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October 21, 2010

Hiking Down Aetna

Click Picture for Live Google Map with Garmin Data

For two days we'd been in a hotel halfway up Etna (as it's spelled locally) waiting for the rain and snow to stop and wind to calm down so that we can go the rest of the way. Yesterday was the day. It was cold (but not by Vermont standards), and it was clear above although undercast below.

You can walk up; we didn't. We took a cable car about half way and then a bus with huge tires up a road just cleared by a snow blower to a parking lot at close to 10,000 feet. Unfortunately there'd been an "explosion" near the summit the day before so we weren't allowed to go up the final thousand feet and peer down into the crater. We took a guided walk down, which you can see in the picture above. The trail was traced by my Garmin Forerunner 305, which, unlike my droid, had no trouble figuring out where it was. If you click on the picture, you'll get a live Google map with much more data about my heart rate during the descent than you could possibly be interested in.

The loop at the top is around the rim of a recent small cinder cone, still steaming at the sunken center. The ground on the rim was warm to the touch, nice because our hands were freezing in the cold wind. Above us yellow smoke puffed from a recent vent in the crater wall. The very large crater on the right side of our path is the remnant of an earlier Etna caldera when the eruptions were just off the then east cost of Sicily.

The last 2000 feet down were a controlled slide, something like skiing without traversing, on a slope of loose cinders and ash. This must be a great ski area in the winter since the lava flows make natural trails. There are quite a few high altitude lifts.

On the way up we met Sonia and Sebastian who are bloggers (and CRM consultants) on a four month sailing adventure. Check out Sonia's Etna post on www.sailingchallenge.de for a great set of pictures and a video of the cinder ski (Mary and I are in the opening and closing frames).

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