Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii

There's this one volcano over in Italy that you may have heard of. It's called Mount Vesuvius. You might remember it from your history class as the volcano that got into a slight territorial dispute with the city of Pompeii. Pompeii wanted to not be on fire, and Vesuvius wanted… I think you can see where that joke was going.

A lot of people died. It was pretty horrible, but realistically, building a town next to a mountain with smoke pouring out of it and just hoping that it has an addiction to comically over-sized cigarettes might be just a tad over-optimistic. So maybe I don't have the deepest of sympathies for them.

And neither should you have sympathies for me.

Hi, I'm Cole, and I do profoundly stupid things in places where being stupid can get you caught on fire.

"Wow. What are the odds that the rock would look like a hardened lava flow? Weeeeeeiiiiiirrrrrd, man." And then I continued climbing, not really thinking anymore about it.If you've read some of my earlier articles, you'll know that I traveled across Europe for quite a time over the latter half of 2011 and into the early stages of 2012, and that I was frequently an idiot, and probably should have died. Like, a lot. Like, I hope my mom only claims to read my articles because then she'd know how much I almost died, a lot.

Hi mom.

Anyhow, during this trip, I sobered up long enough to find myself in Venice, and after I teamed up with Mos Def and Mark Wahlberg to steal a bunch of Mini Coopers from that one guy from Fight Club (my memory relating to the plot of the film The Italian Job may be more than a little off), I actually teamed up with a pair of the loveliest Canadian girls you ever will meet. Their names shall be withheld in order to protect them from being associated with my crippling buffoonery. We decided to bum around Italy for a little while, because they were too polite to tell me I was annoying and smelled like an overcooked Turkish bath.

Many an adventure was had, and eventually we took a train to Naples. On the way in, I saw a picturesque looking mountain, and I had an epiphany: I want to be on top of that shit, yo. Not the most profound of epiphanies, but hey, there you go.

But we did not linger in Naples. We went from there to a town called Sorrento. The kind of place you see on postcards. Lot of lemons grow there. Not entirely coincidentally, out of all of the lemons I have stolen in my life, most of them where stolen in Sorrento. We enjoyed it there, but after a couple of days, the ladies departed for greener pastures (read: "places I wasn't") and I was left to my own devices. So naturally I got tanked.

Once I sobered up, I decided to go back to Naples and angrily curse at that mountain I had wanted to climb, and maybe pee off the top of it a little bit. (Please note the fact that I specifically made this decision after I was drunk. Not during. I am a danger to myself.) So back I went! After spending some quality time in a hostel I set out on a trek of epic proportions!

By this point in the story the majority of you will likely have noticed that there may be some correlation between the preface of this story, wherein I discussed a volcano, and to the mountain which I was attempting to climb. Or maybe you're a spoilsport who read the title of the article. But even if you somehow haven't figured it out yet…don't worry, you still will before I did.

I had started pretty early (like, before noon, even), but I'm in really bad shape, so it took a while to even get to the base of the mountain. There looked to be a few miles of pine forests before I actually hit the steep parts of the mountain, so I got ready for some smooth, easy walking.

Turns out people live in those forests, and it looks more than a little The Hills Have Eyes-y in there. Rapey would not be an improper adjective to describe the place. When you think of Italy, you don't stop to consider the idea that they have rednecks too, and that those rednecks might own very large dogs that they just let wander around and chase chubby guys with backpacks. They do, though. Lots of 'em.

Fortunately though, they don't live all the way up the mountain. You know what does though? Thorns. Angrythrust-loads of thorns. Big thorns. Thorns that hate you personally. Like, I killed their parents and railed their girlfriend at the same time kind of hate. Fortunately, thorns are pretty slow at the "giving chase" aspect, so I was able to avoid them by finding slivers of the mountain where they had yet to infest. (Yes, I probably could have just circled around until I came to a clear patch, but, well, fuck you I didn't really think of that at the time.)

I started to come across long trails of black rock running down the mountain at a few points, and thought to myself, "Wow. What are the odds that the rock would look like a hardened lava flow? Weeeeeeiiiiiirrrrrd, man." And then I continued climbing, not really thinking anymore about it.

I do not deserve to be alive.

A couple hundred meters up (look how cultured I am!) I found a nice, flat place, just a few hundred more meters from what looked to be the summit, so I set up my tent and left my backpack behind, taking with me only my flashlight. And the clothes I was wearing. That would be weird if I was just like, "Oh, well, almost to the top, better get naked so I can go up there."

And I climbed.

Remember before when I mentioned that there were thorns on the mountain that I had apparently offended? Well, those thorns apparently called ahead and told these thorns that I was coming and that a gang rape wasn't entirely off the list of ways to deal with me. But lo and behold I eventually made my way out, only mostly regretting the decision to hike up there.

Reaching the very top, I threw myself over the edge, and made a very interesting discovery: I was falling down again. The first thought that went through my mind was that I had discovered the world's thinnest mountain, but after I caught myself, a quick survey told me otherwise.

There was a crater on the top of this mountain. (I am not proud of my first thought.)

"Wow! A meteor must have landed on top of this mountain at exactly the right angle to— oh my dear sweet literal fuck that is a volcano I am on a volcano oh fuck a volcano is steaming under my feet and I am not a lucky person I am going to die!"

Now, to anyone who knows about Vesuvius, you know that it is generally considered safe to be around, hence why Naples is a thing that exists. But, I saw steam coming out of the crater, so forgive my slight of mind (read: heavily considering pissing myself). It took a minute, but I eventually figured out where I was, and that I likely wasn't in any real danger other than what I usually pose to myself, so I decided to enjoy the setting sun for a bit. A beautiful view to be sure. Forests stretched out hundreds of feet beneath me, a small village past that, then fields, and eventually the beach, and the great sea beyond that, the setting sun turning it a magnificent shade of orange.

It was a sight to behold.

…then the sun up and fucking vanished.

From the position of the sun and the beach, I figured I had about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes before dark. Plenty of time to whisk my way back to my tent (and my warm, warm survival equipment), but apparently nobody told the other mountain about that.

When we think of smog, we tend to think of it as a problem a lot closer to home, or maybe we make some snappy joke about Mexico City, but Italy apparently has it too, and it does a really good job at hiding mountains that the sun can vanish behind. For the few of you curious enough to check Google Maps and figure out behind which object it was that the sun pulled it's Houdini act, don't bother, I did that already. I have no thrusting idea.

I don't know exactly what angle I was looking off of Vesuvius, but none of them seem to make sense for there to have been a mountain. I don't know. It's a mystery but it happened. The sun went bye-bye well before it actually hit sea level.

And now I was on top of Mt. Vesuvius. In the dark. In November. In a hoodie. With a sea of pissed off thorn bushes in my way to safety.

I was scared. Scared I might freeze to death while lost on an unforgiving mountain. An unforgiving mountain where no one who might even hear it would even understand my cries of "HELP!" because Italian is a ridiculous language.

But at least I had my flashlight.

I immediately broke my flashlight.

There was a tiny bit of light left, so I started making my way down the mountain to try and find my tent probably a bit faster than recommended by a physician. So I took more than a couple predictable falls. After which I had a couple of problems. First off, my shirt was pretty ripped (not a problem. I'm a trend setter. I could make it work), and my flashlight was broken. It was at this moment that something I had said to myself a few months prior flashed through my mind.

"Oh, I'll just get a wind up flashlight for the trip. That way I won't have to worry about batteries, and the only way I won't have light is if I threw it off a mountain or something."

Please note that I did not make that up for the sake of comedy, that is an actual thing that I said and it proves that oh my God I do NOT understand how foreshadowing works.

So I sat there in a broken heap, with a non-functioning flashlight, freezing cold, hoping that it was just blood and not piss that I felt running down my side (because due to the angle I was sitting, if it was piss, that would mean that I fucked up so hard, physics stopped working).

So what did I do? Did someone come to my aid at the last second? Did I actually fall right in the vicinity of my tent? No and no. This is real life, not a movie, so there was no one around for miles, and my tent was still a small, dark blob hidden in a nondescript, random patch of trees, and it was quickly getting dangerously cold.

So what did I do? Stumbled around blindly. In the dark. …Seriously.

A lot of crap goes through your head at times like that. Some of it makes more sense than others. Like, I wonder if they'll find my body. Or, if they do, will they find it tragic that my beauty was struck down so soon in life? Or will the cold, unfeeling Italians simply point and laugh at the bloated corpse of yet another foolish American lost in the icy clutches of their fire god, Vesuvius. Maybe they'll actually be sad? Pour out a forty of red wine to mark the loss? Also going through my mind: thoughts that I might be kind of racist.

Eventually I found somewhere pretty free of thorns, but remarkably full of tree branches that think it's funny as fuck to ninja chop you in the dick. But despite my genital centric trauma, I felt that it meant I was going the right way, because I knew that I had set camp on a mostly clear, flat place. I was close.

I fell down another hill. (God is real. And he's kind of a dick.) My previous thought had been correct. I had been close. How close? Close enough to the point that when I stood up and began walking, I tripped directly over my tent only about fifty feet later.

So I had to set that up again. In the dark.

But I was safe. I had my sleeping bag, my real coat, and about a dozen illicitly obtained space blankets. I would survive the night.

It was after that fiasco that I swore to never again attempt to climb any sort of mountain whatsoever.

Needless to say, I'm going to try and climb my next mountain in May.

Also of note, just, you know, to rub it in my face a little more, it turns out that on the other side of the mountain there is a very well maintained road and park of sorts for the dozens and dozens of hikers and day trippers who want to go up the mountain. It has like, lights and everything. Yes, if I had tried to climb the other side, not only would that have been something that lots of people thought was a good idea, but I would have been in no danger. Cool.

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