The minute we arrived in Sicily, Lucas and I were impatient to get our feet on Europe’s largest active volcano, Etna.
Climbing Etna is possible from either the Southern or the Northern slope. The South is easily accessible and has a cable-car and minibuses that take you to the top. Naturally, this draws the biggest crowds. Naturally, this is exactly why we chose to climb Etna from the North instead. It is difficult to find information about hiking Etna from the North without a guide. Nevertheless, it’s possible and highly recommended. The trail isn’t marked, so we were happy to have had downloaded the 26-kilometer long hike with GPS-coordinates on our phone.
The gateway to ascend Etna from the North is Piano Provenzana. There is a car park with a few shops from where guided tours leave. It was high-season, so we were a little scared to be greeted by hordes of tourists upon arrival. We were pleasantly surprised to see there was only a handful of people, none of them climbing to the top of Etna that day.
We started at Ristorante Monte Conca from where we ploughed our way up. The unpacked gravel made ascending tough: every two steps up we slid one down. This first bit was the most challenging; we had nearly deserved our pizza break. After about 1,5 hours the gravel road met the main 4×4 route which is used for guided jeep tours. From there the trail was easy to follow and less steep. The charcoal black landscape was out of this world. A couple of ‘The Martian’ references later we found ourselves at the end of the 4×4 route. It was a steep, clumsy and non-signposted hike up to the craters.
We followed our guts which guided us in the wrong direction, right in-between the Northeast Crater of 1911 and Bocca Nuova. By then the weather had switched: dark clouds loomed overhead, thick fog surrounded us, and strong winds forced us to hold on to everything – especially to ourselves. When we spotted the sharp edge and gulping depth of Bocca Nuova, it was as if Beelzebub himself had opened his gates. The forces of nature added a touch of drama and right there and then we knew: you don’t mess with Etna. Two days later she erupted – I swear I could have felt it in the air that day.
Under the grey sky the moonlike landscape looked even darker, the contrast with the green vegetation even stronger. Instead of descending the gravel route we took up, we stayed on the 4×4 route instead. Great choice, as that offered a comfortable hike past dozens of craters and Cerniera di fuoco 2002; the lava fields and stream of destruction of the 2002 eruption. The ever-present vistas of Etna’s top were spectacular.
Only one day in Sicily, we knew we had already gathered a never to be forgotten memory.