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ASCENT OF MOUNT ETNA.
EXTRACT FROM MANUSCRIPT JOURNAL.
“ Where the slumbering earthquake
Lies pillowed on fire,
Rise boilingly bigher."
T about four o'clock in the afternoon, (Friday,
April 26) mounted on mules and horses, we left Catania for Nicolosi, for the purpose of taking guides from that place for the ascent of Etna. Our party at starting consisted of Mr. T- Mr. S—, myself, two muleteers, and a boy: we were afterwards joined by Mr. K—, and his muleteer, also mounted. Here Mr. T—'s mule made a most vicious attack with teeth and heels on the mule of Mr. K-; bites and kicks were exchanged unpleasant even to witness; however, the animals were quieted without accident. In less than three hours we reached Nicolosi, a village said to be more than 2000 feet above Catania, and ten miles distant.
Here we remained until about half-past eight o'clock; when we sallied forth to continue our journey up the mountain ; our party being augmented in number by two guides, also mounted. We set off in spirits ; for the night was most beautiful: clear, warm, and quite calm, with a fine moon about a week old; by the light of which we could see the distant summit of the mountain quite distinctly, with the smoke issuing from the crater now and then tinged with flame.
Leaving the Monte Rosso on the left, we proceeded up a tedious road consisting of ashes, scoriæ, and rough hard lava; whilst the muleteers occasionally awakened the echoes of the Etnean solitudes with their wild chants. It was not very long before we came to the woody region of the mountain; and at about eleven o'clock we arrived at a hut in the upper part of it, called the Casa del Bosco. By this time we all began to feel the cold of the night very sharply; and I do not think I shall ever forget the genuine delight with which we saw a bright fire, which the guides made for us in the centre of the lava-built casa, blazing up to the very roof. Fuel there was here in plenty: the floor, however, was earth; and the only furniture some of the stones of Etna; stretched on which, after getting thoroughly warm, I had half an hour's sound sleep. The warmth here was of the greatest service to us, and lasted us through the remainder of the night.
At about midnight we left the Casa del Bosco, still on our mules ; and proceeded upwards and upwards, always by a similar kind of path. Not long after we left the Casa del Bosco, the moon began to fail us ; and we had to pass under a wall or low cliff of lava, the shadow of which kept the path in darkness, whilst the moon shone obliquely in our faces. Just here we came to a part of the road difficult to pass; and the rider preceding me stopped, and said he could neither see the way nor go on. He, however, soon managed to surmount the obstacle ; which was a steep broken step (as it were) in the lava rock. I then took my turn. My horse, after getting his fore-feet on the impediment, seemed to make no further effort; but let himself slip backwards on his haunches against the mule behind me, who, in his turn, recoiled against the next, and a serious accident appeared inevitable. I dismounted, and the muleteers came to my assistance, and after some dangerous flounderings and plunges on the sharp lava, my poor steed lay quite still with his hind legs tucked close under him, evidently in the greatest terror. I walked a little further up
and they got him up, and brought him to me, and I remounted, and we proceeded as before. The road continued more or less beset with similar obstacles ; and the moon soon afterwards went down; but the night was so fine and calm, and the stars so brilliant, that we did very well as to light. However, as we were once more stopped by some impediment similar to the last, T—'s mule again took the opportunity of flying at one of the others, and a regular combat took place between the animals, in the dark, to the imminent peril of the riders. I heard some sound kicks given and received ; and saw indistinctly T—'s vicious brute twisting violently round and round on his hind legs ; close to the edge of a black precipice, which in the obscurity looked bottomless. It was really a frightful sight. But these things occur so suddenly, and are, one way or another, terminated so quickly, that, at the time, you think little or nothing of them. Most happily, no harm ensued, and we all continued our route as before.
Soon after this, we reached the snow, which lay in wide patches in the hollows of the lava and ashes. We crossed several of these patches without accident; but on one of them the mule of the foremost of my companions fell, with his leg through the snow; and my horse slipped down, close to the sharp edge of the lava. I dismounted immediately, and was quite astonished to find what a slippery state the snow was in. How the animals managed to walk or stand upon it I know not. Not being aware of this, on alighting, I fell down immediately; and on attempting to recover my legs, slid rapidly backwards until I was brought up in nautical phrase) by coming in contact with some one of the party behind. However, we all crossed without injury, and remounted ; and continued our progress upwards.
At last we came to a place differing little in appearance from others that we had passed; where, however, the guides decided that we must leave the mules and horses. Accordingly we resigned them to the charge of the muleteers, who returned with them to the Casa del Bosco, there to wait for us on our descent. The guides furnished us with sharp pointed sticks; and we set forwards on foot. Our way lay over an apparently interminable succession of slopes of frozen snow; rugged, and excessively slippery; and I believe we all found them painfully toilsome to ascend. For my own part, I often fell, and slid back several yards, and had all the work to do over again ; so that in a short time I began to feel so much fatigued that I was several times compelled to stop and lie down on the snow: and in this way I proceeded until we reached the Casa Inglese. The Casa Inglese is a small hut, nearly 10,000 feet above the sea, erected for the accommodation of persons ascending Etna; but it was impossible to enter it, as the snow was still as high as the eaves