Today I want to introduce you to Lidia Gemmellaro, the first woman to become an official volcanological guide in Sicily. We asked her some questions to know more about her job and her relation with Mount Etna.
OFFICIAL ETNA GUIDE
When it comes to touring Mount Etna, you are spoiled for choice with an island full of self proclaimed volcano whisperers. No doubt that among amateur tour guides you can find your pearl. However all mountaineers know that climbing is an art that leaves little room for improvisation, let alone when this mountain also happens to be an active volcano. This is why in 2001 the Collegio Nazionale Guide Alpine Italiane decided to create the professional status of mountaineering guide specialised in volcanos.
ETNA IN THE DNA
After attaining a degree in geology and working as a ski instructor, Lidia Gemmellaro is now the first woman to own an official authorisation to accompany people in the volcanic territory. But there is more to Lidia than a well earned degree to place this woman between the best of the Etna guides.
Her fascination started long before she was even born. Mount Etna was in her DNA thanks to her father, whose surname, Gemmellaro, on the slopes of the Etna, is the synonym of vulcano experts since the Grand Tour of the 18th century.
Yet, her pedigree of vulcano lovers would have meant nothing without her good dose of curiosity and eagerness of wanting to know more, of wanting to climb higher. Despite any obsolete gender roles.
We have been in contact with her and asked a few questions.
TALKING WITH LIDIA
We were curious about what would be your favourite spot on the vulcano. A place that know one knows or a corner that hides on plain sight?
“The most fascinating and mystical place on Mount Etna are the summit craters” she answered. “It is an almost lunar environment, the colours stand out immediately to the eye, from the yellow of the sulfur to the black of the lava flows, sometimes observing the incandescent fractures, you can see green and blue colours, as if it were something magical.”
While she goes on describing every detail I see she is walking over it with her mind like she had already done it hundreds of times. She mentions the craters opened up in 1968 “Bocca Nuova”, she describes the strong smell of sulphur and “pozzi profondi”, deep wells where you can also see little explosions. “One could stay hours and hours looking at that place where it all began, I like to point it out as a relief valve of planet Earth!”
What is the best season to plan to climb Mount Etna?
“The best season to explore Etna does NOT exist, let’s say it depends on personal preferences. For those fond of ski mountaineering there is no better period than January-February-March.” “You can reach the top of the craters, and then slide down the slopes from any side you want!”
What is the one thing that everyone should remember not to do while on the vulcano?
“First of all please keep in mind that Mount Etna is 3340 m high and even if you are in Sicily, I assure you that it is cold! So in the first place you always need to have an excellent equipment, that is: high boots, fleece, rainproof gear. Also, the day before, always check the weather forecast. It would be a shame to get to the top of Etna and find only fog. Last but foremost, the summit craters can only be reached by a volcanological or alpine guide, because it is an active and quite dangerous volcano, so never venture alone.”
Finally, the question that we all were waiting for: how should anyone contact you and how far in advance should we do that?
“In March I’ll have my website. In the meantime, you can contact me directly via email: email@example.com or via phone: 0039 3387662285. If you are staying in the South side of the volcano, you can also visit the website Etnaguide.eu. You can visit etnavolcanoguide.com if you are staying on the North side. Definitely to book with a little advance is always welcome, especially in the most chaotic periods.”
If you are planning to truly explore Mount Etna going further up than anyone else is allowed you will need a qualified guide. Any season will do as long as you are well equipped against the cold. Lidia is our pick guide for you because she is extremely prepared, enthusiast and very approachable. In other words, an outstanding Mount Etna guide. After all, you are about to climb the highest active volcano of Europe!
WHERE TO STAY:
Villa nel Monte: beautiful villa in Nicolosi with precious wooden features and private pool.
Etna Chalet: precious chalet in Tarderia (Pedara) at 12 km from the ski facilities of Rifugio Sapienza.
©photos Lidia Gemmellaro
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