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Mount Etna is a volcano so fascinating and full of itineraries that exploring it and experiencing it is a pleasure in every season of the year. You don’t necessarily have to wait for spring or summer to go trekking on its paths, you can also plan it in winter. Prudence must be the basis of every excursion – and before going to Etna you must always find expert guides. But it is also right to know “the secrets of winter trekking” regardless of the excursion. To always be ready for any event.

Trekking, wisdom and recklessness

Recently, the news of the rescue of a Brazilian tourist missing for two days on Mount Etna has aroused surprise and admiration. The woman, far from being naive, was instead a long-experienced hiker and she seems to have lost her way back only due to a sudden change in the weather. Left alone in Valle del Bove, with temperatures far below the average, she could survive because of her knowledge of winter trekking.

In fact, she had found shelter inside a cave, protecting herself from the wind, and had worn all the clothes she had in her backpack to get adequate coverage. Furthermore, she had not moved much from the place where she was, so to allow rescuers to arrive with fewer problems. Finally, she had food and drink with her.

On the contrary, hikers who face Etna in sandals and shorts, or with the right clothing but with an empty backpack, are often rescued in bad conditions. This is the difference between those who know how to trek in winter and those who improvise. And it is the same difference that often passes between living and dying.

winter trek etna 2Trekking in winter, what to wear

Our grandparents always said: in the mountains, dress “onion-style”. That is, in layers. From the lightest fabric on the skin to the heaviest outer fabric. This is because walking makes you feel hot even where it is very cold outside. But also because on the mountains the weather changes suddenly and without any “warning”.

The ideal is to wear a light short-sleeved shirt, then covered by a heavy long-sleeved shirt or a sweatshirt. Of course jacket and/or windbreaker to cover it all. Much better if you equip yourself with the so-called thermal suits, able to replace several layers of clothing with less bulk. To protect your legs, it’s a good idea to wear cycling tights or long pants under your pants. Footwear must be high and sturdy, “trekking shoes” or snow boots if necessary. Never forget gloves (waterproof, not woolen!), hoods and woolen scarves.

It is important to carry spare clothes in your backpack so that, in case of need (excessive humidity, snow or ice) you can always wear something warm.

Trekking in winter, what to bring

To face the mountain in winter, even in broad daylight, it is good to have everything you need in your backpack. Obviously energy snacks and drinks in thermic bottles, these are elements that must never be missing.

Don’t forget torches, mobile phone chargers, compass and gps. A first aid kit must never be missing, as well as trekking poles, sunscreens and sunglasses.

If you already know you’re about to face the snow, bring snowshoes, crampons, shovels and an ice ax in your backpack. If you have the possibility and the space to bring skis too, do so. Skis could help to cover long flat routes with less effort.

Trekking on a volcano like Etna

Etna is not just any mountain, it is also a fully active volcano. This means that in addition to the traditional mountain crevices it has lava tunnels, caves, craters which, covered by snow, can be dangerous invisible traps.

A winter excursion on Etna must be tackled with twice the attention compared to any other mountain trek. And since the lava stone very often interferes with electronic devices due to the high magnetism, you will cross areas with no mobile phone coverage. For this reason it is vital to know the route and to leave a precise description of it to your hotel, or to the manager of the nearest mountain shelter. Because in the event of a delay or failure to return, rescuers know exactly which route to follow for help.

However, the universal advice remains valid. No matter how expert and smart you are, a winter trek on Etna should always be organized and done with a long-experienced local guide by your side. (photos by G.Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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