March 20, 2012
By Jenni Fogle
Mountains have a way of reminding us of how unpredictable and even temporary life can be. That’s one of the things I love about climbing. Spending time in the mountains encourages me to seize opportunities as they arise, and not put my dreams off for “someday.” I witnessed one of nature’s tremendous demonstrations recently on Mt. Etna, Europe’s tallest (and active) volcano.
I had debated on whether or not to bring my touring skis to Sicily when I headed there in early March. I wasn’t sure how good the ski conditions would be, and wasn’t even sure I’d have the chance to go to the mountain while I was there. I ended up deciding it was probably not worth the hassle, so I left them behind.
On Friday, March 16th I had a free day and headed to the north side of Etna. I wore approach shoes and brought snowshoes along in case I needed them. There are ski lifts on Mt. Etna, although several on the south side were destroyed in the 2001 eruptions, and on the north side they only go up to about 2400 meters. The day I was there the highest lift wasn’t operating – workers were trying to dig it out of the snow. So I took a lift to 2000 meters, and walked from there. I saw one other hiker, and a handful of skiers on the upper mountain. I have very few actual regrets in my life, but I definitely regretted not having my skis with me.
I usually listen to music when I hike alone, but my Ipod battery was dead, so I had a lot of time with my thoughts, and specifically my recurring thought, “I wish I had my skis.” I tried to find ways to console myself. There had been significant winds the previous week, so there was a breakable wind crust that wouldn’t have been the best for skiing, but there were also areas with nice, soft powder. It’s hard to console yourself when you’re missing out on a few thousand feet of uninterrupted downhill terrain. I finally told myself, “Mt. Etna has been here for a very long time. It’s not going anywhere. I’ll bring my skis next time.”
Which brings us to Sunday, my last day in Sicily. My only plan was to go for a good run in the morning before heading to an agriturismo for a no-kidding four-hour lunch with endless courses of delicious food. I headed out the door for my run, saw Mt. Etna in the distance and immediately ran back to get my camera. On Friday, as on many days, I had seen steam venting steadily from the north summit. But Sunday morning there was a huge column of black ash spewing thousands of feet straight up in the air, and forming an ash cloud that trailed for miles on the downwind side of the mountain. It was fascinating to say the least.
I wondered what it would have been like to be right up close when that happened. I am sure I REALLY would have wanted my skis to get down as fast as possible. Next time, I’ll bring my skis, because I really don’t know how much longer Mt. Etna will be there – at least not all of it. Whatever you’ve been putting off doing, or want to do but think it might be too big of a hassle – go do it. Take your family on that vacation, climb Mt. Rainier, go to Bhutan, but don’t let your dreams go up in smoke.