As I wrote earlier, I did have some recent climbing experience in Alaska, a trip along the Chilkoot Trail across the mountains from Alaska into the Canadian Yukon. For an amateur like me, it had been tough, and the final ascent had required some hand-over-hand work in a very rocky terrain.
So I was surprised to discover that the trail up Vesuvius was more like an unpaved road—mostly wide and accommodating. It was less of a climb than a hike—a hike being midway between a walk and a climb. (I’m assuming this will make sense.)
My journal reminds me that the trail to the summit did not open until 9 a.m., so I had to wait a bit. A bar-gate blocked access. At nine the attendant appeared and offered me a walking stick, a kind gesture which I took with gratitude, only then realizing that I was renting the stick. Oh well. I gave him 500 lire, which barely satisfied him. But he probably figured a guy in shorts wouldn’t know any better.
The trail was about eight feet wide, covered with cinders (hmmm), and barely had I begun than the sun cooperated, popping out to reveal ever-grander views of the Bay of Naples and the city itself.
Before I reached the summit, I arrived at yet another gate: 900 lire to continue (about $6 at the time). Sigh. These days we celebrate entrepreneurs, but on the Vesuvius trail I had different sorts of thoughts about them.
As I approached the crater, I saw a bit of steam emerging from vents, and at the very summit were two souvenir shops. I bought some postcards at one. There was no bubbling cauldron; I had no Dickens-moment when airborne cinders landed on and scorched my clothing. It was very, very calm. Except for that steam, of course, the small cloudy hint of subterranean power.
I was alone. Except for the vendors, I had Mt. Vesuvius to myself. I took many pictures (35mm slides, remember—oh, if only it had been the digital camera age!)
By the time I started down, I wrote later that day, (my driver had stipulated 10:15), the sun had gone away, and swarming up the trail were busloads of tourists and several school groups (all of whom enjoyed my shorts). I should add that some of the kids looked like middle-school age, some of the adults were, well, senior citizens (which I now am), and no one seemed too challenged by the ascent. Still, I cannot imagine the days when porters carried people (like Claire Clairmont) to the summit.
At the bottom, waiting for the taxi, I wrote cards to Joyce and my mother, noting that I’d picked up a little piece of lava and pocketed it.
And where is it now?
Photos from that 1999 ascent.