Mount Etna

Up as planned a quick breakfast and out the door or should I say “wicket”. Chris and I headed out for the mountain in the rental car which had survived the night without incident.The day was sunny and hot at sea level but got progressively cooler as we gained altitude.

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Etna seen from a plane.

Mount Etna is a volcano on the east coast of Sicily, part of southern Italy. It is the largest active volcano in Europe. Mount Etna erupts every few years.

Etna’s most destructive eruption in historic times started on 11 March 1669. It produced lava flows that destroyed 10 villages and reached the town of Catania five weeks later, on 15 April. Many buildings were destroyed and few people were killed.

Etna’s 2002 eruption, photographed from the ISS

Major twentieth century eruptions occurred in 1928, 1949, 1971, 1983 and 1992, as well as the 2001 eruption. In 1971, it buried the Etna Observatory (built in the late 19th century) under lava. The 1992 eruption saw the town of Zafferana threatened by a lava flow, but successful diversion efforts saved the town with the loss of only one building a few hundred metres outside it.

In 2002–2003, the biggest series of eruptions for many years threw up a huge column of ash that could easily be seen from space and fell as far away as Libya, on the far side of the Mediterranean SeaSeismic activity in this eruption caused the eastern flanks of the volcano to slip by up to two metres, and many houses on the flanks of the volcano were damaged. The eruption also completely destroyed the Rifugio Sapienza, on the southern flank of the volcano.

Well alright then, lots of action in this spot for many years. It had been some 18 years since a major eruption. Kind of get one to thinking about when the next one will be…especially when climbing up the darn thing. There was only nine years between eruptions the last time it erupted….hummm…twice as long as that already.

Mount Etna at the time of our ascent.

The atmosphere at the parking area at the base of the upper cone was Disney like. Vendors selling souvenirs, hiking outfitters, tour agency, little 4 wheel drive vehicles available for rental. A chairlift to take one half way up the mountain top was there for those with more money than stamina. As it was a cloudy day didn’t see the point. Memories of hiking Mt. Snowden in Wales a couple of years ago came to mind. When the summit was reached…nothing but cold and grey views awaited. One can tell by some of the photos that it really is a BIG mountain.

Climbing the Volcano…where you gonna go when the volcano blow? Good question.

So while it DID seem a bit of a cop out not to climb all the way to the top…we climbed for a couple of hours on the flanks and that was good enough to provide some physical pain to the extent that further exploration into the grey was not necessary. Instead we had a driving adventure and I taught Chris how to drive a stick shift. Months later he sent a thank you note saying he had rented a car that had a stick shift as the only one left on the lot and his lesson had been good enough to get him on the road without accident.

Note: The two little white specks on the ridge are people.

So the day turned out to be quite the pleasant outing. The volcano was well behaved, no accidents on the road with the student driver and only minor aches and pains to show for our journey…and while we did not summit…we DID climb Mt. Etna.

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