If you enjoy walking holidays but are looking for something a bit more adventurous this year, why not consider trying via ferrata, a popular combination of hiking and climbing, which allows you to access some of the world’s most beautiful mountain locations.
Via ferrata, Italian for “the iron way” is a system of strong cables attached to some of the world’s most popular mountainsides. Although found all over the world, via ferrata is most popular in Europe, particularly the Dolomites and the Alps. It works by providing a reliable form of attachment to the mountainside, consisting of rungs, ladders and cables which you are constantly connected to, making via ferrata an adrenaline fuelled, yet safe activity.
Some of the most beautiful areas of the Dolomites, Alps and other mountain ranges have previously only been accessible by climbers and those with mountaineering experience. Via ferrata is a great new way of accessing some stunning, mountainous locations without the need for experience and without the added risk, whilst still taking you further than hiking alone could ever bring you.
Via ferrata holidays are now growing in popularity amongst walkers and hikers in the UK and across the world, as well as opportunities for self-guided via ferrata expeditions.
How fit do I need to be?
A basic level of fitness is important to be able to handle a via ferrata route, however, if you are already a keen walker or hiker, you should be in good enough shape for the activity. A certain level of balance and sure-footedness is also important when trying via ferrata, as well as a good head for heights and a reasonable amount of arm strength. If you are already comfortable walking on narrow paths or tackling steep inclines, you should have no problems with the transition into via ferrata.
Via ferrata routes are graded based on their length and difficulty, so this should help you to determine how challenging each particular route will be.
What gear will I need?
Via ferrata requires a few basic bits of kit, usually consisting of:
Klettersteig karabiners (karabiners designed especially to take falls sustained during via ferrata)
a kinetic impact shock absorber (KISA)
The KISA is especially important. It is a specially designed lanyard which absorbs the energy of a fall, ensuring that you remain attached to the cable and all of your equipment remains in tact. Via ferrata kit is available to rent in almost all locations where via ferrata is possible. An organized via ferrata holiday should include rental of gear in its package.
Alongside specialized via ferrata equipment, you should be equipped with everything you need for conventional Alpine walking, including a sturdy pair of walking boots or approach shoes, and comfortable clothing suitable for the weather.
What should I look for in an organized holiday?
There is a wide range of via ferrata holidays available. When choosing a company to travel with, it is important to consider what they offer as part of the holiday package.
Is it suitable for beginners? Most holidays will feature an introductory course to show you the basics of via ferrata. This is important if you are a complete new comer as it will give you all the knowledge and confidence you need to go out on your own.
Group size- will your group be small enough to allow you enough contact with instructors and group leaders while learning the basics of via ferrata?
Is kit and transport provided?
Where will the majority of the holiday activities take place?
Are there opportunities for walking or other activities during the holiday?
Is it safe?
Via ferrata is a safe activity but, like all mountain adventures, comes with a number of risks which you should be aware of. Some via ferrata routes can be fairly old, and with exposure to all weather conditions, can deteriorate over time. Keep an eye out for rusted or loose ladders and loose cable anchors, and don’t use any equipment you feel you can’t trust.
To ensure you are comfortable during your first day of via ferrata, your instructor will start you out on an easy route. This will allow you to assess your own climbing ability and decide if you are happy to try harder routes. A full day of via ferrata can become tiring, especially on the arms, but there are always ways of helping an injured or exhausted climber to scape from the route. Remember to pay attention to the grade of the route to judge how comfortable or challenging you will find it.
For more information on climbing via ferrata, take a look at the British Mountaineering Council’s guide.
Image sourced: David Domingo
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