A via ferrata – a Latin term that literally means “iron road” in Italian today – is a protected climbing route, built with a steel cable rail fixed to the rocks , and which also includes metal steps, iron bars driven into the rock or suspension bridges. The term defines both the route itself and the outdoor activity, which simply consists of advancing through the via ferrata and overcoming the different obstacles that the terrain presents using a harness that holds you at all times to the ya mentioned cable . Halfway between mountain hiking and more purist rock climbing, via ferrata allow inexperienced climbers to reach high altitudes safely using minimal equipment.
- 1 Origins of the via ferrata
- 2 Organization of the via ferratas
- 3 Do I need to be in shape to do a via ferrata?
- 4 When is the best time of year to practice this sport?
- 5 Tips for making via ferrata
- 6 What is the necessary equipment?
Origins of the via ferrata
The origin of the via ferrata dates back to the First World War . In order to allow troops to traverse the mountains, many protected routes were built in the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy, very close to the Austrian border. Many of those routes have been restored by the Italian Alpine Club and made accessible to travelers, creating a highly recognized and valued outdoor activity from this old network of ferratas. In the last 20 years, via ferrata have become a popular sport and many routes have been built in different European countries, especially in the Alpine region where they originate.
Organization of the via ferratas
The routes are classified into different levels of difficulty, depending on their length, exposure and the level of resistance required to complete them . They can take between one and more than eight hours to complete. For the more adventurous, it is also possible to connect several via ferrata on the same route and do them in a row for several days.
It is important to take into account the difficulty of the route and the resistance of the participants, since most of these routes imply a commitment to finish the entire route because you cannot go back and you can only move forward . However, sometimes, via ferratas provide escape routes along the way, in case you need to return before reaching your end.
Do I need to be in shape to do a via ferrata?
Via ferrata are a great way to explore the mountains. This sport does not necessarily require previous experience in the mountains, but it does require good physical condition and not being afraid of heights . Keep in mind that you are going to hike through mountainous terrain, and climbing the via ferrata will require some strength and stamina. Of course, especially if you are a beginner, you will want to start with a shorter and easier route and choose a route with a shorter approach and descent. Additionally, some routes are accessible to children ages 8 and up, making it an exciting option for a family vacation.
When is the best time of year to practice this sport?
Climbing via ferrata requires good weather conditions and that means avoiding rain, snow and ice. The summer, spring and even fall months are the best time to practice this activity . During winter, snow and ice can make the routes unstable, slippery and dangerous, especially on the highest peaks.
Tips for making via ferrata
Take physical condition into account
When planning the tour, it is important to take into account the abilities and physical and health condition of each person. In a group activity, the “weaker” member sets the pace and distance.
Know the weather conditions
Before starting the tour, it is essential to obtain information about the impending weather conditions and plan the excursion accordingly. You should keep an eye on the weather throughout the via ferrata tour and act accordingly if changes occur. If there is an impending storm, stay away from burrs and iron parts as quickly as possible because they attract lightning and you may face a life-threatening shock of electricity.
Leave at the right time
In many via ferrata, it is not possible to simply “abandon” the route when there is no power or if the weather is uncertain: do not overestimate your capabilities and find out in advance if there is an “escape route” to shorten the route in case of urgency or necessity.
Safety is the beginning and the end of any route via ferrata: the helmet, the rappel belt and the climbing set are indispensable. The helmet should also be worn during breaks to protect yourself in the event of a slight rock fall . Hiking boots should always be well attached to the ankle and provide a comfortable grip and stability.
The cable along the via ferrata is primarily intended for safety and should not be subjected to unnecessary load. Use the natural handholds and steps on the rock and make sure each section of cable is used by only one climber at a time . Cables and their anchors can also contain hazards, as they may be damaged or loose. On the via ferrata you must be careful, but you must continue forward and avoid rock slides.
Don’t forget other essential accessories
In addition to the specific material to carry out a via ferrata -which we will talk about below-, your backpack must include other essential elements in any mountain excursion such as a first aid kit, protection against the weather (sunscreen, sunglasses, raincoats, gloves …), plenty of drink to keep you hydrated all the way and energy-rich foods such as nuts, dried fruits or energy bars. A headlamp, map, and altimeter are also essential items of basic equipment.
What is the necessary equipment?
These are the basic elements of a via ferrata equipment:
- A climbing harness.
- Ferrata set , consisting of two carabiners and a cord to attach the harness to the steel cable.
- Helmet : This item is a must. Potential rockfall is one of the main hazards on via ferrata, so head protection is mandatory.
- Gloves : to protect your hands from friction with rock and steel cable, and also to provide a better grip.
- Climbing Rope and Belay Device – These are not essential, but can be useful for added safety on the toughest routes or to protect children.
Why hire a guide to do a via ferrata
When hiring a mountain guide, the via ferrata equipment is generally included in the price. At other times, it can be rented for an additional payment. Via ferratas may seem like an easy task, but they carry risks like any other mountain activity. A certified mountain guide will ensure your safety, teach you basic ferrata techniques and show you how to use the equipment correctly . It is especially recommended to hire a guide if it is your first trip by via ferrata or if you are taking children. Also, a guide can provide invaluable knowledge of the area, whether in terms of logistics or when it comes to interesting facts.