Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hike Blogging: Mt. Etna, Sicily

Editor's Note: Mount Etna is an ACTIVE volcano, so always be careful when attempting anything it's slopes.

Spurred by the Cap’n’s descriptions of his hikes to the tops of local mountains, the Great El-ahrairah has decided to take up the challenge. What follows is a report of my hike up, not some wimpy mountain but to the top (well not quite but close) of an active volcano, Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

Mount Etna is Europe’s tallest active volcano. It erupts about every two to three years and depending on the eruption, it could be something rather destructive (like in 2001) or just a few volcanic belches (like today). It dominates the skyline of Catania and eastern Sicily at it highest point of 3,350 meters (10,990 feet). It is currently belching lava, but there is no danger to the surrounding communities since it’s all flowing down into a natural catch basin called Vale del Bove.

There are two ways to get to Etna, from the south thru the town of Nicolosi or from the north thru Linguaglossa. Since Nicolosi is just above Catania, I decided to go this way. The road winds up the side of the mountain thru old lava flows until to you arrive at Rifugio Sapienza at 1,892 meters (6207 ft) in altitude. Rifugio Sapienza was somewhat destroyed during the 2001 eruption, but this is the quickest way up the mountain to see the lava. There is a gondola ride that will take you up the mountain to 2500 Meters (8202 ft) at the foot of the Montagnola crater from the 1763 eruption. There you can take a special bus which will drive you father up the mountain to see the Torre del Filosofo crater at 2900 Meters (9514 ft) which will also get you much closer to the site of the current eruption. The whole round trip (up and down the mountain to see the whole shebang) costs 45 Euro. When I first came to Sicily in 1999, I went up to the top of Etna on one of these tours, but I don’t remember much about it other than it was windy and cold (for June) and I got to see actual, hot, flowing lava.

I poked around on the Internet and found a hike up the mountain to the site of the Montagnola crater and then back down. From there I thought that I would be able to see the lava in the Vale del Bove. The hike would take about four hours and would rise about 750 Meters (2469 feet). Before I started the hike, I wandered over to look at the twin craters of M. Silvertri Superiore and Inferiore. The road to Zafrerana Etnea runs between the two and back in 2001, they were still smoking. The end of my hike would have ended here, so instead of trying to find the trailhead to start my hike, I decided to go backwards and start at the end of the hike.

The first part of the trail passed thru lava fields and I was able to see the vent where the lava came pouring out in 2001 and destroyed some of Rifugio Sapienza. After that, I kind of lost track of the trail (it happens) and strayed off a bit, but since there is basically no vegetation on the side of the volcano, it wasn’t all the hard to see where I was going.

After about two hours of doing switchbacks up the side of the mountain thru volcanic sand and rock, I arrived at the top where the trail was. From there I could see the lava in the Vale del Bove

and also the summit where the lava was belching out.

From the parking lot down below, you could hear the lava exploding out of the crater and I expected to see a Hawaii witch doctor running around warning everyone that the "gods where unhappy today".

Here's a shot from the trail at the top showing three craters (M. Silvestri Superiore and Inferiore, another crater and Rifugio Sapienza in the distance and beyond that is the cities of Nicolosi and Catania.

My trip down the mountain was much less taxing because I basically pussed out and paid 12 Euro (Ladri!!!) and ride the gondola back down the mountain to Rifugio Sapienza. Lest the Cap’n think that I’m not the rabbit that I used to be when I dragged his furry rear-end up Timpanogos, my boots where starting to make hamburger out of my feet, so I decided to pay the 12 Euros and save my feet for another day. At the bottom, I kind of wandered around looking at the tourist trap shops that are located at the parking lot and then called it a day.

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At 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like your pictures of the volcano they are interesting, i love to go there some time
Keep up the good work

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do u know the distance from the city sicily and mt. etna?

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Sona said...

You hike sounds really exciting. I want to do the same. I plan to going this November. What time of the year did you do this trail. Can you please share details?



At 7:49 AM, Blogger The Great El-ahrairah said...

I did the hike in July and although it was around 35C in the valley, up there is was just barely 20C. If you go in November, you may run into snow since Etna usually has snow on it from December to March.


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