How to conquer the MOST ACTIVE VOLCANO in the world - Mount Etna in Sicily

What do you need to wear?

Every volcano is different and unpredictable. The weather is generally cold but usually varies on the attitude of the mountain. When I was doing my hike in Indonesia - generally warm country (+35 at the ground) , on the peak of Ijen Volcano it was +9. Always adapt to the weather.

Rough Guide:

Indonesia- Ijen Volcano + Mount Bromo = +9 . You will need long pants, gloves, hat, and fall jacket + long sleeve blouse.

Italy - Mount Etna (April -2 celcius) - warm pants or double up on tights. Sweater and winter jacket. Hat, gloves and wool socks is a must. Although you heat up when you ascend (1h), but other 3h hours are left for peak exploration and descend - it can get chilly as you will be trotting through the ice and snow.

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to bring?

Italy - Mount Etna - is the most active volcano . And despite that, the guide never provided us with a gas mask. It is challenging to breath and climb when you can’t actually breath. The sulfur will make your nose hurt while inhaling.

The gas masks can be rented or cheaply bought (26 $CAD) with gaggles https://amzn.to/2Ycjunp

Gloves, hats + socks! - must!

Selfie Stick - so to capture the whole crater… with your face in it.

Lunch + a snack (banana or nuts) - Full of protein and healthy fats for energy. You will need a lot ;) I always eat paleo / healthy / plant based diet. I had salad with chicken, greens, avocado, almonds, tomatoes and cucumbers. It kept me full through the rest of the day.

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worth it?

YES. I had a panic attack when I reached Mount Etna peak, because I couldn’t breath (sulfur); however overcoming this fear and subsiding the fear at that particular moment was an empowering moment.

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Volcano Mount Etna, Italy

Is famous for its ongoing activity and considered to be the most active volcano in the world

Expenses & Transportation

Timing. When I was contemplating whether I should go for this hike, my main concern was finances. First, it was a long flight to Sicily (hard to get to in the winter/sprint months); then it was the shuttle and a hike itself - pricey.

Flight. The round trip for airfare from Edinburgh cost me $150 CAD.

Transport. The shuttle from Catania to Mount Etna is another 80$ (BUT, you can negotiate with any hostel and they might do it for 40-50 euros). The hostel I stayed in offered it for 40 euros (ONE way), please email them in advance to make sure they do the transfer.

The public bus doesn’t arrive on time for the ascent so you can only take it on the way back (4 euros). Make sure to check the time, as there is only one bus going back at 4:20pm.

Alpinist Guide. The cheapest cost of the tour (you have to get a guide to hike to the crater of 3300m), is 95 euros including the cable car ticket and 4x4 for the part of the trip. I booked it through Etna Est (the excursion called Etna Summit Craters, the only one that ascend to the top).

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Weather

-2 ~ -5 in April, Warm winter/ late fall jacket + sweater, wool socks, gloves and hat is a must!

At the cable car dismemberment station, the woman was screaming “it is -2 on the top, you need to dress up”. As yes, many appeared in short tops! The optimal clothing is a winter jacket and long sleeve with pants and stockings, however it always depends on the month of the year. I went in the warmer – April. When you hike up, you move so you will produce more heat and it will feel warmer. I had to even take my 2 jackets off (2 was too much but I am “always cold” girl). 

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EXPERIENCE AND SAFETY during hike

Oh yes! I got chills and almost fainted on the top of the volcano. NEVER underestimate the power of it. 

Be also prepared to experience more weakness than you usually do during heavy exercise; due to abrupt attitude changes, the body doesn’t have enough time to adopt to oxygen intake and especially it will struggle with sulfur.  

Thus, IMPORTANT, take your OWN gas mask. No guide company provide one. You can probably rent one in Catania or buy cheaply. When I say Gas Mask- it does NOT include the pharmacy fabric one, as this one will not be effective enough. Keep in Mind that Mount Etna is the most active volcano on the planet, thus it produces the MOST amount of sulfur due its continuous small eruptions. 

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Disclaimer says that it is a dangerous hike and you can be severely impacted if you aren’t in a good physical shape… ahaha.. I was laughing and underestimated the power of the volcano. I was so happy to go that I totally didn’t think of a gas mask… yeah, I climbed the most active volcano with the highest sulfur concentration in the air … without a proper protection for my lungs. And my guide never mentioned or provided one. That was essential part of the trip and safety, which you will indulge in later in my story . Keep reading to see what happened with me and a guide :)

We have started with changing to hiking shoes (provided for free by the guide). The group was divided in 10 and 10 people and started ascent by the cable car to 2500m. The cable car covered the significant attitude in 15 min, therefore it is no surprise if you are like me will feel light-headed due to altitude sickness. When we arrived there, I had couple minutes to grab a cup of coffee as I had to sleep in hostel… and you know how quiet could it be at night ;) And so we bordered the 4x4 bus, that looked like Soviet bus. It covered another 400m, bringing us to 2900m, from where the “protected” area begun (you couldn’t go without a guide). There is no physical barrier that can stop you, but there is no path either to follow (usually guide take different ones depending on the activity of the volcano) and furthermore, everyone comes in a group so you might stand out and can be asked to return. 

 In any case, going with a group was more fun and helpful as the roads were steeps, tiring and slippery (good idea to take ski sticks to help yourself to overcome icy areas). The icy roads are so slippery that it significantly delayed the group… and I fell down. The incline was steep so i slided on my butt and collected a big amount of dirt on my jacket (maybe white one was not a great idea).  It took us around 1h to climb up the mountain with a stop for snacking. 

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EXPERIENCE AND SAFETY at the top

Once we have reached the top, the guide went through the safety briefing and highlighted “you shouldn’t panic if you hear eruption’ sounds. It is normal, it is very active”, after which of course I laughed thinking “Who would be scared?’.  Anyone and everyone, and especially…me. The sound of the eruption was becoming louder, the smoke became thicker and wind became stronger. In about 10 seconds after, the ground started to shake. Yes, like a small earthquake, I have never experienced before. The thoughts were running inside my head and I couldn’t focus on anything except the feeling of fatigue and lack of oxygen. The wind brought sulfur, and everyone started to cough. In addition to small “fear attack”, I thought that I was suffocating and will faint any minute. Someone brought me a bubble gum so it will have to produce saliva which reduces the symptoms of attitude sickness. Yes, that’s what it was. Attitude Sickness and nothing more. My thoughts got out of control after going through new experiences such as admiring the active eruption including all small features. 

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The view was astonishing, and our guide led us around the less active crater. We could see the most active one just in front of us (the recent eruption is dated to December 2018). There, the significant amount of smoke was falling down from the big hole in the mountain… and not through one. It seemed like it is raging and want to get rid of all the steam. The smoke was pouring from the little holes and cracks of the crater. I felt its always increasing volume and vibration of the ground. This kind of experience is breath-taking and worth a trip! When we started our descend, I started to feel better as the sulfur air became less tense. And in addition, the views were magical, as we took the different route. You could see the peaks of other dormant craters and mountains. I felt like I am Martian walking through the snow mixed with black cold lava rocks and no sight of earth. I had a joy sliding down on my hiking shoes through warm lava remains which especially felt like a spa treatment after a half-day hike. The descent took us around 2,5h to the cable car’s station. 

Do what scares you the most. That’s how you start your life.

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