Shake, Rattle, and Roll: hiking the Vesuvius time-bomb

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! – Genesis 1:31

DSC_0499Many of you know that I have this thing about mountains. Not that I’m a real climber, with ropes and irons and such – it’s just that there’s something about the hike, the ascent, the view, the perspective. Mount Washington in New Hampshire; Mount Mitchell in North Carolina; Ben Nevis in Scotland; Mount Sinai in Egypt; Vesuvius in the south of Italy.

Having stood in the middle of Pompeii, looking up at the volcano that literally buried the region, I was thrilled to engage the opportunity to take in the view from the other direction.

I was not disappointed. Our bus climbed through a series of tight Switchback turns, leaving us a fairly moderate thirty-five-minute climb to the summit. The day was a little hazy, and the views were far from crystal clear, but the ascent was worth every step.

DSC_0522ACTIVE: Vesuvius is classified as an active volcano. That means, essentially, that there’s stuff happening underneath; there’s magma moving around underground; the mountain is biding its time, and the fuse is lit.

So I was intrigued by our guide’s logic in declaring Vesuvius “One hundred percent safe.” I’m not sure how accurate the guide’s spiel was, but here’s what she told us: “Since the violent explosion and pyroclastic flow that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79, Vesuvius has erupted on average every 50 years. However, the last event occurred in the 1940’s, so we have nothing to worry about.”

If that’s not “fuzzy math,” then I don’t know what is!

According to one travel guide: “Vesuvius is an active volcano and may erupt any time in the near future. Over the last few centuries, Vesuvius has erupted at intervals ranging from 18 months to 7½ years, making the current lull the longest in 500 years. Its lack of eruption may merely indicate a build-up of pressure, which may result in a more explosive next eruption, posing a lethal hazard to over 500,000 residents living in the same place that got destroyed in 79AD.”

DSC_0558STUNNING BEAUTY: What I did experience, walking to the summit and looking into the caldera, was the kind of micro-climate that makes the slopes and surrounds of Vesuvius a unique environment. For a place harboring such heat, and violence, and uncertainty, the topography is startlingly beautiful.

Several years ago, Rebekah and I stood on the deck at the Johnson Ridge Observatory on Mount St. Helens, and we looked into the gaping chasm that used to be the side of the volcano before it exploded in 1980. There, from the middle of the new cone that was growing by the day, the mountain let off a plume of steam. Mt. St. Helens went “poof,” and we could feel the amazing power of creation all the way down to our toes.

The unfathomable power that is still creating – and recreating – this planet is, in its own way, as stunningly beautiful as the scenery it carves out from the landscape.

That’s the feeling that came over me as I stood on the other end of the view at Vesuvius, looking out over Pompeii and wondering at the awesome reach of the creative energy that is – at this very moment – still making the world.

DSC_0545GRATEFUL: I, too, am a product of the imagination and light that stands outside of time and space, and yet constantly reaches in with purpose, and with power, and with love.

I can’t climb a mountain without regenerating a still deeper quality of assurance and promise.

Peace and blessings – DEREK

more photos from the Vesuvius hike:



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