Sunday, 25 October 2015

Quest update: Volcano number 1 – Mt Vesuvius (1,281m), Italy

Woohoo, I have lost my volcano virginity. First volcano climbed before the age of 40. Tick.

Mt Vesuvius, Italy 
It feels good to be able to say that.

It would feel even greater to say I strived against the odds to reach the summit (cue violins playing in the background). But I have a secret…. My climb to the top of Mt Vesuvius, Italy (1,281m), was a bit of a cop out. Basically I cheated – as in four wheels helped me get the majority of the way to the top.

Yes, I succumbed to the tourist trap of being suckered in by a nice sounding deal (read discount) from a travel agent that included transportation to the summit car park. From there, it was virtually a hop, skip and a jump along an 860m path to reach the summit. Shameful, isn’t it?

Of course, that little climb to the top was still puff-worthy though. Many people on the wrong side of fit, myself included, took bountiful stops along the way to catch our breaths – but also to gaze at the dazzling view. Facing out to a rippling blue sea, we had the edgy city of Naples spread out to our right, merging into commuterville with the buried cities of Herculaneum below us and Pompeii to our left, while out to sea, the distant mountainous profiles of the Islands Capri and Ischia could be seen.

View from the Summit - Naples in the distance
Steam...
















But more impressive than that view was the vast crater of Vesuvius itself. An almost circular, 600m wide pit of sheer striated rock face running into a steep slope of shingle, pooling at a funnel-like V at the bottom some 200m below. There were even several trees growing inside the crater. The last eruption was in 1944 but some wisps of steam could be seen at the side floating out; a reminder of the brutal force sitting dormant within the slumbering beast.

Inside the crater
As staggering as the view was, it was also in some ways anticlimactic because I had not faced the true challenge of walking from the bottom. But did that make this first of 40 less worthy? It’s an interesting conundrum, especially considering that my travelling partners believed that I should climb any old volcano, and that all of these should constitute ticks on my list of 40 – because that would make the quest easier and more achievable.      
 
I see the sense in that but it doesn’t sit comfortably with my goal and ambitions, not to mention the list of volcanoes I have already put together. What is the point of a half-hearted attempt at something just for the sake of ticking boxes? This process is not about being able to say I’ve climbed 40 volcanoes just because I can but to be able to take something away from the experience.


I think anyone who has a bucket list is trying to capture something in their quest, whether it be a learning or a sense of fulfilment. It’s what makes the quest exciting – and ultimately life changing. Bring on the next 39 volcanoes I say.