Via Ferrata (Iron Road) is now a form of climbing, originating as military routes through the Alps that allowed soldiers to remain at altitude and place gun positions on precarious terrain. It dates back to 1860s, really kicking off during World War 1, but entering the climbing scene in 1930s when routes were created specifically for enjoyment.
The idea of via ferrata, is using metal pegs and cable to get across an otherwise (almost) inaccessible rock face. Usually there are several meters between each bolt holding the steel cable onto the rock face, so falls can be pretty dangerous. Shock absorbing lanyards are connected to your harness and moved along the steel cable as a back up, very similar to the some of these high ropes centres. There are a few grading systems for this, but the French system is probably the most simple:
F – Facile: Easy, suitable for initiation into the sport
PD – Peu Difficile: Not very hard, suitable for beginners and possibly children
AD – Assez Difficile: Fairly hard, suitable for accompanied beginners
D – Difficile: Difficult, for those accustomed to the sport
TD – Tres Difficile: Very difficult, physically demanding, for regular participants
ED – Extremement Difficile: Extremely difficult, very physically demanding, and suitable for experienced practitioners with a high level of fitness.
The highest density of these routes is found in the Dolomites, but we decided to find a few alternatives on our Europe Trip…
Via Ferrata Evolene:
Evolene is located in the Sion Valley of Switzerland, a place where I have been visiting with my family for many years. I always remember watching the small, slow moving figures on the huge rock face above the Coop in the top end of the town. I thought this’d be a perfect one to start my via ferrating on…
The route starts just up from the Coop, with parking and a notice board on the left side of the road. The path heads up into the trees and pops out at the trail start, all very well marked up. The route is split into two main climbing sections, and one section in the middle that you can walk along (accessed by continuing up the path you walked in on).
Section 1 (Mur du Grand duc) (D+): A long stint of vertical or slightly over hanging to get you started, a good idea to warm up first just to prepare your arms for whats about to hit them. The whole section is runged with a ladder near the top, before reaching a path (Section 2).
Section 2 (Vue du Chamois) (PD+): Heading right takes you back towards the path in the trees. This is an exit option if Section 1 fulfilled you’re quote of Via Ferrata for the day. Heading left takes you along a path skirting along the edge until you reach a junction. Up takes you to Section 3, down takes you on a gentle route back down to the bottom end of Evolene (another exit option).
Section 3 (Le Grand Mur) (TD): And it is Grand! This route has quite a few sections of overhang with some very airy traverses, and some awkward clips mid overhang… The route finishes with a short section on rock and then a cable net up the earth face to the path, with fantastic views across the town. The walk down then takes you through the meadows and trees back to car park.
Slightly less off the beaten track, we found Mittenwald Klettersteig, located in southern Germany, just north of Innsbruck, Austria. We cheated slightly with this route, and caught the cable car up to telescope-shaped building, but when the guides say its an 8hr day, it really is. The klettersteig itself isn’t that demanding, and we did most of it without being clipped in. It follows the top of the ridgeline, practically on the border between Austria and Germany. Again, the route is really well marked, and you can’t really get lost – just stay on the ridge! There are really fantastic views on this via ferrata in all directions, with lots of places to stop and have lunch or let people past. One to thoroughly enjoy, but as i mentioned, don’t hang around too long… Its a steep descent on some very loose terrain, until you finally reach some much wanted shade and some forest paths. This weaves its way down to a little cafe, about 1.5hrs from the cable car station. This is the point at which we realised we’d come a long way on the ridge line.. The cafe sells ice cream, beers and a selection of lunch type foods, but after a short drink we ploughed on. You eventually reach the bottom of the trees and head across a couple of meadows and small roads to get back into town and to the cable car station which also sells beverages, including incredibly refreshing Weisse. You deserved it!
Filsen, located on the ‘bendiest bend of the Rhein’ is quite possible one of most interesting Via Ferrata routes I’ve done. Having parked up beneath this the previous night, and not really had any expectations due to the lack of gradient, we were both amazingly surprised at what had been packed into the this route. Every rock face that could be pegged had been, taking you on all sorts – pegged traverses, runged ascents etc between each section of walking. We decided to ascend this, and then catch the chair lift from the cafe down, however it can be done the other way. The route is mostly covered by trees, with gaps to look out over the Rhein every so often.
The route itself was pretty easy, but definitely made the route up to the top a lot more fun. We’d both definitely recommend this.
And there we have it, 3 awesome ‘off the beaten track’ via ferrata routes that offer a great day out.