Before I arrived in Aix earlier this fall, I googled “Things to do in Aix-en-Provence.” Every website listed climbing Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that Cézanne painted upwards of eighty times, as one of the top 10 things to do here. So, after seeing the mountain each morning from my balcony, a group of us decided to take on the challenge one Saturday morning in October.

Our day started off with a short bus ride to the mountain.  The driver stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and told us we had arrived. Despite there being no mountain in sight, we hesitantly got off the bus and just started walking. Eventually, we arrived at a parking lot, quickly tried to make sense of the map, and enthusiastically started off to get to the base of the mountain. The trail we were following took us on a “scenic route” away from the mountain but after an hour of walking and plenty of pictures, we arrived at the base of Sainte-Victoire.

 We made it to the halfway point of the climb with relative ease.  There, we found a little peak with a cross on top, pointing up into the blue sky above. The decision to continue to the top of the mountain was unanimous – it didn’t look like it would be that much farther.  After a water break and a quick snack, I lifted my already tired legs and followed the others as we searched for the right path.

As it turns out, finding the right path was harder than we expected.  We climbed along a rocky, winding trail for what seemed like hours before we came to a rock that read “DIFFICILE.” In retrospect, we probably should’ve taken that warning a bit more seriously.  We decided to proceed and eventually found ourselves at what can only be described as a vertical wall of stone. I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that we pretty much scaled the side of the mountain in a failed attempt to reach the top of the mountain. We made it close, but resigned ourselves to the fact that we couldn’t go any farther in the direction where we were headed. 

After managing to find some rocks that weren’t loose on a relatively flat part of the mountain, we sat and ate our lunches in silence. Even though we hadn’t quite reached the summit, the view was breathtaking. Seeing how far we had come – and how steep our route had been – was a pretty great accomplishment. After scarfing down the rest of our food and finishing up the remnants of our water, we started back down the mountain.  I was essentially crab walking my way down, slowly making my way on all fours and genuinely afraid that I was going to die.

An hour later, I finally was able to catch my breath as we reached the safety of the trail and the base of the mountain. Despite my aching limbs and the voice in my head insisting that I was crazy for crawling up the side of a mountain, I couldn’t help but smile. In retrospect, it made for a great story and I even survived to tell it. 

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