Poorly planned but greatly enjoyed, hiking Mount Etna ended up being one of the most memorable events from our trip. We stared the morning like any other, gearing up on cappuccinos and croissants. As we nibbled we noticed the not so small flakes of ash drifting ever so gracefully onto our table. Fifteen minutes later our car was lightly covered, and we began our driving assent up to the base. The scenery changed so rapidly, we could barely believe it, stopping often to take pictures, or just gaze at the strange and unfamiliar scene.
The base of the camp was unremarkable; local honey stands and hoards of tourists. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was at a ski resort in the summer. At this point we had nothing else to do but begin our assent. Walking around the line of (normal) people for the gondola up, we climbed. Within a few minutes we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day. The lava rocks ranged from tiny pieces of sand, to chunks larger than ourselves. It was a strange, strange sensation walking over these very light but heavily packed rocks.
We climbed for about an hour and a half, mostly quietly, trying to keep our pace, and keep breathing. There were about 6 other people climbing at the same time as us, and as a group we seemed to be dancing up the mountain. One couple moving a head, all stoping together at certain looking points, and then another pair pushing forward. Understanding smiles were exchanged, as it seems no one exactly knew what they were getting into beginning the day.
Here, we thought we were done. Little did we know we were barely half way! A lunch of cokes and sandwiches refueled us for the next, more difficult part of the climb.
The second half was much colder, with ice burred under ash and lava..
I really regretted not being prepared for the cold. The wind picked up drastically, so our time at the top ended up being brief. In this flattering photo, you may notice Luca’s webbed feet. The Italians got a kick out of them. “Che strano!”As excited as he was to try these bad boys out on a volcano, he ended up having to stop numerous times to pick the lava rocks out from between his toes. Hilarious.
Seeing the volcano up close was incredible. The colors, the quiet, and the danger all made for a unique experience. What was most surprising to me, was the lack of any safety precausions. As you can see, the shale slides on its own, even at a gentle breeze. People walked fearlessly around its edge, as I slowly crept along, hugging the side. It was almost as if no one else understood that it was a VOLCANO. I just keep waiting for someone to yell “Run! It’s going to blow!” But, alas, it didn’t, so we began to head back to the car. The technique adapted was to basically run/jump down the hill. If we walked, our feet quickly became buried in rocks to it was much easier to just go for it. It probably would have been smart to grab one of these moon-mobiles, but we didn’t feel like being smart.
Luca finally gave in and made a shoe swap. We were both covered in a think layer of sweat and dust. Loved every minute of it.