to all who continue to wonder about and adore nature,
yesterday my son Guy and I hiked Mt. Etna. We wanted to attempt to summit it, but because of rumblings over the last four days from this active volcano, no one was allowed to. instead we spent 6 hours hiking from the mid point on the mountain where the gondola terminates (8,500′) to the mountain’s base camp at 9,800 feet — the location from which summiting begins.
and it was not easy! my son handled it fine, but yours truly struggled. we were part of a 20 person hiking group lead by a very good seasoned guide. i hate to admit it but i was the slowest person in the group. and, if you know me, that hurts.
were there reasons for being so slow and for the hike being so difficult for me? yes.
for one thing, the altitude. i have been training for six months hiking the Santa Rosa mountains in the California desert as well as some mountains in the Seattle area, but none were even close to the almost 10,000 foot level that we experienced yesterday.
secondly, the footing. much of the time you felt that you were hiking on sand. the ash and the crushed stone would give as you took each step. other times you were hiking on lava rock which to say the least was unpredictable, crazy, unstable and very difficult going.
third, i was the oldest person in the hiking party. it was painful. what was painful is that it became obvious that i was. i had a Frenchman in the hiking party come over to me and take my picture and then tell me how well i was doing, and congratulating me on the hike at my age. i had an Australian ask me how old i was. eeghad!!!!
but, even though it was very difficult, what a day! the chance to spend a day together with your son is special. the weather was wonderful, although the winds got very strong in the afternoon. and what a learning experience.
talking about a learning experience. i am one of the few who never took basic beginning geology in school. so my knowlege base is very limited.
three lessons i learned today. one, active volcanos are very dangerous. we went to the spot that the latest eruption occurred, which was just 21 days ago. our guide, for example, had both of his shoulders broken and suffered a severe gash to his head from a recent eruption where he was involved in saving another hiker. he placed his body over hers and in the process suffered from the resulting rock shower.
two, when one thinks about Mt. Etna, one thinks it is one volcano. wrong. there are actually 6 or 7 active volcanos on Mt. Etna at this time. and there may be more in the future. in addition there are some 300 small craters dotting the volcano on its flanks.
three, there are some benefits that spill from the volcano. the volcanic soil surrounding the mountain is particularly fertile, leading to the growth of almost everything, especially grapes. the ash from the volcano also falls on the adjoining seas fertilizing the phytoplankton which in turn helps support all kinds of sea life.
while Guy and I were hiking Mt. Etna, Kelsey, Brian, Henry and Chelsea were exploring the benefits of the enriched volcanic soil by visiting one of the many wineries that dot the countryside surrounding the imposing mountain.
Some facts about Mt. Etna. at almost 11,000 feet it stands out on the Sicilian landscape. it has a circumference of 100 miles. its slopes, by and large bald and desolate, rise gently until near the top where it rises quite steeply. it is called locally the “gentle giant” in that it is constantly spewing vapor, ash and occasionally slow moving lava. every day the vapor alone spews several hundred metric tons which locals call “black snow” which can blanket much of the surrounding area in southeastern Sicily.
most importantly for me, today’s hike of Mt. Etna, an active volcano, reminded me of the power of nature. not only its power but also its raw beauty.