By Antonio Malara
When I talk about Mount Etna, first I need to explain the “point of view”. I live in Reggio di Calabria, that it’s not in Sicily but in the terminal part of the “boot” that is an Italy nickname. In other words my city is right in front of the northern Sicily and from here you can practically have many breathtaking view of mount Etna. Looks like a paradox but we have a better view here rather than in Sicily. So for those like me the Etna is part of the panorama, something that I always admired since I was born, the terminal part of “via marina” (the promenade). So Mount Etna is part of everybody here, we consider the huge mountain something that belongs to us.
Taking pics of Etna it's a cliché, everyone do it, professional or amateur photographers. I'm also a big fan of this practice. The mountain give to us different scenarios, when it's full of snow, when it's so clear that seems that you can touch it, when erupts, but according to me the best views are those during sunsets. There are at least three place when you can see the volcano in three different perspectives.
But despite the hundreds of pics I took to the mount, despite is one of my personal view, despite the fact that is not such a long trip to get to Mount Etna, I never been on top of the volcano in my whole life. In the year 2014 I decided that was a shame for me and I planned the daily trip.
The crew was composed by my sister and one of her friend who's also like photography. We did things without hurry, without waking up earl. After a super breakfast in a cafe, we leave. To get there we’ve been through a small cruise, one of the worse freeway in the country and a good mountain road. At one PM we arrived at The Rifugio Sapienza, that’s the main area on Mount Etna, at the altitude of .1900 meters above the sea. This is huge, there are other two big craters that can be easily visited by hiking. Here you can find restaurants, boutiques and of course the cableway to get to the top. We had a good lunch at the restaurant and then around 14:15 we went to the cableway station. Even if there's was a big entrance, to be honest this transportation wasn't in perfect conditions. During the trip I haven't felt so safe, the cable where I was had some broke glass and at some point I saw a pylon that was right on the edge of a rock. Fortunately they stop you at 2.500 meters, from here you get to the top at 3.000 meters by a off-road special bus-truck. While we're was waiting the truck we started to take pictures everywhere. From there you see all the southern Sicily, the city of Catania and the special view of the rocks created by the lava during all the eruptions. I can say that 2.500 is the right place to understand what mount Etna is, you can start to take confidence with the mountain the diversity of what's surround you and it's a good training to be prepared for the top. While I was going up from the bus I noticed lot of people who was reaching the top by hiking. I thought it would be an interesting thing to do but you need lots of time and you have to be in good shape and full of energy. I promised to myself to do it next time.
After lots of different in highs, we get the 3.000 meters, we stopped at “Torre Del Filosofo” the place just on the bottom of the “Crateri Barbagallo”. At this high there's less oxygen, the air is rarefied but personally I haven't see any difference, I had no problem to breathe even when I was hiking. Up there we were around 40 people, the guide explained to us some things about safety and we started our most important walk. Essentially we hiked the side of the crater that was pretty big and finally we get to the top. The view was breathtaking, a big circle with a smoking hole in the center. Only when some of the people went down in the crater I could realize how big was the hole. In fact being on top of the crater that is the top of a big mountain doesn't give you the real scale of dimensions. Of course I couldn't resist to take a close look to the hole. It wasn't difficult to get there, I have to say that was real huge, a gate that could swallow not only me but many persons. The hole itself wasn't a cool view, but being down there at the bottom of the crater, it was. What I mean is to have a thrilling feeling you have to realize where you are. I was in crater that months before was a hill, one step away from an “engine” which had shoots lava hundreds of meters in the air, all this at 3.000 meters above the sea.
The tour above the crater was about 30 minutes and we were free to walk around as we liked. Let's say that the main thing to do was to walk in circle the crater. What surprised us was something that maybe at that altitude is normal but that I never experienced. In fact at some point started a very strong wind, essentially was like to fly. Really as you can see in the pictures, I could stand still sloping without falling on the ground. I never jumped from a plane, I think it was some similar because you really feel the air with your hand, like if you were touching something material. Another cool thing that happened thanks to the wind was the appearance of the clouds that surrounded us completely. This could seems at least a normal thing but was so fast. In other words in a matter of seconds we switched from a clear view to a foggy one. The nice thing to do in this condition was to stay on the edge and wait for the clouds to hit you. This was a super funny experience because you could saw the clouds coming faster in your direction and then passing through. After this and after taking the last pics we took the truck to return at 2.500 meters. Even when we were going down from the truck we had absolutely unreal perspectives due the difference in heights.
Once again at the parking lot, we visited the “Crateri Silvestri” those are old and small ones, it's nothing compared to the top but we had a perfect sunset light and we spent the last half hour taking other pics. I think it was around 5 pm when fully satisfied we leave.
So as they say “better late than never” after all this years I finally visited the big mountain. What was part of me from a perspective meaning, something that you touch with the fantasy, something that in clear and bad weather appears and disappears on the horizon, begun a real thing. Of course I laugh to myself thinking about how simple was the trip to get there. So it was 2014 and despite visiting the Etna was an easy and pleasant task, I never back up there again.
P.S. Mount Etna is 3.300 meters high, we did the classic tour until 3.000 meters. The very top feature four active craters, the “Cratere di Nord-Est del 1911”, “Bocca Nuova”, “Cratere di Sud-Est” and “Nuovo cratere di Sud-Est”. The really top is not a simple task. In order to get there you need a 4-5 hours hike with a vulcanologist guide and above 3.000 meters is considered all dangerous area. So our trip was cool but it was only the beginning, I promise to myself that next time will be right on top...maybe looking at an eruption (actually I did it last summer in Stromboli, but this is another story...)
Maria Chiara Malara
Camera: Nikon D800