Etna, still active volcano. I’ve been always tempted to climb it. I found a cheap flight ticket to Catania in February and I told myself – why not in the winter! Two adventurous friends joined me and the adventure began!
The first challenge appeared before we even started – we needed to pack everything into a carry-on luggage, including sleeping bags, mattresses and a tent. It was tough but we managed to do it. We were hoping that the airport staff won’t care about the luggage size, but we had to stuff the backpacks into measuring cage right at the Prague airport. We put on almost all our clothes, fully stuffed our pockets and managed to go through.
Priceless face expressions
There was a beautiful 18°C in Catania upon arrival and the expressions of the people who watched us walking around in winter jackets and gloves were priceless. We quickly switched to shorts and got on the bus.
Buses in southern Italy would deserve its own article. The timetables we found on the Internet didn’t fit at all with those written at the bus stop (if there were any at all). We went to catch the last bus in the Etna direction in advance, which proved to be a good idea because the bus was leaving half an hour earlier than we found on the internet.
Lunar landscape terrain
We got off the bus in Nicolosi town and our climb to Etna started. We met a pack of wild dogs running and aggressively barking around and we relieved a lot after they finally left us alone. We met about 100 dogs on the way, at least 5 in each garden along the road. They were behind the fences fortunately except the first ones. We found a place in the woods where we built a tent and slept the first night.
The next day, the ground around us started to look like the lunar landscape. Morning climb was all on volcanic rocks and evening climb was all on snow. We saw Etna peak for the first time – it was the best in the dark because even the red lava was visible. We enjoyed a bit of warmth in the restaurant with Wi-Fi in the evening and later, we climbed into a nearby forest to build a tent after sunset- it was a premiere for all of us to sleep right on the snow.
We started to cook dinner and several other dogs arrived – this time they were peaceful, so we didn’t mind. Just by then… As soon as we got into our tent, the dogs laid right next to us. We had such a great guards 🙂 It would be great if the guards didn’t bark every hour 😀 You can probably imagine how perfectly we slept 🙂
Active volcano and fantastic views
We left two of our backpacks in the restaurant in the morning and took the cable car that helped us to surpass 800 meters elevation (otherwise, it would be hard to make it to the top in one day). One way ticket cost 24 Euros (The all-day ski pass was 36 Euros). You can probably skip the cable car if you start the climb very early in the morning.
We asked about the conditions and if we need to take snowshoes. Of course, they told us that we cant go there without a guide. We told ourselves its just a scam and went without guide and snowshoes. We were almost the only hikers, but there were quite a few ski alpinists. The climb was actually far more easy than we thought it would be. The snow was hard enough that our shoes weren’t breaking down the snow and it was fairly easy to walk up. There was less and less snow as we were closer to the peak and ground was getting warmer and warmer. The snow partly disappeared at the upper part and we were walking purely on volcanic rocks, where our shoes were breaking down much more than to the snow.
We were surprised by very high volcanic activity – we thought it would explode just twice a day and it was splashing volcanic rocks every 10 minutes. 😀 It even splashed the red lava, once. At least by one crater. The other two craters were constantly spouting a sulfur smoke which we once accidentally breathed – never again! One would suffocate very quickly. The view from the Etna summit was absolutely fantastic! We were above the clouds, so it seemed like we were walking in the heaven.
Amazing downhill ride
The way down was probably the best part of our trip – we rode the mountain all the way down on Kluski (plastic shoe racks). There were absolutely ideal conditions and it was a once-in-a-life experience. A downhill ride, where one can go wherever he wants and doesn’t meet any people is incredibly beautiful! We rode from 3200 m all the way to 1500 m, where the snow slowly disappeared). Here is a short video of our night ride:
Is Etna better in the winter than in the summer? Definitely!
The whole trip was absolutely worth it! Etna climb was a once-in-a-life experience and we agreed that getting up is even better in the winter than in the summer.
What are the main advantages of the winter climb:
- The possibility to ride the entire volcano down on skis, Kluski (or whatever) is the greatest advantage of winter time.
- It wasn’t unbelievably hot (it was cold though, but it one can be dressed)
- It was easier to climb on the snow than on the volcanic rocks and the snowy landscape was absolutely charming.
For even bigger inspiration – watch our whole video:
How to get to Etna?
The easiest way is to fly to Catania, where the cheap Ryanair flies. We flew from Prague with one transfer in Milan. Return tickets (only with carry-on luggage) cost about $90. One can also fly to Palermo, but it is on the opposite side of the island.
From the airport, there is a regular bus to the city center and from there another bus goes to the villages at the foot of the volcano. One can go to Nicolosi, Ragalna, Trecastagni, Zafferana Etnea or directly to the lower station of the funicular to the Rifugio Hotel Giovanni Sapienza. We chose a bus to Nicolosi.
The timetables can be found at this website:
It’s only in Italian, but It isn’t a problem to translate it (click in the top menu on “linee e orari”). However beware, that the timetables aren’t always correct, it is a good idea to be there in advance. Our bus left 30 minutes earlier.
Where to sleep in Catania?
There is plenty to choose from:
Where to sleep nearby Etna?
We chose a tent, and except for barking dogs, it was great. It can be built almost anywhere. For instance, we slept one night in the woods about 100 meters from the bottom station of the cable car. But it is necessary to have good sleeping bags.
Another option is a hotel Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza right at the bottom of the cable car, where they also have food and Wi-Fi.
How long does it take to reach the top?
It depends on where you start. The last part from the bottom station of the cable car to the summit and back can be reached in one day. We arrived by bus to Nicolosi town at about 8 PM. We continued to walk for about 3 hours before we went to sleep. We started again at about 8 AM and reached the bottom of the cable car at about 4 PM. The next day we got up to take the first run of the cable car at 9:00. The journey to the summit took us about 4 hours. We spent about an hour taking pictures at the top and then ode down. The downhill ride took us less than 2 hours, and we were around 4 PM at the bottom station of the cable again, just before the dusk. We went to the restaurant to refresh ourselves and then continued to ride down in the darkness till the snow disappeared and we could build the tent on the dry ground.Final day It took us about 2 hours to reach Nicolosi for a return bus.
What to pack with you?
- Warm clothes – there was around -15°C at the top and the wind was pretty strong. However, It isn’t that terrible, you get warm by climbing up.
- Solid shoes to the snow – the bigger the shoes, the better. We were afraid the shoes would be breaking down the snow, but it wasn’t that terrible. Snowshoes are the best for sure, but they take a lot of space in the backpack and it was fine without them.
- If you are sleeping in
the tent– a warm sleeping bag and a good mattress to isolate yourself from the snow.
- A good headlamp – the sunset is very early and it is not good to be stuck in the mountains in the darkness without any light.
- Something to ride down on – we recommend Klu-Ski, absolutely amazing thing! http://www.sportovnisvet.cz/kluski-vella-standard#1
A once-in-a-life experience!
The whole trip was an absolutely amazing experience! Seeing the Etna volcano exploding so close and then ride the whole mountain down is really worth it! Go ahead and do it too!
If you are planning a trip to Etna and have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
I want to go!
Are you decided? Great, just find a flight ticket:
Have you been to Etna before? We are thrilled to hear your experiences! Share your stories with us in the comments.