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Schiena dell’Asino (Donkey’s Back) is one of the most recommended routes on Mount Etna. Because it has a medium-low difficulty and is suitable for all types of hikers. Furthermore, it allows you to admire spectacular panoramas with little effort, both towards the coast and towards the summit craters of Etna. We suggest it as the first autumn trip idea because in these first autumn months it has beautiful colours … And also because later, in January, it will be filled with snow and it will be difficult to walk there. So it is now or never … or in spring!

A walk at the Donkey’s Back!

The funny name derives from the shape of the “saddle” that you pass to reach the edge of Valle del Bove: it has the shape of the back of a donkey, or a horse. The route starts a few kilometers before arriving at Sapienza Refuge, on the SP92 road that connects the refuge with Zafferana Etnea.

schiena dell'asino route2The indications are clear and show you immediately where you can park your car. The departure – on foot of course! – is quite steep, so in this first part of the way save your breath and energy, focusing everything on just … walking. The gradient here is 10% and even a little more, but you advance in the shade of a pine-tree wood so you may struggle but won’t sweat. As you go up, the path will tend to flatten out – it is not the usual joke for mountaineers, Schiena dell’Asino “later flattens” for sure! – and even if you’ll have to walk more, it will be much less difficult.

The total route is about 5 km long, most of which are flat, with openings on breathtaking views both towards the coast and Catania, and towards the top of the volcano. In autumn the landscape will still be green in many places but the yellow and red colours of the new season are already starting to show on the way. The arrival is right on the edge of Valle del Bove. You will find the large summit craters on the left and some INGV and transmission equipment on the right. In front of you the wonder of Valle del Bove in all its splendour.

How to “face” the route

Try to go light. Avoid heavy backpacks and uncomfortable shoes. Definitely bring food and drink with you, hats and sunscreens will be very useful here, even in autumn. Don’t forget your cameras at home!

Dress, as they say here, “onion-shape”. That is, wear more clothes from the lightest short-sleeved one to the heavy jacket. So that you can undress – if necessary – along the way. And get dressed again, up at the arrival, if it gets colder.

The route is not recommended in case of paroxysms, because in the flat area close to Valle del Bove there are no shelters in case of ash or lapilli fallout. But if a good and expert guide will accompany you, as he/she knows the directions of the winds and the changes in intensity of the eruption, you could try. It is not advisable to travel Schiena dell’Asino by mountain bike.

How to get to Schiena dell’Asino

To reach the base point of the Schiena dell’Asino route you can go up either from the SP92 road (it takes 13 minutes by car from Zafferana for about 8 km), or from Via Catania road which connects it to Nicolosi (22 minutes drive to cover 16 km).

But you can also go up from Ragalna, via the SP120 (31 minutes for a distance of 23 km).

The fastest route, if you leave directly from Catania, is via the SP10 and then Via Catania at Nicolosi, for a total of 55 minutes drive. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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