Via Ferrata Basics
What is a Via Ferrata
Via ferrata is Italian for “way of iron” – the correct Italian plural by the way is vie ferrate. However, as you, my dear readers, are mostly not Italian I shall use Via Ferratas to avoid confusion.
Imagine a very long steel cable that is bolted to a mountain every 2 meters (6ft) or so. It is a safety rod for you to hook into with carabiners while you climb the mountain.
Along the route there may be bars to step on, climb up or down on or to hold on to in addition to being hooked to the cable.
Hence, a via ferrata is a great entry-level climbing activity because it allows you to feel safe at all times.
The origin of via ferratas is disputed. But without a doubt the Italian military made use of them during the First World War.
By now, they have spread not only around the Alps, but also into other parts of the world. In South Tyrol, Austria and Germany they are called “Klettersteig”, whereas other languages adopted the name via ferrata. This is the case in Spain, for example.
Lake Garda Via Ferrata
The Italian Alps are packed with fun via ferratas for all skill levels. For beginners, the Via Ferrata of Rio Salagoni is a great place to start. It is located in Drena, near the beautiful Lake Garda.
At the end of the climb you will reach Drena Castle. It’s a great via ferrata to do even on hot summer days, because you are climbing in a canyon, along a river. For the most part, there is shade and the water cools the air down a bit also.
To get to Drena from the lake, first drive to the popular mountain climbing town of Arco, then Dro and then Drena.
While you are in the area, the lake shore towns of Torbole and Riva del Garda are worth a visit as well!
Related article: Complete Guide to Torbole, Italy
Via Ferrata Dolomites
The Dolomites are a part of the Italian Alps, famous for all sorts of mountain sports. It really is a paradise for climbers, hikers, mountain bikers, and trekkers.
The local tourism board of Trentino has great resources available on their website around the topic of popular via ferratas in the area.
Via Ferrata climbing
While climbing a via ferrata you want to make sure that both carabiners are hooked in as much as possible.
At the bolts, unhook one carabiner at a time to move it to the next part of the cable. Once it is securely hooked, move the second carabiner across.
You always want to be the only person on your particular stretch of safety cable, between two bolts. So, if there is somebody in front of you, give them some time before you follow.
When going up a ladder or vertical climb, wait until the person in front of you has finished the vertical part and is hooked to the next part of the cable. This way, in the unlikely case they fall, they will not fall onto you.
Some routes feature suspension bridges. There should always only be one person at a time on a bridge. So keep a distance from the person ahead of you.
While you climb, always have 3 points of contact with the rock. Meaning, two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot.
As with any climbing activity, the majority of your body weight should be on your legs, and not your arms.
If you do feel your arms getting tired, find a resting position and lower them, before you continue climbing.
It’s no fun once you are tired or your arms hurt. And after all, fun is what you’re after here!
Via ferrata kit
What is the equpiment you need to climb a via ferrata, you wonder? You will need a helmet, climbing gloves (exposing your finger tips), hiking boots or shoes and a so-called Via Ferrata kit.
The kit consists of a harness that should be snug on your body and at least two carabiner hooks pre-attached to the harness. Some harnesses will have a third, shorter carabiner to allow you to hook yourself to bars for a resting position.
Typically, via ferrata kits are readily available in climbing destinations and not expensive to buy. However, you may also consider renting them instead of buying, if you are just trying out the activity.
As far as gloves, you want to make sure you have proper sporting gloves. Your fingertips should be exposed, for good grip on the rock. But the protection of your palm is great when you grab chains, bars or even the steel cable besides you.
If you book a guided via ferrata tour, the equipment you need will most likely be included, but check with the organization you book with.
In either case, make sure you wear shoes with profiled soles, to avoid slipping.
You can also bring a small backpack for water, snacks etc.
Do you need a guide to climb a Via Ferrata?
You do not have to pay a guide to go on a Via Ferrata. However, if it is your first time and you have nobody experienced to go with, then it may be worth it.
Not only will you learn the important basics from a professional and feel safer. If you do book a guide, you are also getting the local knowledge of the particular route you are climbing.
The other big argument for a guide is that usually they bring all the equipment you need and make it a worry-free experience.
Thirdly, guides tend to guide groups, so this will be a really fun way to meet people on your trip!
Once you have done a few Via Ferratas under supervision and feel safe doing them by yourself, why not? As long as you have the Via Ferrata kit and a helmet, go to town! The first via ferrata I ever did was rated 2 to 3 in difficulty and I had a guide. The second time I really didn’t feel I needed one anymore and started climbing just with a friend.
Hopefully, this has been a helpful introduction to Via Ferratas for you. If you still have any questions please comment below!