Climbing the Stromboli

In early June we spent a week long holiday in Sicily. The highlight of the trip for me (both as an experience and as an opportunity to take images) was the ascent to the craters of Stromboli.

We arrived to the island late afternoon, and our host mentioned that we can climb the volcano if we want with the last group that day. This was a fascinating opportunity – to climb the mountain in the best light. The funny thing was that we had no proper equipment – we just grabbed some shoes and pullovers. I always had a Petzl headlight with me, but the girls hadn’t, so I rented a couple of lights and joined the – mostly – properly equipped group.

I had only my vacation equipment with me – a Canon 5D Mark II with three lenses: a 24mm f/2.8, an 50mm f/1.4 USM and a 100mm f/2 USM. I used the 24mm almost exclusively – really like that little lens.

There We Go

Stromboli is an active volcano and it’s not shy to show off. You can see the ash clouds it pumps to the air from the beginning of the trip.

Speaking of the trip itself. The first 400-450m of the ascent is relatively easy. There’s vegetation everywhere, and you walk on soil. After our second break, at around 450m height, things start to get tough. There’s no vegetation from that point, just ash, rocks and wind. Wind that can be furious at times. This was the time to put on all the warm clothing and prepare for another 1-1.5 hours of walking on steep ash-covered slopes.

But the vistas were incredible.

Looking Back at the Village

So much, that I – being the only serious photographer – usually tailed off the group. Fortunately (or not) I had no tripod with me, so composing images was quite fast compared to my usual working methods.

As we approached the last slope, the view behind us turned incredible. Some ash clouds from the crater just floated above the tip of the volcano’s shadow – as if the shadow created them. Took some 10-15 images of the shadow from different angles and turned towards the final slope.

Smoking Shadow

Just about a minute before we reached the flat region before the summit, the Sun dipped below the horizon. Lights were still great, but as the night started to fall a foreign, surreal and hostile world started to materialize in front of my eyes. Squat down behind a rock, trying to stabilize my camera (and protect it from the furious wind).

The following minutes touched me deeply. I felt completely alone, with the wind, the smell of the volcanic fumes and the approaching darkness. The resulting image is my favorite from the entire trip.

Darkness Approaching

Then I heard a huge explosion. This was a complete surprise for everyone. The volcano shot up a huge fountain of molten lava. I had little time to change settings on my camera, so run up to the edge of the wall separating us from the craters – taking pictures on the way.

The following one is the second frame from the series. This one with my fellow group-mates is way stronger that the subsequent ones showing just the volcano and the lava.

The First Surprise

We spent a short hour on the summit, witnessing 3 or 4 eruptions. I really missed my tripod at that time.

The descent was easier physically but harder ash-wise. We literally “skied” down on ash-covered slopes. We had to unload the ash from our footwear twice during the downward part of the trip.

We heard several eruptions during the night, and went down to the port early next morning. The last frame was taken with the 100mm f/2 lens.

First Light

I definitely want to go back to photograph Stromboli – but that time with real photographic equipment (which dictates real climbing equipment because of the sheer weight of my camera bag).