It’s no secret that I love Italy. Love it. The food, the wine, the history, the scenery. And now the volcanos. I’d never peered into a volcano before. Thought I’d give it a go.
During a short but relaxing trip to Sicily, Boy Independent and I decided we should burn off some of the pasta and wine we were scoffing and go climb Mount Etna, that big pointy thing in the middle of the island. Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in the Europe. It’s huge. It looks at you from everywhere, no matter where you are. It’s beautiful, and ominous. From our balcony, we had a stunning view every morning of it smoking away, just teasing us to come and see it. So we did
On the beaten track
Usually I prefer to take the non-tourist option where I can. I like to do things my way, find my own path. Etna is a different kettle of fish, as you can only get up the with a guide. We did some brief research, but given time constraints, decided the quickest option was to turn up at the bottom of the mountain and see what w could get. Sure enough, a small portacabin was offering 5.5 hour treks to the main crater. Job done.
The first stage of the “conquering” is a bit cheaty, really. It’s a cable car the majority of the way, to 2500m. Then you decant into a “jeep”, which is really an articulated lorry with some seats on the back, which takes you to 2930m. Can’t be that far then, surely?
The hard bit
Then the trekking starts. Initially it’s over roads of sorts, then we veered off over rocky terrain, thankful for good hiking boots. At this point it’s about 30 degrees and boiling. But we’re told to bring a coat. I’m hoping its going to cool down soon because I’m horrendously sweaty.
The higher up we get, the cooler it becomes, both in temperature and in scenery. The island below looks tiny, and the mountain above gets more mysterious, especially when little steaming bits of earth appear.
It’s steep and you need to be fit. As the altitude gets the better of you, it becomes harder to grab a breath. At this point I’m still warm, even thought it’s noticeably cooler. The ground is unstable and it’s becoming a bit of chore….because you need to focus on where you’re putting your feet, for fear of twisting an ankle on the rocks, it’s really difficult to appreciate the scenery.
Eventually, after a couple of hours trekking, we’re here. The main Crater. And it’s not disappointing. We stand on the rim and peer into the vat of steam and smoke, smelling utterly awful, acrid and pungent. It sticks in the throat and it’s hard tostadas there. But we do. We marvel at the majesty and awe of this huge mountain that created the biggest island in the Mediterranean.
And it rumbles! It’s a sound from deep within the belly of the mountain. The sound of stirring magma. Like a grumbling stomach.
We walk on, after spending some time leering in. Around the edge of the crater, and more grumbling can be heard in the distance, making us wonder whether there’s going to be an eruption while we’re actually here.
It starts raining and it’s then I realise I’m cold. Apparently the steam produced by the volcano hangs around the crater forming clouds and just turns to rain. I get drenched. Linen trousers weren’t a great idea, it turns out.
Coming back down the mountain was considerably easier, as you’d imagine, than it was going up. There’s a knack to running down an ash covered slope, apparently, and it’s to go quickly, heel first, into big piles of ash and sand. It works, but it doesn’t half leave you with half a mountain inside your shoes:
After a stop for lunch (note to self- bring sandwiches for next volcano conquering) we continued down and visited some other craters, while the guid told us all about when they happened and how. It’s interesting, although hisEnglish isn’t the best (it’s better than my Italian, but that’s not a high bar to be fair)
One thing you do appreciate is the sheer scale of the volcano’s lava and magma underground network. It’s huge, there are massive crates everywhere. When it explodes it doesn’t always come out of the top crater. And it leaves some lovely earth forms behind.
The scenery was lovely, but now after five hours we were ready to get back. My ankle was hurting (after last year’s terrible twisting accident in the George pub in London Bridge – warning; some alcohol may have been involved) it was jarring in the same place, and I manage to hurt my knee too. Boy Independent’s dodgy knee was also playing up, and we were tiring and happy to see the Cable car station by the end. It’s just a shame you have concentrate on your footing so much,to appreciate some gorgeous bleak and majestic scenery.