Two days on Mount Etna

Up and out early this morning for an attempt to climb to the summit area of Mount Etna. We took the bus so far and then had to switch to four wheel drive and pick up our guide Franco before heading into the National Park. The aim was to tour the Northeast Crater which is the highest at 3300m, the central crater which is 2000 years old and the Bocca Nova formed after the 1968 eruption. The southeast crater dates from 1971. There are numerous lava flows from the various eruptions. Here is an early view of the mountain on our way up.

Etna view 4 (1 of 1)

We could hear explosions underground and ash clouds and sulphurous smoke came out of numerous fissures and crevices.

Etna view 13 (1 of 1)

The landscape is almost as if you are in another world and I took over a hundred photographs. Here is one of the craters.

Plants on lava flow with cone (1 of 1)

Walking among the lava flows is tiring and it would be so easy to twist an ankle between the rocks so watching where to put your feet is a must. We did a long descent through the ash from one of the eruptions. Scree walking skills are useful but taking care to avoid dislodging a lump of lava and causing it to roll down on one of your friends. When we were traversing the side of one of the ash cones, two people above us were sliding down the side causing lava rocks to come down onto our path and delayed some walking along it. On the lower slopes plants have started to colonise the lava flows.

Today was a slightly later start and we were driven up to 1900m to walk across the 1865 lava flow, up the ash cone and then look down into the crater. There are many interestingly shaped ‘bombs’ of rock and lava and some distorted trees. There are birch and pine forests which we walked through and had a break at Monte Barranco. We crossed three dry river beds and were then nearer the 2002 lava flow. Many dead trees in all sorts of contorted shapes stand in midst of the lava. Eventually it was time for a refreshment at one the bars and then a steep climb up one of the ski runs before descending in a beech forest where our bus was waiting. We had a short wander round Linguaglossa but it was the four hour siesta so most of it was closed. It was then back to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s early start.

Travelling to the volcano

On Saturday we left Gatwick a few minutes late and as I always like a window seat, saw the white cliffs of southern England disappear and the blue of the English channel in sunlight provide a complementary colour to the orange on the wings of the Easyjet plane. I passed the time on the flight reading the Saturday papers and trying to resurrect my cryptic crossword skills. We passed over the snowy peaks of the Alps and then down the east coast of Italy. The Aeolian Islands appeared, some quite obviously extinct volcanoes and then we were in the cloud with some turbulence before landing at Catania. It was 26 degrees but once our group had gathered and we had met our tour guide, Elena and the bus driver, Giuseppe, we set off on the hour long drive to our hotel which sits at 1000m on Mount Etna’s flank. We got good views of Etna (Europe’s highest volcano) and the sun going down from the bus but could not stop for photographs. The mountain weather forecast has changed a little from dry all day tomorrow to rain in the afternoon but aim to reach the summit so there is and early start tomorrow. Etna last erupted in May of this year. Settling into the hotel, meeting all the group and sampling the local cuisine and wine was the priority for the evening.

Hotel ai Vecchi Crateri Sant'Alfio (1 of 1)