Mt Etna, how to walk on cold lava streams



At first sight you will think it is just a kids’ game. Can it be so different from walking on the Alps’ top, through a rocky desert or  any other rocky beach? Do you really need a guide in order to learn how to walk on Mt Etna’s cold lava streams? Of course you do, because this kind of lava, on Mt Etna, is not a simple ground and it shall never be underestimated. In order to never hurt yourselves, especially if you are walking with children, be prepared to face this environment.

Walking on the “sciara”

Our tours also include trekking tours both on top of Mt Etna (only if you are 16 or older) and at lower altitudes’ rocky lands. Mt Etna’s cold lava streams are called “sciare”  . The word has arabic origin and means sha’ara, desert, dry place. According to other studies, instead, it derives from old German zhar, meaning  “tear”.

This second meaning could better explain why you need a guide. If you fall on a sciara and any part of your body hits the rocky ground it could be torn and  wounded. Mt Etna’s lava, in fact, consists of a very hard material which solidifies irregularly. The surface remains serrated, porous, wrinkled and each part could cut like a razor. So, yes, walking on a sciara needs preparation and rules you must learn. Here they are.

Equipment you need to walk on cold lava

etna LAVA TREKKING (2)Before embarking on an excursion that includes trekking on the cold lava streams, it is important to wear long trousers up to the ankles, possibly made of impermeable material or in any case resistant to shocks and tearing. Underneath, wear thick socks and make sure you have good trekking shoes, that is: high, with a thick and notched sole, all made of resistant material. In addition to protecting you from scratches and wounds, this clothing will protect you from snakes. Vipers especially are numerous on Etna and live mostly hidden in the crevices of the sciaras.

Resistant shoes can also protect you from another phenomenon. It happens, in fact, that while walking on a lava that has been already cold for years, from some vents it still comes out  the heat deriving from the nucleus that has not yet completely solidified. In that case, this type of heat can dissolve the soles of “normal” tennis shoes.

It is always advisable to have a first aid kit with you, water bottles possibly in thermal bags that keep them cool, some quick and energetic snacks because walking on the lava is tiring, and obviously sunglasses and camera. If you think it necessary, do wear gloves, similar to cycling or motorcycle gloves, to help with your hands in some difficult passages of the walk.

Never forget that …

Never forget that Mt Etna is a volcano and its territory hides many pitfalls that you cannot recognize but your guides do. So do not abandon the group and if you do so, let the guide know about the direction you intend to take, so that you can be informed about it and learn if you can or cannot go.

Do not forget that the lava soil is magnetic and can disturb devices such as compasses or some types of watches. In some areas of the lava deserts it is also difficult to communicate with mobile phones, so once again stay close to your guides.

Do not forget that to walk on solid lava you need to have good legs and lots of breath, so don’t try the adventure if you are not physically fit or if you are not well trained. You are not forced at all. As an alternative to trekking there are many other interesting trips to do by jeep.


The author: Grazia Musumeci