A large brown sign reading MONTI SARTORIUS 1660 M announced our arrival at the trail head just off Mt. Etna's mareneve (sea-mountain) road, with coastline below, and often times snow capped Etna above.
The unexpected freshness of cool air was so different from the general state of sticky-sweaty normal for this time of year at lower elevations.
We paused in a patch of silvery birch trees, with their mesmorizing maze-like trunks, etched with lines, curves, darks and lights, leaves fluttering as the wind picked up.
Overhead, menacing clouds pressed down upon us, dark gray shadows seamlessly blending with the black ashy landscape.
Clumps of low bushes held hidden surprises, chirrping, jumping crickets, quick to move but not so quick as to avoid a pair of 6 year old hands.
The rounded cones of past erruptions rose before us, a melding of gray and deep red.
The first rain drops fell but the urge to keep going pushed us on, at least to the top of the nearest cone we agreed.
The steep slope lead straight to the top, and by now the rain was pelting us.
We laughed and kept going. Hair plastered down against forehead. Drips running down noses. Dank backpack, squeeky shoes. Summer showers don't chill to the bone but are a reason for giggly glee.
In this state of happy wetness we reached the top. Paused long enough to salute our only other companions, a flock of sheep grazing in the wet rain down the other side of the slope.
Then turned back and ran all the way down.
The sandy ash was now a gritty, clinging substance.
Goodbye birch trees.
Hello warm dry car.
P.S. Hiking the trail around Monti Sartorius is easy and beautiful, great for kids who like to walk, and off the road to the Rifiugio Citelli. The group of 7 inactive crater cones known as Monti Sartorius were formed during an 1865 erruption.