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Via Ferrata by Dave Birch
Can you walk a couple of kilometres up a steep hill over rough ground?
Is your upper body strong enough to use a gym rowing machine vigorously for 10 minutes?
Do you have a good head for heights?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of these, you’ll enjoy Via Ferrata.
If you can answer ‘yes’ to the first three but aren’t sure about the fourth, let’s put it another way. If you suffer from vertigo, it’s not for you, but for anyone else, it’s worth a try.
So what is, or rather what are Via Ferrata?
They are fixed metal ropes up and and across steep rock faces. The ropes are fixed to the rock by clamps which are between about 3 and 10 metres apart.
You wear a safety harness and crash helmet. You have two small hinged metal rings, called carabiners, attached to your harness. You attach the carabiners to the metal rope on the rock face, and off you go, either along or up. When you reach one of the aforementioned clamps, you detach one of the carabiners and then fix it to the other side of the clamp in the direction you are moving. Having secured yourself with this, detach and reattach the other carabiner.
Where are they to be found? The area with the most extensive Via Ferrata is the Italian Dolomites but they are also found in a few locations in the French Alps and the Pyrenees in Andorra.
My experience of Via Ferrata was in the Italian Dolomites. The climbs are graded and are up and around the tops of high peaks so you might have to walk 2 or 3kms from the nearest road, with your equipment to the start of the climb.
I stayed at Arraba where the climbing shops rent out all the equipment by the day at a very reasonable price. I went on an introductory, guided route, which involved about 1½ hours of climbing and gave some breathtaking views from points you couldn’t otherwise reach. The good news is that the guides, at least at Arraba, come free (well they did in 2005). Activity holidays in Arraba are dominated by Collett’s, a British firm, and they employ leaders who will take you to the climbs and give you very good instruction, though they are at pains to stress that they’re not qualified instructors. Many of the chalets and hotels in Arraba are booked by Colletts for the summer so the leaders are primarily for their customers but they take out all comers at no extra charge.