Via Ferrata Climbing Gear

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

It is a foreign concept to most climbers in America. But in Europe, a mountaineering discipline called via ferrata — Italian for “iron way” — is an immensely popular way to get off the ground.

Developed during World War I as a method to move troops through the Dolomite Mountains in Italy, via ferrata routes add artificial features like ladder rungs, bolts, bridges, and cables to blank mountain walls.

via ferrata engelberg.jpg

Via ferrata climb in Engelberg, Switzerland

Today, via ferrata is a bonafide sport in the Alps, where hundreds of routes grant access to cliffs and mountain peaks. On a recent trip to Switzerland, I clipped in to a via ferrata cable to give the sport a try.

I was visiting Engelberg, a mountain resort town south of Zurich. The route, an immense climb on Engelberg’s Furenwand wall, snaked up a 2,000-foot limestone face.

via ferrata engelberg 9.jpg

Ladders climb the vertical face of Switzerland’s Furenwand wall

Gear for via ferrata includes special lanyards that connect to a climbing harness and feature two shock-absorbing arms. A pair of locking carabiners sit at the end of each arm, ready to connect you to the climb.

In lieu of a rope, on a via ferrata you clip the carabiners into a cable that is affixed to the rock with anchor bolts. You climb and pull the carabiner-equipped lanyards behind, unclipping one ‘biner at a time to pass each fixed anchor point.

via ferrata engelberg 1.jpg

The author, geared up to climb

On the Furenwand, the whole way up I stayed clipped into the cable. It was my backup parachute as I reached, stepped on the rock, pulled ladder rungs, and squirmed ever upward on the airy face.

I tested via ferrata lanyards from Petzl and Black Diamond, two major climbing-equipment companies. The Black Diamond Easy Rider kit, which has extendable, bungee-style lanyards and special squeeze-to-unlock carabiners, proved easiest to use. It costs $99.50.

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Posted by Chuck Schuhmann - 08/30/2010 03:14 PM

Hello Stephen, be sure to check out Torrent Falls, I think they are the only Via Ferrata in the US. Not very difficult but a lot of fun.

Posted by Gear Junkie - 08/30/2010 03:40 PM

There are a couple via ferratas in the US, including Utah (Ogden) and West Virginia. I wrote about it for New York Times a couple years ago: http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/09/15/travel/escapes/15ferrata.html

Posted by Dave - 08/30/2010 07:37 PM

Looks fun. Maybe I’ll check those out in the U.S. someday.

lelandbay

Posted by Rick - 09/02/2010 10:06 AM

Japan has many via ferrata routes, such as the infamous and deadly dai-kiretsu (dragons back). Some people attempt it with no VF gear, almost every year someone falls to their death.

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