Maybe it’s the fact that I have hiking in Italy on the brain. Or it could be all that I’ve been reading about the first allotment of Yosemite’s Half Dome permits selling out in ½ hour. Regardless, I’m standing in awe at the surging popularity of what is essentially fixed protection climbing routes.
What is Via Ferrata?
The term vie ferrate comes from Italy; it means iron way. In the First World War, permanent lines were fixed to rock faces and metal rung ladders were installed so that troops could travel across Italy’s Dolomites.
Today’s via ferrata includes portions of restored wartime routes in Italy. Many news routes are also being added yearly, not only in Europe, but North America as well.
When we hiked up Arizona’s Picacho Peak a few years ago, I didn’t look at the short chains and fixed walkways as via ferrata, but that’s basically what they are. I had the opportunity to visit Torrent Falls in Kentucky – but was unable to climb to the established via ferrata route that wound through its rock walls. And while I’ve been to Yosemite, I haven’t yet walked up to check out the cables on the backside of Half Dome. Via ferrata routes can also be found in Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee and Colorado.
In Canada, North America’s longest and most extensive private via ferrata ascends Mount Nimbus (for CMH guests staying in the Bugaboos). One day – maybe.
There are also several places in my own backyard that have fixed chains for short scrambles up rocky faces on hiking trails.
These fixed routes definitely add a layer of excitement and interest to hiking, but they also add an element of increased safety risk. A fall on a hiking trail might twist an ankle. A fall off a via ferrata route could mean major injury or even death.
Knowing your abilities, taking climbing courses or following an experienced guide, and using the right equipment are all keys to via ferrata safety.
Just like any outdoor adventure, gearing up with proper equipment and knowledge can make the impossible an amazing reality.