Women On Adventure is a blog by K.L. Webber exploring our rich shared history of women's adventure writing. This curated collection of quotations showcases the opinions and experiences of influential female travellers in their own words.

"...could discern around us nothing but mountains of lava, while before us rose the huge smoky column..."

At Vesuvius:

The lava is of different colours, according as it has been exposed to the atmosphere for a longer or a shorter period.  The oldest lava has the hue of granite, and almost its hardness, for which reasons it is largely used for building houses and paving streets.

From the place where we left our donkeys we had to climb upwards for nearly an hour over the lava before reaching the crater.  The ascent is somewhat fatiguing, as we are obliged to be very careful at every step to avoid entangling our feet among the blocks of lava; still the difficulty is not nearly so great as people make out.  It is merely necessary to wear good thick boots, and then all goes extremely well.  The higher we mount, the more numerous do the fissures become from which smoke bursts forth.  In one of these clefts we placed some eggs, which were completely boiled in four minutes’ time.  Near these places the ground is so hot that we could not have stood still for many minutes; still we did not get burnt feet or any thing of the kind.

On reaching the crater we found ourselves enveloped in so thick a fog that we could not see ten paces in advance.  There was nothing for it but to sit down and wait patiently until the sun could penetrate the mist and spread light and cheerfulness among us.  Then we descended into the crater, and approached as closely as possible to the place from which the smoky column whirls into the air.  The road was a gloomy one, for we were shut in as in a bowl, and could discern around us nothing but mountains of lava, while before us rose the huge smoky column, threatening each moment to shroud us in darkness as the wind blew it in clouds in our direction.  When the ground was struck with a stick, it gave forth a hollow rumbling sound like at Solfatara.  In the neighbourhood of the column of smoke we could see nothing more than at the edge from which we had climbed downwards—a peculiar picture of unparalleled devastation.  The circumference of the crater seems not to have changed since the visit of Herr Lewald, who a few years ago estimated its dimensions at 5000 feet.  After once more mounting to the brim, we walked round a great part of the edge of the basin.

At the particular desire of Herr M., who was well acquainted with all the remarkable points about the volcano, our guide now led the way to the so-called “hell,” a little crater which formed itself it in the year 1834.  To reach it we had to climb about over fields of lava for half an hour.  The aspect of this hell did not strike me as particularly grand.  An uneven wall of lava suddenly rose fifteen paces in advance of us, with whole strata of pure sulphur and other beautifully-coloured substances depending from its projecting angles.  One of these substances was of a snowy-white colour, light, and very porous.  I took a piece with me, but the next day on proceeding to pack it carefully, I found that above half had melted and become quite soft and damp, so that I was compelled to throw the whole away.  The same thing happened to a mass of a red colour that I had brought away with me, and which had a beautiful effect, like glowing lava, clinging to the fissures and sides of the rocks.  We held pieces of paper to the fissures in this wall, and they immediately became ignited.  Herr M. then threw in a cigar, which also burst into a flame.  The heat proceeding from these clefts was so great, that we could not bear to hold our hands there for an instant.  At one place, near a fissure, we laid our ears to the ground, and could hear a rushing bubbling sound as though water was boiling beneath us.  There was really much to see in this hell, without the discomfort of being enveloped in the offensive sulphurous smoke of the chief crater.

After staying for several hours in and about the crater we left it, and returned by the steep way over the cone of cinders.  The descent here is almost perpendicular, and we could hardly escape with whole skins if it were not for the fact that we sink ankle-deep into sand and cinders at every step.

To avoid falling, it is requisite to bend the body backwards and step upon the heel.  By observing this precaution, the worst that can happen to one is to sit down involuntarily once or twice, without danger to life or limb.  In twelve minutes we had reached the spot where our donkeys stood.  We reached Resina during the darkness of night, having spent eight hours in our excursion.

Naples, Italy, 1842


Source: Ida Pfeiffer, Henry William Dulcken, trans., A Visit to the Holy Land, Egypt and Italy, Ingram Cooke & Co., 1852 

Further links: 


WOA Image: Southern Highlands, Australia

WOA Image: Southern Highlands, Australia

"Taking his sword from its scabbard, he held the naked blade over me..."