South Summit Crater
We made our way across the East of the island to meet up with our friends Neil and Laura who flew in to join us for a few days on the 4th. As the motorway was toll free and the previous day was a bit of a tortuous journey we decided to take advantage of some pot-hole free tarmac and sail along to Acireale. We popped-in to the Auchan in Cantania expecting great things after our visit to one in Bari and unfortunately it was a very poor impersonation of our previous experience and we left deflated.
The Journey to Acireale
If at First
Mt Etna dominates the island of Sicily and can be seen from well over half of it and for readers in space it is also visible from the moon, but then it appears so is everything else that pares as a tourist attraction. This perfectly formed volcano is Europe’s largest and highest and one of the world’s most active with the last eruption being three months ago in December 2015. It is still releasing gasses now like some angry chain-smoking giant as it arrogantly flicks ash on the settlements below. Doing your laundry here is a never-ending occupation as your clothes get filthy from the dust as they dry allowing you to repeat the whole process again and again and……….
This old lump is now some 3,300m (10,000ft) high having grown a 100m over the last hundred years due to its on average thrice yearly eruptions from the summit’s four craters and over 300 supporting fissures and craters that adorn its slopes. In 2002 lava flowed down the slopes on the south side causing explosions that destroyed buildings in Sapienza and damaged the cable car and associated ski runs. However, this eruption was small beer compared to 1699 which manged to engulf the city of Catania. Apparently the trick is to watch the colour of the smoke and when it turns from white to black then leg it. I think electing a Pope works along similar lines.
The plan was to drive to the Cable-car station at Etna Sud and take the gondola to 2,500m from where we would get a 4×4 to 2,800m and walk to the south summit crater at 3,000m. However, this being early March and Etna, bless her, is rather tall resulted in their being no transport beyond 2,500. Disappointed we still opted to go take the lift up. Here are a couple of Pics of the Mountain from afar and one of the Gondola:
Mt Etna Approach
Our Carriage Up
Look at all the craters
After checking with the office there were no 4×4’s running due to a major snowfall the day before and we did what anyone would do; we went for a little walk to get some of the spectacular views on offer. On leaving the building we were nearly launched into orbit with 50 mile per hour (80Kph) winds whipping every available grain of snow into a swarm of angry hornets and stinging any exposed flesh with the might of an enraged nurse on night shift armed with a two-foot long syringe and a ward full of geriatrics wanting their bed-pans emptying.
Soon we managed to get into the lea of the tempest and with the sun out it did not feel too bad even though the temperature was around -11. We probably walked for about an hour taking in the beauty of this Zebra patterned landscape high above the clouds before turning back to the Mountain hut and our route down.
The pictures of our walk:
Smoking and colouring the top yellow
The 3 Musketeers
They look Happy
Not quite ready for the Photo
Now we are
Time to Turn Back
Returning to Base
I thought it might be a good idea to get an action shot of the others throwing a snowball at me and film it as the projectile gets larger. Tracy, my darling wife had other ideas and launched an ice-based sphere into my nether regions which hit me plumb on the gonads causing immense pain. As you can see in the video Tracy was distraught.
As we neared the top Station we were passed, to our delight, by a 4×4 vehicle with smiling punters aboard and with added impetus we bounded back in double-quick time. Joining a hastily formed queue we managed to bag four seats on the only other trip going that day and spent the next hour we had to wait by scoffing food and drinking coffee. The vehicles that ply their trade up on top are beasts of machines that look like they were knocked-up on an episode of Scrapheap Challenge. They have about 30 seats, 3 radios, survival kit and endless gears for the staff to play with. Each truck has a crew of two; a driver and a guide who between them try to impress any single ladies with tales of daring-do while making no attempt to look where they are going. The trip before us did not manage to get to the top with them having to bail-out at 2,750m due to the excess of snow even though there was a team of 4 Bulldozers trying to dig the snow out. After climbing aboard at our allotted time we were kept waiting for half an hour while Luigi Hillary and Giovanni Tensing went walk about. Tempers were beginning to get a little frayed when Giovanni announced the dozers had done their work and we were going to the top. Yippee all round. Some pictures of the Truck and the Journey.
Ready to Go
Pay Attention Driver
Love the pose from the chap on the right
On the way up
Women and Machines
The drive up was exhilarating with our charabanc carving its way up impossible slopes with the snow piled high either side as diggers acting as pathfinders secured our way upwards. So a massive thank you to everybody who works on Etna for making our day special.
The wind at the top was hurricane force and after leaving the bus we quickly made our way to shelter on the lower side of the crater that was the focal point of the 2002 eruption. Our guide explained how the falling rock from the explosions eventually plugged the vent and had no rendered it dormant. We were also told that Lava retains heat exceptionally well and the ground temperature one metre below the surface is still 100c 14 years after the last explosion. We walked further around the crater and took in the panoramic views before re-boarding the bus and heading back. Pictures.
We even manage to make a video at the top and here it is:
Two of the Summit Craters
View from the Top
Trekking round the summit Crater
The Summit Craters
So to end, we had a fantastic day and we were so lucky to be the only people to get to the top with such deep snow around. Personally I think we saw it at its best with the black-and-white contrast adding to the majesty of the place. So get up here in the winter, yes it is bloody cold but it is bloody brilliant and worth €63 of any bodies money.
Love to All