This post will outline how to hike the Valley of the Oxen to the east of Etna Volcano. This was a CAI (Catania Alpine Club) excursion. I will provide details that include maps, costs, logistical requirements and facts as well as links to additional details, photos and videos. This is a simple day hike/adventure on a shoestring. Follow the links to dig deeper into the adventure.
A very difficult hike in the Valley dell Bove (Valley of the Oxen). From the car park we ascend through the forest to the ridge of the Valley dell Bove lava field, where we will descend to the Serragiannicola Grande Canal, then along the Serra (the remaining remnant of old collapsed sections) to the Arco di tufo, also called the Stove of the Valley of Oxen. I call it the keyhole. We will then descend via the lava sand slopes and cross the old lava canals of 1991-93 on our return.
Total Cost Range of this Activity is: $
If you want the GPX file with the waypoints, please leave a comment request and I will email it. Waypoints created using TrekTracker software.
As always the trek assembly point was the CAI parking lot. I was a bit confused because the trek wasn’t going to the spot outlined online and in the annual guild. But it turned out better and worse in the long run.
We set out for a spot just shy of the village called Etna. How creative. But I guess the name fits the location. The spot was a car park called Sentiero Schiena Dell Asino I think) with a camper serving Italian coffee, drinks and snacks. Almost as good as an Indian Chi house in the Himilaya.
Our small group of nine people in the van suddenly expanded as other members joined us via their own transportation. We were now 16 and determined. After some quick drinks and tightening of shoe laces we were off up the groomed trail (it was around 9:30am).
After a short time we left the groomed trail for a narrow foot trail that wound up through meadows to a long ridge line that skirted an enormous valley of jumbled lava and ice sheets. It was June 4 and ice was still present in spots. I was impressed. At the ridge I observed a memorial to a trekker who had failed off the ridge and died. We also met 2 additional members of CAI who joined our now 18 strong party.
The path down to the lava fields was steep to the point of being shear. We walked in places but mostly ran and stumbled our way down tracks of black lava sand that I would become more accustomed with in time.
At the bottom we skirted the edge of the lava field along the foot of the ridge line in a northeastern direction. I was disappointed because I wanted cross directly over the lava but would find out later that walking across lava fields is not fun.
A few bowls later we started to ascend the slope at a sharp angle. This took us up more black sand patches, across lava bolder fields and made me wish I had high-top trekking boots, long pants and cloves. Why gloves? Because the stones that we used for support at intervals were extremely sharp. Think in terms of large barbecue lava rocks. We then cut horizontally across a vast wall of black lava sand in a long slow conga line.
It was a strange experience because it was a very steep crossing and struck me as a bit reckless. Also, we were carving a path across native train and also causing a rain of rocks and rubble to tumble down below us. I guess if someone fell they would just slide a bit like on a traditional sand dune. But this was a sand dune of a few hundred meters in hight.
Around noon we reached the Arco di Tufo (or what I would call the key hole). An archway on a ridge with very little room for 18 people to sit and eat lunch comfortable. After an 45 minute lunch and snack break we started what our leader called the Kamikaze decent. Basically run and let gravity do the work. It was just like running down sand dunes in Australia except that the lava sand had a hard layer of ice just below the surface so that I fell and slid on my butt and hands multiple times. Note that this is lava sand so each fall resulted in scratches on any exposed skin and especially the hands used to break the fall. By the time I reached the bottom my bottom was sore, my legs were covered in scratches and the plans of my hands were covered in blood. Now I understood the name for this type of descent.
At the bottom I noticed that there were only a few of us (all male). I turned around and saw the rest of the party making their way down slowly and easily in the trail we had broken with our reckless trajectory. Boys will be boys.
Now things got interesting. Our return was a straight shot across the lava field. This turned out to be a zig-zag version of straight. Plus borders, ice, holes, rocks, sand and confusion. By the time we reached the bottom of the ridge where we had descend I was quite willing to avoid lava fields in the future.
Now all we needed to do was make our way up the steep sandy shear trail to the ridge line. A real ball buster to be honest. The soft lava sand that filled our shoes on the descent now shifted with each step. Two steps up and one step lost sliding down. After a short distance the group started to breakup into sub groups and individuals, all searching for an easier route. I went my own way and mostly avoided the trail, preferring to use the grass tufts and small ridges that resemble yak tracks in the Himalaya. I also decided to cut to the western side of the rise at a split. Turned out that my choices were correct. I reached the correct ridge first and only about 100 meters from our original descent point.
Over then next 30 minutes the rest of the group staggered in and then sat around eating and resting. It was now well into the afternoon and we were in bright, hot sunshine. We followed the groomed tail back to the car park at a leisurely pace.
By 5:30pm we were all back and assembled at the car park and buying loads of refreshments from the wide camper salesman. I had taken a liter and a half of ice tea and had made it stretch to the return ridge line. Snow I was in need of another liter just to stoke the thirst.
In total the trek had taken 8.5 hours according to my phone’s TrekTracker software, but it felt much longer. I was beat. It was an exhilarating trek. Harder than the one advertised but also a bit too hard. I would enjoy some Ibuprofen and a few more liters of liquids before this day was over.