As I woke up on the morning of the sixth day of our excursion and stepped out upon the terrace, I stood in awe of the towering Mt. Edna. The smoking volcanic giant, speckled with tawny terra-cotta roofs glowing in the sun like wild fires, dominates the horizon. Are we really about to climb this mountain?! I think I need another espresso!
We slowly but surely cut back and forth across the facade of the mountain along hairpin, switchback roads, while our guide for the day Salvo, a world renowned volcanologist and Mt. Etna specialist, described in detail every square inch of the volcano that he has climbed since he was a young boy. All along the way up, Etna celebrates our arrival with multiple eruptions that spew ash and volcanic material high into the air from the active crater at summit of the mountain. For many of our intrepid travelers, their only mountain experience has been contending with the steep precipices and rugged terrain of the daunting Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach. Fearless, they stepped off the bus at nearly 10,000 ft and gazed out above the cloud line to the peaks of the Apennine Mountains over 150 miles away in the mainland of southern Italy. The cool, thin air is a welcome change from the dense heat of the valleys below. Nevertheless, the warning goes out to apply sunscreen and to remember that the very same brutal Sicilian sun now resides 10,000 feet closer to their heads. Alas, these wise words of wisdom would inevitably fall upon several deaf ears.
For the remainder of the day, we hiked all around the mountain listening to Salvo pointout every detail. He knew exactly when each lava flow occurred and how much material was deposited. We saw rivers of razor-sharp black stone that coiled around the contours of the landscape and the remnants of an ill-fated hotel, mangled into a pile of twisted metal and charred rubble. We traversed the steep crest of two cones from previous eruptions, and gazed down into the inactive lava shaft. We even tried our hands at spelunking as we traveled underground I nto a lava tube! All the while, Etna continues to grumble high above, sending billowing clouds subterranean gas and ash into the air like a noxious Ol’Faithful. Have no fear! Salvo promised us that he was not worried, but also slipped in a minor disclaimer; “If I start to run, you should too!!”
What an incredible moment in our lives. How many can say that they braved a climb upon an active volcano at 10,000 ft? How many can say the have witnessed a volcano eruption from less than a half-mile away? We can certainly check all of these and more from our bucket lists!