« AnteriorContinuar »
less darkness beneath us; and, in the sky above, two, and only two, excessively faint meteors. The morning twilight appeared of very brief duration.
On the summit we found the sulphureous vapours very overpowering; and after remaining there about an hour, we began the descent of the mountain, not the way by which we had ascended, but directly down the sheer declivity which lay beneath our feet, where we had all been reposing. From its extreme steepness it at first appeared impracticable; but one of the guides led the way quickly and decidedly; and we soon found it afforded a very rapid and comparatively easy path; for it consisted for the most part of fine ashes, into which we sank more than ankle deep at every step, without the possibility of slipping : but now and then the ashes ended abruptly, giving place to a steep face of hard sulphureous rock, covered with loose stones; and wherever this occurred, you were pretty sure, without care, to get a smart fall. This path soon brought us to the slopes of frozen snow, which, in the ascent, I had found so formidable; and to my great surprise, I descended them without difficulty, and kept well up with my companions.
We now diverged to the left in order to obtain a view of the famous Val del Bove; an enormous desolate valley or ravine, high up in the mountain, presenting every variety of the most awful volcanic
scenery. It is much the finest thing in the whole region of Etna. Although no colouring could have been anticipated in such a scene, yet the varieties of black were quite astonishing. Effects too of light and shade abounded; and the transparent air, and the bright morning sun, cast a velvet-like softness of tint over the lava streams, with now and then a tinge of the most delicate purple imaginable,
Smoothing the raven down Of darkness till it smiled, We were in truth most fortunate in obtaining so perfect and enjoyable a view of this tremendous valley; often for months together the abode of aerial clouds and tempests, even when unvexed by volcanic storm.
We continued our route down the patches of snow, until we once more entered upon the woody region ; and at about nine o'clock, regained the Casa del Bosco, where we found our muleteers fast asleep in the sun. After a short delay, we remounted, and as we had had a fatiguing walk of about eight hours, we were not sorry to ride down the remainder of the mountain. Here I was much pleased at hearing the cuckoo: it was the first I had heard this year; and the first I recollect to have ever heard out of England.
We had now a better opportunity of observing the woody region than when we passed it in the night.
I confess I was disappointed in the beauty of it; at least, of that part of it which we crossed. There were some terrific cascades of lava that had desolated many localities of the region, within sight. From hence we enjoyed an excellent view of the very numerous minor volcanos that have at various times broken out in the lower regions of the mountain. They are all now extinct, but they have generally proved very destructive. Some of them, the Monte Rosso, for instance, are hills of considerable elevation. We also saw the celebrated Grotto del Capre, which we had passed in the night. It is an insignificant cave near the Casa del Bosco, and was once the only refuge for travellers ascending the mountain. Many names of travellers are carved on the trees which surround it. I was disappointed to find that the chestnut tree called from its great size " de' cento cavalli," did not lie in this part of Etna. It must be visited in a distinct excursion from Nicolosi.
Passing from the woody region through the desolation of lavas of various dates, and over a long tract of the black pulverized ashes of the Monte Rosso, we at length reached Nicolosi. Here we dismissed our guides, and obtained some refreshment, and remained about two hours, and then remounted in order to ride quietly back to Catania. But our scrambles were not yet over. Just as we were leaving the place, the vicious mule managed once more to fly like a tiger at one of the others; a fresh kicking and plunging ensued, which broke T-'s girths, and he fell on his back on the sharp stones of the steep paved village street which we were descending. Most fortunately he was not hurt. He remounted, and we continued our ride to Catania, where we arrived between three and four o'clock, having been absent about twentythree hours; and, considering the season of the year, we could not but be satisfied with the success of our ascent of Mount Etna.
In the evening we had the honour of a visit from Professor Forbes, of Edinburgh. He had just arrived at Catania, and wished to make some enquiries of us concerning our expedition. In the course of conversation, I mentioned to him the symptoms which I had experienced when near the summit of the mountain ; and he told me that he had often ascended to great heights, and that he had occasionally, but not invariably, felt similar symptoms. *
The next morning I perceived that a steel key which I wore at my watch chain, and the steel pipe of my watch key, had become corroded, and turned nearly black. This was evidently owing to my having reclined upon, and having thus brought them into contact with, the sulphureous ashes on the summit.
* See Ascent of the Col du Géant, in this volume.
In the Cabinet Encyclopædia, in the volume on Astronomy, by Sir John Herschel, is the following note.
“ The height of Etna above the Mediterranean (as it results from a barometrical measurement of my own made in July, 1824, under very favourable circumstances) is 10872 English feet.”
The distance from Catania to the summit of Etna is called thirty-six miles. This must surely be an exaggeration. Agreeably to this reckoning, we should have performed, in going and returning, twice thirtysix, or seventy-two miles, in about twenty hours : making our average progress, whilst actually on our road, something greater than three miles and a half an hour; which, although we descended rapidly, is too much. The fact is, guides are in the habit of calling an hour spent on a mountain excursion, a league ; which exactly accounts for the estimated distance.
Catania, April, 1844.