After successfully summiting the largest mountain in Africa we’re now making it a point to climb any other mountains we happen to come across on our journey around the world.
Our trip started bright and early on a sunny Wednesday morning on one of the very few days we both did not have to work at the hostel. The night before the excursion a lady from the company called to give us directions to the pick up point, which according to her was a three-minute walk from where we were staying.
Of course the oh-so-simple directions she gave me turned out to be not so simple, and our leisurely three-minute walk turned into a 20-minute panic trying to find the pick up point.
Fortunately we arrived at 9:03 a.m. only three minutes late and found the driver patiently waiting for us. We spent the next half an hour in the tour van cruising the streets of Catania picking up the other trekkers.
Naturally, during the pickup session Tarynne had to get out of the van and snap a picture or two.
By the time we were on our way to the mountain we had picked up a Chinese lady, a chick from India living in Michigan, a German dude living in Switzerland and a couple from Australia.
En route to the lava fields we stopped in an ash-covered town to snap some photos of the mountain and the sea and to chug a shot or two of espresso.
We even caught our first long-distance glimpse of Taormina, a coastal town we would visit on our last day in Sicily.
Since Mt. Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world (it has already erupted 13 times in 2013) we weren’t allowed to hike all the way to the summit. Instead our hike focused on the craters and the massive lava field that were a result of the last significant eruption in 2002.
As we walked along the black lava field toward the crater our guide told us all about the different times Mt. Etna has erupted and which craters each eruption crated. He also told us all about the lava we were walking on.
This lava stuff is pretty crazy. When it flows down the mountain destroying everything in its path it is between 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius. In the 2002 eruption the flow of lava completely flattened and destroyed a hotel. All that remains of the hotel now are just a few scraps of twisted metal sticking out of solid black lava.
Something else I found fascinating is that as the lava flows down the mountain it only destroys what is directly in its path. Despite the fact the inside of the lava flow is between 800 and 1000 degrees, if the lava misses a tree by only a few feet the tree will survive. Because of this, large trees and other vegetation grow right next to the river of black lava.
As we made our way along the lava field toward the craters formed by the 2002 eruption the view of the mountain and the scenery around us was breathtaking.
Walking around the rim of the crater was pretty sweet as well.
After reaching the rim of the crater we headed back down the mountain through the lava field and back to the van. From the base of the lava field we drove a little way down the mountain to a set of caves that were formed thousands of years ago by the underground flow of lava from the mountain.
Even though it was a warm and sunny day on the surface, the temperature inside the cave was only 5 degrees Celsius. Before entering the cave we were required to put on hard hats.
I initially thought this was incase rocks fell from the ceiling and knocked you on the head, but it turned out it was actually because the ceiling was so damn low you kept hitting your head on it.
A fun fact about these particular caves is that in ancient times, people used them as storage space for the winter snow fall so as to preserve it as a source of refreshment during the warm period.
After our wannabe spelunking session, we got back into the van and drove to a mountainside winery for lunch. At the winery we tasted one white wine and four red wines and dined on a selection of bread and cheeses.
From the winery we drove to the foothills of the mountain and then walked down a steep flight of steps to the base of a tall, narrow gorge that was carved out by lava thousands of years ago. Today, crystal clear water flows rapidly through the gorgeous narrow ravine.
Tired from all of the hiking and the mid-day wine tasting session we piled back into the van and cruised back to Catania.
On the return trip our guide was nice enough to drop us off right at the door of our hostel. Since we had exceptional service (which is rare in Catania) and because we got to go on the trip for free (one of the very few perks of working the nightshift) we gave our guide a nice little tip and bid him farewell.
To be honest, Catania is a dump. It’s not even worth a visit, but if you do ever find yourself stuck there for a few days – let alone a month – a trek up Mt. Etna is certainly a worthwhile experience.