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In the Summer of 2017, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to travel to Sicily, Italy and the chance to climb an old crater on Mount Etna with my mum and younger sister.
Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and stands at 3,330 metres. It erupts on a regular basis, so it was quite a daunting experience. We were taken by coach up the volcano, which in some places is a very dramatic, steep climb. The terrain suddenly changes from busy motorways at the base of the volcano, to nice, quaint villages as the ascent begins, to volcanic rock and green surroundings near the middle of Etna. There are many small villages who reap the benefits of living on a volcano, such as very fertile soil. However, it does also come a price when it is as active as Etna is. There have been efforts to redirect lava flow when she erupts and threatens local villages, like dropping huge concrete slabs.
We were warned it would be colder when we exited the coach, compared to when we had been nearer the sea, but nothing prepared me for the air as we left the safety of the vehicle. The air suddenly hit me. It wasn’t freezing, but there was a very definite chill in the air that felt all encompassing. The air was thick with dust and it was harder to take a deep breath. I will always remember this lovely elderly couple, who as we stepped off the coach, turned to me after looking at the path up the crater, and exclaimed that they wouldn’t possibly be attempting it and would admire it from afar!
We were shown the two craters we had the option to climb. The adventurer in me obviously opted for the harder, most impressive one! There was an easy route and a difficult route. Once again, the challenging route was obviously the one to take! The path leading up the crater was almost vertical in some places, and the path consisted of crushed volcanic rock. If you’ve never walked on this terrain, it’s like walking on sand, in the way that it moves out from under you with each step you take, but it’s a hard surface that sends up a lot of dust with each step. Every few paces, we had to stop to catch our breath and let our legs rest, as each step was exhausting. Once more, nothing prepared me for how difficult it would be to walk a few hundred metres.
Eventually, we reached the top of the crater, and there right in front of us was a huge empty hollow. The non-existent health and safety would never be allowed here in England! There were no fences to stop you simply misplacing your footing and falling into the crater. It was an incredibly exhilarating experience being so high up and being able to see so much of Sicily. We walked all the way around the crater, along a very thin path, and then began our descent.
The path was very steep to come back down, and I thought the best way would be to simply run with all my might, which was great fun for me. (My sister was not so impressed with this option although I dragged her along with me!) Once we arrived back onto the coach, we were covered in the volcanic dust. It was inside my trainers, inside my socks, and all over legs and hands. We were coughing for the rest of the day due to the thick dust in the air and our eyes also felt the rffects. Even in the pictures, and videos I took that day, you are able to see the haze in the air that distorts them all slightly.
I would recommend going to visit Mount Etna and climbing a crater. It was an incredible experience, that I really will never forget. It made me feel alive and free and I hope to go back again one day and try another one!