One of the anticipated highlights of this trip for me, was the chance to explore some active volcanoes. To get up close and personal, to peer inside the crater and to touch the rock that been thrown up from the depths of the earth. Our itinerary was designed to give me the chance to see 3 very different volcanoes: Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and Stromboli.
However it hasn’t quite gone to plan.
Vesuvius. The first week of our trip was spent in Salerno, only an hour away from one of the most infamous volcanos in Europe. We took the train up to Ercolano and spent the morning exploring the evocative ruins of Herculaneum, a town buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD (read my blog about it here). The plan was to walk up Vesuvius to the crater in the afternoon, a relatively short walk from the end of the road halfway up the mountain. On the day we were there, Vesuvius was looking moody, with dark clouds hovering over the crater. This in itself would not have stopped me, it all added to the dramatic atmosphere. However, we soon discovered that the road up and the path around the crater were closed. Apparently the area had some significant rain fall in the autumn (and as we saw it continues to get more) and the paths were damaged and are still closed. So my attempt to look Vesuvius in the eye and see the steam coming out from its vents, were thwarted by a lack of infrastructure maintenance.
Etna. The second volcanic adventure involved less planning but was far more successful. We took the overnight ferry from Salerno (on the west coast of the Italian mainland) to Catania (on the east coast of Sicily), which involved sailing down the coast of Sicily during the course of the morning. Jon and I were sitting having breakfast on the ferry watching the land go past and wondering which of the big hills we were seeing could be Mount Etna. Would we recognise it when we went past or was it masked by other hills? Was it still erupting? Would there still be snow on top? We were just getting to the end of this conversation when I looked up out the window and slowly coming into view was an enormous snow topped mountain in a classic cone shape. From the top a huge plume of smoke and ash extended hundreds of metres up before being swept sideways by the wind. This would be Mount Etna then! I leapt off my seat, ran back to our cabin to get my camera and rushed outside to get a photograph before it disappeared. I didn’t occur to me that it would take us at least 2 hours to sail past it, and we would not actually get out of sight of it even when we had docked! As we got closer the different episodes of ash clouds erupting from the crater became visible, and the tracks of previous lava flows on the flanks were picked out by the snow, telling the story of previous eruptions. The ash plume was being blown east by a fairly strong wind and that side of the volcano was devoid of snow, melted by the heat of the ash raining down. It was incredible to watch the eruption from the safety of our ferry, and it really made me wonder about the stress it must cause the residents who live on the flanks of this active beast.
Stromboli. My third volcano was Stromboli, one of the Aeolian islands, north of Sicily. The whole island is basically the top third of the volcano, the rest being submerged underwater. This volcano is constantly erupting but on a small scale, sending lava bombs tens of metres into the air in regular mini explosions. The highlight of the trip for me was going to be a twilight ascent of the volcano to spend an hour on the top above the current active vents watching the eruption in the darkness, seeing the red glow of the lava and the exploding rock streaking into the dark night. Our plan had been to watch the weather and fit in a 2 day trip sometime during our 3 weeks on Sicily. I had been constantly monitoring the Stromboli webcam site, and the comments were all really encouraging, talking about seeing lots of activity and the vent changing shape as the sticky molten rocks land back down close to the erupting vent. So during our first week on Sicily when climbing was looking dubious, I decided to start getting organised for Stromboli. You are only able to climb Stromboli with a guide but there are several companies that do guided walks up the volcano so I got in contact to start the arrangements.
And that’s when the dream turned to dust.
The crater of Stromboli is currently closed due to high levels of activity. The usual vents that throw rock 20-30m into the air, are currently projecting lava 100-200m high. As reasons go, this is probably the one I can accept most easily! As much as I would like to get close to some lava, I do not want that to be my final experience on this earth. It would have been so good to be able to see it but I will have to be satisfied (for now) with the memory of a “nearly but not quite”.