A Via Feratta in Italy

The Via ferrate or Iron Roads are protected alpine climbing routes that don't require actual climbing skills, just reasonable general fitness, an aptitude for heights and respect for the technique, safety standards, and nature (weather, terrain etc). The protection in question is steel cable running along cliffs or canyons or other rock faces, to cling to in terror (kidding!). Usually it is accompanied by metal pegs or stemples (rungs) for your feet. There are also metal ladders in some routes. What are they protecting you from? Well two things- that the route you are on isn't really a path at all, and the drop below ranging from several metres to several hundred of them.

You attach yourself to that top steel rope using a via ferrata device- a climbing harness with two Carabiners, two ropes to attach to them, and suspension cord energy absorber. Our climb used progressive tear absorbers. Normal climbing gear will not do, as Via Ferrata falls can have huge impact factors and have broken slings etc in the past, leading to the demise of the climber. 

The idea is that at least one Carabiner is always, always attached to the iron path, ideally both. Therefore you move one carabiner at a time from section to section. If you fall, you should always have that protection, even if you are on the move. A couple of other rules protect you: wear a helmet, as even if the ropes protect your fall, they wont protect your head. Always leave safe distance between the person in front and yourself, so that they won't hit you if they fall. On ladders or long rope sections, this can be a long way. You should always be trying to avoid any fall- each fall weakens your device, and a proper fall will mean that you have to replace it. 

Carefully moving my carabiners over a peg one at a time.

We knew before heading to Lake Garda that we wanted to do a Via Ferrata, and contacted SkyClimber- a German owned company with a good reputation headed up by Thomas Engel. When we headed out on Monday we found they were ideal- we were the only people on the tour, they were experienced, friendly, safety conscious but also very, very good fun. We took the Rio Sallagoni tour near Arco, which is in a gorge (and therefore sun-protected). This was one of the two beginner options, but was a little more difficult due to some overhangs. This route was also not as exposed as some of the other climbs, which may have helped us some!


Our experience was fantastic- we loved the new way of crossing terrain, the single wire bridges (the picture above has a bigger drop than you think!) and the physical and mental challenge. Our guide talked a bit about the difference between respect and fear. That respect on a Via Ferrata (or in the mountains at all I think) is to be encouraged- it promotes safety and enjoyment and all the good things. Fear is not to be encouraged- it stresses people and makes them make mistakes. Its also just not fun, and if you aren't having a good time, whats the point? I thought I was doing very well on not being afraid, until our guide told me to test the ropes and just let go of the wires (the iron path was above us by quite a bit at that point so I would not drop down, nor test the absorbtion device). I found my hands felt like they were completely welded to the wire. We literally had to pry them off. Amazing how gripped you get by your primal brain saying, "No, no, no, no, no! We will die if you let go!", and how hard it is to convince yourself that that is not the case. 

It was also amazing how many people we saw being very, very unsafe. We saw one man who was barely clipped in. He was experienced but his companion was not and he frequently stood where she could fall onto him and take them both out. Experience also means very little if you trip accidentally. Even more shockingly, right at the start we saw a family who were all clipped in apart from a child of around 5 years old, whom the father was carrying. If they fell, the impact of the fall would easily take that child off of his head. Not a single one of these people had a helmet on either. Therefore if they fell, a hit to the head could easily cause serious injury... seems not unlikely in a narrow gorge... If you're interested, the Severe Climber has some great stuff on beginner via ferrata, tips, and on via ferrata safety

Smiling away
In short, I would definitely recommend trying a guided Via Ferrata if in Italy, Switzerland, Austria or Germany (where most are). If you happen to be in Garda, I'd also very much recommend SkyClimber. They also do canyoning but we ran out of time and money!

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Have you ever tried Via Ferrata? Would you?

Have you ever had a moment of rational VS primal brain?




7 Comments:

  1. Love this post, you look fab lady! – I love how you’ve gone into detail about safety, so few people realise that you do need additional gear for Via Ferrata and you can’t just rock up with a quick draw and hope for the best(!)
    Once I'd read this I had to go back through my rusty ole UKClimbing Logbook and see If I'd logged any of the Via Ferrata's I'd previously done (back in the day!) and my first was this back in 2010: http://www.alpinethrills.com/multi-activity-holiday/via-ferrata-grand-bornand.html
    I fondly remember my Dad & I stopped to enjoy it on the way from the airport and to 'start the trip'.
    I think it's actually a really good introduction to outdoor climbing, because even though it's not climbing in the pure sense, you are taught the importance of carefully placing protection/controlling your head.
    I can only hope that one day I'll feel confident enough to enjoy Via Ferrata again, esp in Italy as there's so many that I do really want to explore.

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    1. Aww thanks- I wasn't sure men's north face hike shorts were my best look (uncle hand-me-down)...

      I think its really important to emphasise safety- people kind of see it as a quick and easy way into places only climbers get to go when in real life it has its own safety and gear concerns. knowledge is safety!

      That looks like an excellent first via ferrata! I also think it teaches some acclimatisation to exposure, and agree it teaches things about protection and helmet safety!

      I really hope that one day you get to enjoy Via Ferrata again too. There's one in England in a mine too! Sounds curious, if a little narrow in places.

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  2. This looks freaking awesome! And I really enjoyed learning about it from your post- I'd love to have a go one day.

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    1. You should! It was both really good fun, and also really interesting :)

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  3. Very cool post and pictures! Plus, I learned a lot. I had never heard of this...my husband is really into rock climbing, but has never done Via Ferrata either, though I'm not sure there are any in the US.

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    1. Glad to hear you learned something! I love indoor bouldering and would love to get outside sometime. Bit scared of it though!

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    2. Oh, regarding the US- there is one in Kentucky at the Red River Gorge, one at Nelson Rocks in West Virginia, Waterfall Canyon Climbing Park in Ogden, Utah, Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, Picacho Peak in Arizona’s Picacho Peak State Park offers a partial Via Ferrata, and lastly one in BC (canada).

      So...Ohio and Kentucky are closest to you but not really!

      The Yosemite half dome cables are also essentially a Via Ferrata, but no one seems to use the devices there?!

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