Sunday, 2 September 2007

Via Ferrata in the Ecrin Alps

It was my first experience of a via ferrata and the ease of movement over the vertical rock faces linked by exciting traverses and fragile looking suspension bridges were certainly a big thrill. Via Ferratas (paths of iron) were originally developed by the Italians during the last war as a way of scaling the rock faces of the dolomites and othwer areas without detection. One can imagine secret hideaways and stores of armaments in inpregnable positions in the Mountains.

Since then there has been a gradual but steady increase in their popularity as a leisure pursuit in their own right. In more recent years there has been a dramatic increase in their numbers as villages and tourist areas have seen their potential as a wasy of luring summer tourists into the ski resorts.

The Briancon area alone has 20 to 30 routes of varying dificulty, certainly enough for a couple of weeks holiday. Some can be combined with walks and mountain summits to make a full day's outing.

The basic techniques are very easy. Just follow the continous cable and keep clipped in at all times. You can make up your own "lanyards" using a friction plate or buy ready put together kit (which do seem rather expensive). All these kits do is provide some shock absorbing capacity in case you fall and load your harness with a heavy load. You do risk internal injuries, broken pelvis, etc without this equipment.

You also need a helmet of course and stout footwear.

The easier routes are an ideal way of introducing children annd beginners to moutaineering/climbing and it is of course possible to rope people up as you would on a climb if they are short of confidence.

Some of the more recent Via Ferratas have amazing cable bridges, Tyrolean traverses across exposed gorges, climbs up the slides of spectacular waterfalls and even routes up massively overhanging walls via ladders where you have to face outwards from the rock face!

There are many guidebooks available as well as free guides produced by the tourist boards.

No comments: