Located on the island of Sicily, Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in all of Europe. It stands at almost 11,000 feet (3,330 meters) high. With nearly constant activity, it erupts multiple times a year, sometimes spewing ash all over the streets and enough smoke to close Catania airport. Even so, it’s not unheard of for tourists and travelers to hike Mount Etna. Naturally, Jon and I decided to check out this beast for ourselves.
Know Before You Go
Before we hiked Mount Etna, we researched the volcano’s activity and learned how eruptions have impacted the area around it. Recent eruptions had been limited to the Summit craters on the north side of the volcano. Since the volcano has a base circumference of 140km (~87 miles), there are many different safe hiking paths that we could take. It’s illegal to go past a certain point on the volcano, so we were confident that all would be okay.
We enlisted the help of Etna Experience to take us on a hike through some parts of the volcano, give us some history and information about Etna, and help us experience other cool parts of the volcano, such as lava caves and rivers.
Experiencing the Volcano’s Environment
We started with a nice two-hour hike from the viewpoint of Bove Valley. It was almost as if we were hiking on sand with the ash under our feet. Our guide told us about the different plant life that exists because of the volcanic soil on Mount Etna. We also learned about different rocks and boulders that have been spit out by Etna. Plus, we came to understand the difference between the many types of ash and pumice that have fallen like rain onto the mountain and towns.
Next, the guide took us to a cave grooved out by flowing lava. We fastened our helmets and held tightly onto our flashlights as we descended the steep entrance to the cave.
Lunch was next and we were in for a treat! We had lunch at Gambino winery, a winery that we visited in December. We were more than thrilled to hear that we would be sampling their delicious tomatoes, mushrooms, cheeses, meats, and of course wine. It was great to get to know the other members that were on our excursion (one couple from Germany, one from Holland, and one from France) as we talked about our lives over delicious cuisine.
The last stop of our program included a visit to the Alcantara Gorges. Lava flow had flooded the frozen river. Once it cooled, it created the high walls on either side. It then crystallized in the form of columns. Later, an earthquake caused a gash in the lava, which allowed the river to form in the gorge.
After some fresh squeezed orange juice it was time for our trip to end. We’re glad that we were able to hike Mount Etna and learn so much about it. More importantly, we’re thankful that it didn’t erupt on our watch!