Wild Places We Go

Sicily’s Mount Etna: Climbing The Volcano

etna volcano

Perhaps it is a guy thing, but I have always been fascinated by volcanoes. I remember seeing video footage when I was a child of Etna spraying lava hundreds of meters into the night sky and wanted to visit ever since then. Nice to cross something else off of the list…

Mount Etna is actually one of the most active volcanoes in the world and so there is almost always something going on at the summit.

Currently standing at an elevation of 10,922 feet high, this height varies with summit eruptions (the mountain is 69 feet higher than it was in 1981).

Down at the base of Mount Etna, one can see where the lava has flowed down the mountain for millenia. Over time, countless villages and towns below Etna have been destroyed. Of course, those lava flows have also produced incredibly fertile agricultural land, which is why people keep coming back:

etna lava fields

To get to the top of Etna, one follows the twisty, windy road up as far as possible. Then, one must park and take a chairlift up to the next level:

etna chairlift

Your editor taking the easy way up:


The landscape becomes increasingly barren as one gains altitude:

etna ski lift

The lift ends at this building… We were up here in the summer, but I think it would be pretty cool to be up on Etna in the winter and go skiing on an active volcano:

mount etna

The wheel that keeps the cable and the chairlift moving:

chairlift cable wheel etna

Once you’ve made it this far on your journey to the top, you are not done though.

You’ve got to hire one of these guys…

mt etna drivers

…To haul you up to the next level in one of these:

mt etna

The end of the road near the summit of Etna…

I know it may look like it, but I have not altered the colors in these pictures in any way. Such an extreme environment produces extreme color ranges:

etna volcano eruption

Volcanic activity first started at Etna about half a million years ago, with eruptions occurring beneath the sea off the ancient coastline of Sicily.

As an interesting “oh by the way”, Etna erupted smoke rings in the 1970s, one of the first times this extremely rare event was captured on film:

mount etna volcano

The summit of Mount Etna is still actively erupting and so this is as close as we could hike:

etna italy

This former observatory demonstrates the dangers of getting too close to Etna:

destroyed building etna sicily

We were able to make our way around to one of the recently active craters near the summit that is still venting steam and occasionally ash, but is not particularly dangerous at this time:

etna mountain

It was interesting to touch the ground with my bare hand as it was hot. Digging down a little, the earth became increasingly hot and I am confident one could easily cook a meal up here by simply digging down a little.

Frequently, steam would erupt with a roar from one of the surrounding vents, ranging in size from small holes in the ground to large craters, and then subside again as quickly as it started.

In Greek Mythology, the monster Typhon was supposedly trapped under Mount Etna by Zeus and the forges of the unfortunate Hephaestus were said to be located underneath the mountain.

Given the environment on the ground, it is easy to see how such myths developed:

etna crater

The view down the mountain toward the Sicilian city of Catania displays the stark landscape:

etna lava flow

I love these extreme environments – same with alpine areas and deserts…

I can’t wait until we bring you a Velvet Rocket exclusive from the surface of Mars or Europa or an even more distant destination on The Velvet Rocket travel wish list.


4 thoughts on “Sicily’s Mount Etna: Climbing The Volcano

  1. I expected chair lifts will pass right above the volcano and pictures taken from above :p
    Just kidding… Mars or Europa will be too far from home, a lunar photo shoot will be acceptable instead… :)

    • Haha. Sorry to disappoint you, Naeem. I’m sure that if someone figures out a way to make money by constructing a chairlift over the Etna volcano that it will be done…

      In regard to visiting Mars or Europa, I fear that you are right, but I am passionate about space exploration and would like to see more done in this field. So, I’m going to set the bar high :) That said, I wouldn’t exactly be disappointed with visiting the moon.

  2. Pingback: Taormina, Sicily « The Velvet Rocket

  3. Nice Shots Justin. I was in Catania in early Spring and Etna was still covered with Snow blanket. I took my DJI Phantom with me. here is a video link on youtube.

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