Why Via Ferrata should be your next holiday; equipment, destinations and history
The history of via ferrata
Via ferrata are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world as an opportunity for climbers and scramblers to gain access to locations and exposure that is normally only available to the expert climber. via ferrata (Italian for 'for road with irons') are man made routes that use carefully postioned cables, ladders and bridges to create routes that traverse some of truly magnificent mountain environments. This article covers the history of Via Ferrata, essential equipment reccomendations and highlights from some of the worlds most popular routes.
The concept of Via ferrata was established during the first world war when the Austrians battled the Italians for control of the Dolomites. The mountain peaks and tunnels beneath were considered essential strategic points and artificial pathways using rope and iron steps were used to create safe passage between them. Today these ropes have been replaced with cables and modern fixings to allow Via ferrata activities to take place. The success of such routes have been copied the world over from Japan to Peru.
Via Ferrata essential kit
Warning; It is a common misconception that via ferrata is safer than climbing. In fact via ferrata participants are more likely to injure themselves in a fall due to greater fall factors and the numerous obstacles (iron rungs, ladders etc) to hit on the way down. For these reasons it is essential that careful consideration is given to equipment selection.
Recommended Climbing harnesses for via ferrata
Most climbing harnesses are acceptable for Via Ferrata use. Just bare in mind that the range of movements required for via ferrata can differ significantly from a typical days climbing. For example on a typical via ferrata route you may find yourself climbing a long set of ladders and that continuous repetitive movement in a harness can cause discomfort. Also on some via ferrata routes you may find a section of walking between elements is required so it is important that your harness is comfortable in a range of situations.
Other suitable harnesses
Reccomended via ferrata lanyards
Via ferrata lanyards
Via ferrata allows for participants to experience terrific climbs and terrifying exposure without the need to be roped to other participants. The use of a lanyard clipped to the harness permits free movement over obstacles whilst using the 'tails' with karabiners to stay clipped to safety cables. To allow for the increased fall factors these lanyards have evolved in their development to incorporate one of two different breaking systems.
For the via ferrata lanyard braking system there is either a plastic or metal moulding through which a rope passes with high friction to slow the fall or a series of stitched webbing which progressively tears to slow a fall. Both are acceptable methods and it should be understood that all types of lanyard are only guaranteed for one fall. The brake plate can be re threaded to allow a climb to be completed safely. The stitching however allows visual inspection as to whether a fall has occurred, particularly important if hiring.
Reccomended via ferrata helmets
Via ferrata in The Dolomites
Top Via Ferrata Destinations - The Dolomites
Via ferrata routes in Italy are categorised from one to five. Grade one is typically considered an adventurous walk with some easy obstacles or ladders. A grade five via ferrata is a serious undertaking and considerable climbing skills will be required to participate safely.
Undoubted the home of the via ferrata is The Dolomites. To the west are the smaller Brenta Dolomites that contain many excellent via ferratas. A via ferrata classic is the Lagazuoi tunnels. During World War One both sides fought for control over Lagazuoi, digging tunnels close to the enemy to later explode. A via ferrata now follows the route of one of these. For more historic sites, several fortifications can be passed on a popular eight hour route called VF Ivano Dibona.
Reccommended Via Ferrata Guidebooks
Stunning views and exposure in the Alps
Via ferratas in France are classified from F (facile; meaning easy) to ED (Extremement Difficile; extremely difficult). Although at time of writing a new system is being discussed to take in other factors such as exposure and and how weel equipped they are.
There are over one hundred and twenty via ferratas in France, many of which are in the Alps and well spread across the grading system. For the most part there is not the same historic connection as with the Dolomites (though near val d'isere one does retrace an old resistance route). The real focus here is on the stunning scenery and the apres via ferrata offerings of many of the Alps finest ski resorts.
Via ferrata overlooking old slate mine workings
Alternative via ferrata alternatives
There are many locations throughout the world that offer just one or a few via ferratas. Not enough for a holiday, but worth a visit for their exciting locations.
The highest via ferrata is on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. At 3776 metres it is considered by guinness to be the world record holder. Located between the sacred incan town of Cusco and fortress of Ollantaytambo there is Peruvian via ferrata of 700m length at intermediate level. For a classic piece of slate mining history, try the new via ferrata at the mines of Honister Pass in the Lake District of the UK. This via ferrata follows the path originally used for transporting slate and incorporates a zipline.