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A quick introduction to via ferrata (and why you may love it)

via ferrata

Next time you’re stuck for a dinner party fact, bring out the one about Earth being smoother than a billiard ball. (It’s true.) Yet despite its ‘flat’ surface, our planet is home to some seriously spectacular alpine scenery.

Wish you could get up there and take in the views for yourself? Well, you don’t need to grow wings. You don’t need a helicopter. And you certainly don’t need to become a pro rock climber. You just need to follow the thousands of outdoors lovers who are trying their hand at via ferrata.

Here’s a super-quick lowdown.


What is it?

Via ferratas are routes that make it easier to explore stunning mountain terrain. That could be anything from a simple alpine footpath to an epic mountain face. You work your way along using a series of ladders, steps, bridges and a fixed cable that’s pinned into the mountain.

Think of via ferrata as a cross between hiking and rock-climbing. (You clip onto the fixed cable using karabiners similar to the ones rock climbers use.) Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you need experience in either. Via ferrata is all about making the inaccessible, accessible.

Who is it for?

Anybody with a sure foot, a head for heights and a sense of adventure.

Most people pick up the basics after a couple of hours of tuition. Then it’s just a case of picking the routes that match your ability. There’s something for everyone. Bottom line: you don’t need to be a hardcore hiker or a pro rock-climber to enjoy via ferrata. If you are semi-serious about your Sunday rambles, you should be good to go.

Why bother?

Because via ferrata is your opportunity to see some of the most stunning views Mother Nature can throw at you. Nothing compares to the spellbinding beauty of looking down at Earth from the heavens. And let’s just say the thrill of taking on alpine ridges and snaking your way between mountain passes is pretty addictive.

It’s probably something you never imagined you could do. Well, now you can.

Who thought of it?

That depends who you believe.

Many people think that via ferrata harks back to WW1. As Italian forces fought a long and difficult battle against Austrian troops, high in the Dolomites, both sides scrambled to take up advantageous positions in the mountains. If you imagine how difficult it must have been to haul weaponry up a mountain face, you will begin to understand why both sides built a network of cables and ladders that criss-crossed the mountains.

Yet while WW1 dramatically expanded the number of via ferratas, experts believe that basic via ferrata routes have existed since 1903 in the Dolomites - and from as early as 1843 in the Alps.

Where can I try it?

Hands down, the best place to head for is the Dolomites.

These epic mountains are home to stunning alpine scenery, exhilarating trails and the largest collection of via ferrata anywhere on the planet. With 170 well-maintained routes, there’s something for every ability.

Can’t make it out to the Dolomites? No problem! There are via ferrata routes right across Europe. Even the UK has got in on the act, with routes in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and Fort William.

What kit do I need?

A basic via ferrata kit consists of tails, a harness and karabiners as well as a special shock absorber called a KISA. You will also need a helmet, gloves, sturdy walking boots, plenty of layers (the weather can change quickly in the mountains) and a rucksack to carry them. Depending on your destination, suncream and sunglasses may be a good idea too.

It sounds pretty specialist. But don’t worry. All the gear you need to start your adventure is easy and affordable to hire. And if you are holidaying with a via ferrata specialist such as Collett’s or KE Adventure Travel, they will be able to sort all your kit for you. Just ask.

Will you cover me?

Yep, we are one of a handful of travel insurers who offer via ferrata travel insurance. We will even cover the cost of hiring your gear if bad weather forces you to change your plans.
So, what are you waiting for? Taking on a via ferrata holiday promises to thrill the senses, free the mind and serve you up a challenge that it will be seriously satisfying to conquer. Added bonus? The experience will arm you with more to talk about than billiard ball trivia next time you are around the dinner table.

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