Via Ferrata is Italian for Iron Road (wikipedia) and its presence most commonly found in the Alps; Italy and Austria, and in my case, France. This activity originated during the 1st World War as a means for moving troops along. Picture pieces of metal stapled into steep mountain walls that you scramble along.
Rock climbing, without the “rock climbing” skill
This sport allows you to traverse a mountain like one would as a rock climber. However, you hold onto these metal staples, rather than grip for dear life along small rock crevices. The staples pictured above illustrates the path you move yourself along and up the mountain. The small stretches of metal rope against the mountain are connected every several meters. This structure is where you attach your own rope, that’s already attached to the harness you wear, as a safety mechanism: if you fall, the rope will catch you! However! Every few feet, you have to unattach and reattach your rope to the next section which can be very nerve-wracking!
How did I sign up for this?
And why would I willingly choose to put myself in this ultra-frightening position in life?
The short answer is I didn’t, haha!
But, when in France . . .
While I was taking a nap during my trip to France, the group decided on this activity without my consent. Majority wins, so I went along, not really knowing what I was getting myself into!
We were staying in the Haute-Savoie region in France where extreme Mountain Sports are very popular. We drove into the the town of Evian (famous for their bottled water!) and through an Adventure Company, paid for the rental of a helmet and rope and got directions to the Via Ferrata Site in the nearby town of Abondance. We were warned that a thunderstorm would break out later that evening around 7 pm (it was already 4 pm!) but “not to worry, you can complete the whole mountain route in 45 minutes“.
The drive towards the Via Ferrata site was very scenic and mountainous! Once we got there, we put our helmets and harnesses on and made our way towards the starting site. We had to hike for about 10 minutes to get to the start point.
So we begin
I had been rock climbing several times earlier this year so I was slowly getting used to heights. But this was entirely different because it was outdoors and higher, and infinitely more dangerous!
A series of ladders
The first part was like a ladder – up, and up before it “flattened” out and you were traversing the cliff wall with a bit of an incline skywards.
I made sure my sister was immediately before me, and my boyfriend was directly behind me so that I could follow where my sister was going/placing her feet and also had someone to watch my back 🙂 Both of them had done Via Ferrata before.
In the beginning there were staples closely spaced to each other so even though I was scared, I knew I didn’t have to move far to get the the next grip. Soon though, we were crossing insane stretches like this:
just ..nothingness underneath us!
And then it gets harder (or more thrilling)
Quick question – Why doesn’t the true steepness ever show up in 2 dimensions?!
Notice the rock portion jetting out at the left in the picture below – we had to hug the rock the whole way to get around it.
As I climbed around that and clung on SO tightly, I repeated to myself, “This is a safe sport! Children are able to do this!”
The climb definitely got harder as we moved further along, with the holds spaced further apart. Sometimes there was a clear spot to put your hands and feet but other times it was more tricky, so I definitely thank my limited experience with small rock climbing holds!
The route was designed to have 3 “break” spots where you could turn off (and eventually head back down) or continue on. I was so grateful for that option to escape early! After a couple of instances where I thought I was going to fall, I was relieved to finally reach the first turn-off point.
It’s experiences like this (where you realize how fragile life is and also what kind of crazy feats we can accomplish) that increase your appreciation for life!
I’m glad I did this even though it was difficult and scary. Both my sister and boyfriend admitted that they were scared but wanted to keep a brave face on for me 🙂
The moment my feet hit solid, flat ground, I declared my happiness and sense of accomplishment for tackling this new, challenging extreme sport! But I also stated that I would never do it again!
Oh, and remember that tour guide who said it would take 45 minutes? I can honestly say: Just, no, haha! The first third we did took 45 minutes alone (but felt like a lifetime).
Who should do this?
I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to step out of their comfort zone and tackle their fear of heights! Looking back, the views were pretty amazing. I imagine this is a similar rush to what you get as a rock climber, hanging out on the cliff face and appreciating incredible scenery while perched on a rock face. Only in this case, you don’t need the skill of a rock climber!
Your own Via Ferrata experience!
I googled Via Ferrata in Canada and noticed that Whistler, BC actually offers Via Ferrata. It’s way more expensive here though (at least 5x more than what we paid in Europe) but I guess that’s the due to the limited availability.. and the fact that it’s Whistler.
Update: July 2016 – I did this in Austria!
As part of my Competitours “Amazing Race” 2016 adventure tour, I was forced into doing this again. This time, *I* was the experienced one and actually had a fantastic time! Stay tuned for the recap!
In the meantime – this Competitours Summary blog post has some footage of my amazing and scenic Via Ferrata experience over a beautiful alpine lake with jagged mountains nearby.
I have to say it was much easier this time in that I knew what to expect! Still lots of thrills and my heart-raced, but I am proud I did the whole thing!