What with this cold winter weather starting to set in, I thought this was as fine a time as any to reflect on my journey to the fiery Mt Etna, back in September…
Trekking up Mt Etna, day 1…
The Etna volcanic challenge began on September 22, 2011, and we were a little apprehensive as we set out from the Rifugio lodge where we had spent our first night in Sicily. We’d had a hearty breakfast of croissants, cheese and tea and coffee, and even then our apprehension was apparent as I spread my bread roll with a layer of butter, then Nutella, then another layer of butter! And my fellow trekker (and now friend) Cara accidently poured orange juice into her coffee. But we were as ready as we were ever going to be, so we set off into the forests of Sicily. The first thing to strike us was the scenery, obviously and predictably it was beautiful, but I wasn’t expecting such variety. Dense pine forests with tall willowy trees gave way to cliff edge pathways bordered with evergreens which in turn gave way to meadow grasslands.
We soon came upon the first of many lava fields we were to cross that day, and instantly, as if crossing a partition line, the variety, greenery and trees cut off and gave way to mounds upon mounds of blackened dried lava. The trees just stopped and gritty dusty gravelly Lava took over, I looked up at the lava field and imagined it pouring all the way from Etna’s crater. In my slightly Sci-Fi obsessed mind, I thought I’d stumbled into Morder – with all this unspoiled scenery, my mind was throwing up all sorts of Lord of The Rings references (and I could almost see Elves and Wargs running around behind the trees). The guides helpfully broke me out of my Tolkien daydreams as they told us a bit about how the lava is created and also some of the history of the eruptions that lead to this particular lava attack. All in all, it proved a majestic introduction to the true force of nature that is Mt Etna!
As we trekked on, the greenery reappeared as startlingly as it disappeared. And once again we were enamoured by the startling views of the natural landscape. By then, we were a couple of hours into what was to be a solid 9 hours or so of trekking and already fatigue was taking its toll. My backpack was not just heavy it was HEAVY! I would shirk at the thought of carrying such a weight across the street, let alone carry it on my back for miles and miles. The straps were beginning to dig into my shoulders, and at some stages it became a case of just putting one foot in front of the other, and reminding myself that the only way I could get to a place where I could stop, was to keep on walking. I soon realised that my trekking heroes were my walking pole (God knows I would have been on the ground within an hour without it – couldn’t recommend it enough!), my fellow trekker Rachel, an experienced charity challenger who kept me going by feeding me Worthers Originals, and Rob, who gallantly offered to carry my heavy water bottle on various occasions and kept me entertained with talk about some of the history and mythology surrounding Sicily. The guides were also great at keeping us entertained and they made sure that we had plenty of rest and snack breaks, and also often took us aside to point out some of Etna’s more stunning natural landmarks, such as some amazing underground caves that had been carved out but the lava. My ‘Lord of the Rings’ delusions quickly gave way to ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and I had to fight serious temptations to disappear deeper into the volcanic tubes in search of an underground world of dinosaurs and giant mushrooms!
The last few hours of trekking on that first day seems to be a blur of imposing scenery, aching feet and Worthers Originals. When the hut finally come into sight, it sure was a sight for sore eyes, and sore feet, and sore legs, generally just a sight fit for a sore anatomy! It was a rustic old hut, pretty much just walls and a roof and nothing more. It become apparent very quickly that things were basic, but at least it was a place where we could stop walking for a bit. We had a lovely meaty barbeque for dinner, and I found myself getting into my sleeping bag embarrassingly early, as my fellow trekkers made their way to bed around me, I tried to man up to thoughts of the legions of creepy crawleys that must be inhabiting this place. I switched on my reading light and read some Agatha Christie, it felt like a tiny bit of luxury, which somehow felt that much more rewarding and damn well earned when I looked back on my first day of hard core trekking!
If my experience of my first day in Sicily has inspired you, check out our Etna Volcanic Adventure Challenge here (currently on special money off promotion!), and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened on my next two days of trekking. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both volcanic and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.