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Across the Alps - flying to Sicily
To climb volcano Etna was something I wanted to do for a long time. I was closely watching flights to Sicily for a few months and then I finally got nice deal from Ryanair. Sicily in winter is not very touristy, though the weather is quite mild in the sea level. There were lots of big storms around the time of my arrival, which meant lots of fresh snow on the top of the Enta.

It was difficult to get transport out from Catania, because the connecting bus to the Refugio Sapienza just didn't came. People in Sicily are very relaxed about the services, like all the Italians. They said something like "it is too much snow up there, so the bus is not going". Several local people were not very happy about it either, though it did not surprised them so much. They just went to the nearby ticket office and refunded their fare. In the end me and four other foreigners, who were waiting for the bus, had to do the same. Later on that day, I got another bus to the closest village, which is still about 17 km from Refugio Sapienza. The other foreigners had joined me and we were all hoping to get a taxi or hire a car for the last part. Unfortunately, there was no taxi service there and nobody wanted to earn extra few euros to give us a half an hour ride. I have left my company here and finally headed towards the mountain on my own feet. Luckily I hitched a car few kilometers after the village. It was one men working in the hotel in Refugio Sapienza, so he gave me a lift all the way up there. He also gave me lots of useful information about the volcano itself and the current conditions.

Refugio Sapienza
Refugio Sapienza consist of a few hotels and cafe's situated in the beginning of the cable car (Not working at the time of my visit. It was hit by an lava about a half-year before my arrival). The cable car would take you only above 2000 m.n.m and rest is up to everybody himself or herself. I have arrived to the end of the cable car in the mid afternoon and met here last two people in this altitude on the volcano - mountain guides, who were trying to pull out a truck from the snow to get it down to the Refugio Sapienza. They were surprised to see me there and gave me well-meant warnings.

"Still hot" - even near the cable car station

From the end of the cable car, there was a no path or even footprint, just a lot of fresh snow. The weather was good, but it was changing. In a few hours I got up to about 2700 m.n.m., where I had to stay over the night. Since my departure from the end of the cable car, the weather conditions have changed dramatically. It was not sunny any more, but the volcano was hidden into the thick mist and strengthening wind brought a heavy snowfall. For a while I was finding my way up only thanks to the marking poles and sometimes I had to wait for a few minutes to see in which direction is the next one. I did not wanted to give up so easily and tried to reach higher altitude. Finally the darkness has started to fall and I had quite enough, so I made my camp for the night.

Snowy views - from the way to the top
I pitched up my tent next to the marking pole, secured it with a smaller snow wall and made myself comfortable inside. I hear you laughing! “Comfortable”! But all of you, who has already done it know, that it is a great pleasure to get inside the tent, take your shoes off and crawl into your sleeping bag. The temperature dropped down to something like minus 15 degrees of Celsius. I ate some food, nicely warmed up and made myself comfortable for the night. In about an hour later I realized that there is a bit too much light on the side of my tent. It got me quite worried, where it could come from and also lots of strange noise was not very convincing. I crawled out of my tent to find out what is going on. The weather has cleared for a few minutes and fist thing I could see was an amusing sky, so full of stars I have hardly seen before. And down, on the foothill, lights of the Catania city. Peaks of the surrounding volcanoes were lit in the moonlight. It was truly beautiful view. And then I looked over my tent and .... yes,

My house, my castle, ...

there was this stunning view of river of vivid red light and smoke running just a few hundred meters away, across the mountain edge parallel with my tent. This scary and beautiful river of lava was making its way down the mountain. Now I fully understood the occasional noise I noticed in last few hours and also the smell, which I was associating with the smoke going out from some of the side craters. Here I was watching powers of the mother earth and thinking: “What the hell should I do in this situation”?

Main Crater (Mt. Etna - volcano)

I did not take any pictures, so you can only imagine. Reason? There are moments in my life, when I refuse to use camera and I take a picture just for myself - into my mind. Those are pictures I remember for rest of my life.

Almost summit - near the main crater "hell"
There was no sense to leave, as I was not entirely sure, if there is any safer place to go at that moment. And also it already was night and temperature was not friendly for taking a long walk. I have packed small emergency bag and planned my escape way to the nearest non-active looking crater. I can ensure you, it was a long night, although I tried to sleep. There were two more eruptions during the night. But it was just more magma flowing in the same river as before. In the morning I seriously considered descend. It was still heavily snowing and clouds together with the mist made it almost impossible to see around. But after having a breakfast and packing my tent, it has slowly started to clear.

Torre Del Philosofo

I have decided to wait for a bit and my patience was appraised by a blue sky and sunshine. I have completed my climb a few hours later and enjoyed some beautiful views from the top of the volcano. There was no more lava flowing down on the surface. Just quite lot of smoke was spreading above its cooling lid. I descended to Refugio Sapienza in the afternoon. Here I met a French couple, which was camping nearby Catania that night. They have told me about the huge river of lava they watched that night on the mountain. I could only smile - yes I know, I was camping a few hundred meters away :)

One of the active side craters

Main Crater - view from a distance

That evening I took bus back to Palermo and stayed in the most beautiful old-fashioned hotel there. The old hotelier has recommended me a nice traditional pizzeria and I enjoyed the best pizza and vine in my life.

Palermo streets at night

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