SNOWSHOEING ON THE GOD OF FIRE
Mt Etna celebrated the start of 2012 with some memorable fireworks. On the 5th January, after 50 quiet days, the most active volcano in Europe entered the New Year with a spectacular eruption spewing orange plumes of ashes and a fountain of incandescent lava in the air. As I was watching a video of this mind-blowing natural show in my flat in South London, I felt relieved and, I must admit, a tad disappointed to have missed it by just one day. The day before I had in fact returned from an incredible long weekend, where we did two spectacular snowshoeing excursions across the upper reaches of this ‘Friendly Giant’, which is how Mt Etna is called among the locals. After clipping into our colourful snowshoes, we embarked on our first journey along a section of the Pista Altomontana, a high trail that circumnavigates three sides of Mt Etna.
Our very knowledgeable Sicilian tour leader, Turi, was very passionate about his land and had many stories to share with us about volcanoes and how their eruptions and activity have constantly reshaped the landscape. We walked for about five hours across lush pine forests and rocky lava fields covered with a thick layer of fresh snow, under the warm and bright Mediterranean sun.
Our home on the southern flank of Mt Etna, set at 1900m, was Rifugio Sapienza and it really felt like home as we warmed up with our thick Italian hot chocolate and admired the stunning views over Catania’s province and its coastline.
The following morning was the real challenge as we entrusted Marco, our expert alpine guide, to safely escort us as close as possible to the large mouth of Mt Etna. A scenic cable car ride takes us to 2500m and from here we start climbing towards a viewpoint overlooking the impressive Valle del Bove, which is a huge depression that opened up on Mt Etna’s south eastern flank. From here we stopped for a breathtaking 360 degree view of Sicily’s coastline.
The sun shining in the blue sky created a striking contrast with the white snow and the black patches of lava to create one of the most incredible pictures in my mind! Leaving the Valley behind, we continued through the deep snow towards the ‘New Crater’, which opened in 1968. Although we weren’t allowed to access the area around the crater, being able to walk on the cold lava flow from the last eruption in November 2011 was a memorable experience. That’s when I realised that I was walking on a living mountain and Mt Etna was breathing under my feet!
Our long weekend ended in the beautiful city of Catania, from where we could look back at the imposing ‘Friendly Giant’ we had been walking on. Despite having been destroyed several times by earthquakes and eruptions, Catania’s historical centre really impressed me with its Baroque palaces and squares built out of lava-stone.
After an enjoyable walk in the old town, Turi took us to his favourite gelateria in town, where I had the best pistachio ice-cream … the perfect Sicilian end to a perfect Sicilian weekend!
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By Anna Dambrosio, Product Manager