Ed. note: A good friend of mine, who wants to be known only as “friend from California,” is a historian, editor, and enthusiastic traveler. She writes concise and eloquent “travelogues,” complete with many photos, after each of the trips she takes with her husband or her son. Here is her story about climbing Mt. Etna when she and son Jack traveled to Sicily.
I also want to note that she is not responsible for the poor layout. I am not adept at wrestling WordPress formatting into submission.
The day my son Jack and I planned to go to Mt. Etna dawned spectacularly. It seemed auspicious.
We drove south from Taormina toward Catania, then veered off to the road that encircles the mountain. The soil around Etna has been enriched over the centuries by decomposing lava, and the land is a prime agricultural area. For example, the famous Sicilian blood oranges, incredibly juicy and flavorful, are grown here.
There are two routes to get up on the mountain, one on the south side and one on the north side. We were heading for Rifugio Sapienza, a ski resort on the south side. In the summer it’s a gateway to guided hikes. From Rifugio you take a cable car up the mountain.
Rifugio Sapienza (photo from the Internet)
View from cable car back toward Rifugio
One hiker shunned the cable car and hiked up the mountain on foot. He looked up at us—wistfully? It’s a long, tough slog he’s undertaken.
The cable car ends at a little rest area, with a café and facilities. Then you pile into minivans to take you farther up the mountain. The road is compacted lava graded by small tractors.
Curving track going up the mountain
Eventually we came to a leveled area where the minivans parked. We all piled out and assembled in a big cluster near the guide. Then we set off in a long file at what was, for me, a pretty brisk pace.
Did I mention that it was cold up there?
It seemed that most of the hikers were sturdy Germans who probably did a lot of hiking in their home country. It also seemed that most of them were younger than me. Or maybe I was just rationalizing why I, age 71, had such a hard time keeping up.
Soon we passed a small caldera, and many people stopped to take pictures, or even explore the thing closer up. I was not among them. I was concentrating on not falling down.
Closer view of the fumarole with smoke or gas issuing from the vents
Pretty soon we were all strung out in a long line. Jack hung back a little because he was busy taking photos. I hung back because I was having difficulty struggling uphill and breathing.
The track we were walking on was pretty narrow, to my way of thinking. I was afraid of slipping off on either side. At one point I slipped on some loose gravel and sat down hard. People came to my aid (“Are you all right?), but luckily I was able to clamber to my feet. I didn’t fall down again the whole rest of the hike.
At one point I looked up and saw a whole line of hikers on a high ridge, silhouetted against the sky.
(Does anyone remember the final image in Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”?)
“Oh no!” I thought, “I’m going to have to go all the way up there too!” In the worst way I wanted to turn around and make my way back to the parked minivans. But pride wouldn’t let me do it. So I slogged on ahead, far behind the pack, until eventually I caught up. And then—praise be!—the whole line was turning and we were circling back to the parking lot. When we got there, I was ecstatic, euphoric! I’d met the mountain, and I had triumphed!