, oh my! Looking away from Geneva down the gently slopping hill we had a clear view of a whole range of dramatic and snowy mountains. This is the French portion of the Alps, shared with Italy, called the Savoy Alps. The right most portion of the view is taken up by Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. Its peak lies in France but the mountain is split in two by the border between France and Italy. Scanning to the left, the jagged mountain range continues on, soon finding the Swiss border. I'm not entirely sure where, in this view, Switzerland starts. The peak of Mont Blanc is at that tiny pointed bit of the French-Italian border near Saint Gervais on this map.

Our lunch was delightful. The weather was cool but relatively gentle. Ed expressed some slight caution with regard to the possiblity that the field we were sitting in might be inhabited by an angry bull. As I recall this came from some personal or semi-personal experience. I in turn related my story of rescuing my crepe paper hot air balloon from a herd of hungry cows (one of their stomachs seems to be devoted to the digestion of crepe paper). It was agreed that cows are something to be taken seriously. Oh, the times! Anyway...

Panorama of the French Alps from the Salève
311 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Panorama of the Savoy Alps. Most of what you see is in France, though some of the mountains in the left half may be in Switzerland. The mountain on the far right is Mont Blanc, the tallest in Europe. The border with Italy runs along this mountain ridge.

Looking almost straight down on Reza and Ed heading down
     through the gorge.
78 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Reza following Ed down the trail through the narrowest part of the gorge. Considering how it almost seems I had to levitate in the air to take this picture, you get a feeling of how steep the hill is here.

We wandered across the road and down to a rounded-off grassy area just below the radio tower for a view back toward Geneva. There is the inevitable parking lot, restaraunt, and gift shop here. The field also lacks the bovine related flavor: lumpy soil and the possiblity of a surly lump maker. The view was quite simplified on this day, but not without its charms. The clouds were at our feet, objects only a few steps down the hill were beginning to dissolve away in the fog. Here, and also back where our trail had summited the ridge, we watched clouds spill over the hill and into much lower clouds filling the opposite valley. Across a sea of white the only thing visible was the snow capped Jura. While earlier, somewhere maybe halfway up the trail, we had been able to faintly make out the Jet d'Eau, here there wasn't a trace of Geneva to be seen. As much as I would love a bright clear day to peer down on Geneva from this vantage, I found the view presented to us entirely satisfying. It was simple, dramatic, and oh so downy soft.

74 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Come on guys, run on down here! Don't worry about the ice.

The view entirely consumed and digested, we started to wander back toward the trail. I of course had to delay things with my multiplicty of cameras and lenses, so Ed and Reza took the opportunity to lay back and nap along the side of the road. It wasn't too long, but they both say they had actually fallen asleep for a moment. In that time I had acquired, along with a whole lot of unecessary but seemingly obligatory photos, the nice picture of fence, receding snow, and Alps shown here.

Sun lighting up the fog, and hillside, faint buildings below
29 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Our first views of buildings in the valley below as we make our way down. What you can see is the part of France sandwiched between Geneva and the Saléve.

Gravity Prevails

Back on the trail and disappearing into the clouds, we had to confront those troublesome snow patches. They slowed us a little, but most importantly none of us went sliding all the way to Geneva. On the whole, going down was much faster, the snow patches being only a minor factor. Somehow it seemed even steeper going down, and gravity kept us rolling along. And, as is usual for me, the return trip was perceptually shorter. Interestingly, Reza is the first person I have met who says he experiences the opposite, the return trip seeming longer than it is. Maybe I'll dissect his brain and explore this issue further if he'll let me.

View back up at the foggy cliffs and gorges
45 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Looking back up as we skirt the cliffs on relatively level ground heading back to the car. The Grande Gorge through which the trail climbs is out of the image off to the left.

At a few points on the way down we paused to admire the gorge dropping away along side of us. The bottom was hidden in the fog. We also took a few moments to admire the valley slowly appearing below us. There wasn't much you could see of Geneva, but a variety of homes and farms squeezed between the superhighway and the hills could be easily made out. At least one of the fields, which is in Switzerland across the highway is used by a hanggliding/para-sailing club. We passed the club as we were heading home. Ed had been saying that he had watched people parasailing off the top when he was up there last. It makes a lot of sense: the large gently slopping field facing Geneva would be perfect for a launch site. Of course you must not forget your passport, the para-sailing takes you from France to Switzerland.

Looking across buildings at the two gorges coming down the Saléve
67 kB - 23 Feb 2004

Looking from CERN, a view of the two gorges, Grande and Petit, just below the viewpoint and radio tower. I have a labeled version of this image as well.

No question, the hike was surprisingly successful. I'm almost always up for a hike, especially if it involves a little climbing, but it is most desirable for such trips to yield a view. And, despite all the early indications, this trip ended up rewarding us grandly. Up until moments before summiting the ridge I had no idea we would clear the clouds. I am most appreciative of the surprise. I don't think it is often that conditions are precisely like they were on this day. Speaking of climbing, for the record the trail climbs about 600 m (≈2000 ft).

Triangulated and folded church roof and spire
55 kB - 13 Feb 2004

I believe this is an Armenian church of traditional style. I quite like the roof.

Return Trip

Arriving back at the car we were a little surprised that Helmut had hung out there the whole time we were gone. He got a good amount of napping done at least. Our drive back toward CERN went via a slightly different route from our arrival. I enjoyed the opportunity to see more of Geneva. The architecture is lovely, though at times I have thought it suffers from a bit too much uniformity: the buildings are all about the same height and there is nothing dramatically modern or dramatically old.

Old masonry building with black iron railings
49 kB - 13 Feb 2004

Some random but nice example of a building in Geneva.

We passed through Carouge, which I forgot to mention in last week's entry. We visited Carouge about a week before on a Friday night. The goal was to acquire food. With me were Ed, Curtis, and Reza. Ed suggested it as an interesting place and knew the rough location (much like this hike) and so we headed that direction. There certainly were a few interesting restaraunts. One that looked busy and very interesting had a menu that we could not decipher at all and so we shied away; maybe next time. The place we settled on specialized in crêpes and looked relatively cheap. Even then, I ended up spending about 20 SF ($16 US) for wine and a small crêpe (you can get a substantially bigger crêpe in Ann Arbor at Rendez-Vous Café for only $5 US). Food in Geneva isn't cheap. But my crêpe was certainly tasty, sort of a breakfast combination: ham, eggs, tomato, and something else (and of course wrapped in what is essentially a thin pancake).