Ferrata virgins

I had been climbing for 12 years but had never set foot on a single Via Ferrata until one lazy Saturday morning, supping on a cappucino I was persuaded into it. We were in Arco, and the nearest was just a short walk down the road above the camp site; the Ferrata dei Colodri. For the uninitiated a Via Ferrata is a climb that ascends a cliff with the help of ladders or steps. Don't worry, you dont have to provide these yourself, they are already bolted to the rock. In addition for most of the route a metal cable runs along by your side. This is your lifeline, you attach yourself to it. All this iron removes much of the difficulty of the climbing and allows people with little climbing experience to get into some impressive territory moderately safely.

One thing we were missing was the proper Via Ferrata equipment. This is a special shock absorbing device that connects your harness to the cable. Without this, and if you were to fall, your body would experience an enormous shock loading and most likely break. Fortunately we had been kindly lent some feratta equipment by Vertical - the local climbing shop. So with the weather still just holding out (it was a bit sticky and humid) we were all set.

We were in fact a party of ferrata virgins. Whilst I had my 12 years climbing under my belt and Adam had done a bit, both Simon and Kate had no experience of climbing at all. Actually Kate was afraid of heights and warned us that she might feel like jumping off!. Footwear? oh nothing special, just normal lightweight walking boots or approach shoes. One thing that could have been useful was a helmet. There were quite a number of people on the route above us, and when you consider that most of them were beginners the risk of stone fall was quite high.

The route was easy to get to (5 minutes from the road) and a good first ferrata. It was really nothing more than a steep path with a couple of rock sections well protected by the wire cables. The route, or in some cases the path, zig-zagged up the slope. Set between steep sided cliffs it is the only line of weakness which gives the route a slight taste of exposure. The ascent didn't pose any problems for any of our party and no one jumped. I'm not sure I have been converted into a true ferratist, but did find the experience enjoyable, relaxing and a safe way for non climbers to experience a different side of the mountains. The next step would be to take on a steeper route, and with a helmet.

Other routes

The information reproduced below is the most brief introduction to 3 great routes in the mountains of Italy. For more information visit Vie Ferrate, who have kindly collaborated on this article. (The site is in Italian so either befriend an italian or nip across to Babelfish or Google)

Gamma 2: Ressegone,
500m Extremely difficult
4-5 hours start to finish

Recently re-equipped the ferrata climbs the steep and exposed face visible above the funivia station of Lecco. The route although gaining only 500m in vertical height is 900m long as it involves a traverse at mid height.

The start is a good indication of what is to come. Somewhat technical movements on natural footholds bring you to a short path and a chance to catch your breath before the second, and more serious section of the ferrata.

The route now takes in several slabs and aretes with a notable degree of exposure. Enjoy it, it will be with you for the rest of the route. From here a rightward trending traverse equipped with metal rings for footholds is not the place for those suffering vertigo. A short while later slabs lead to the final chimney, which just happens to be the key to the climb. Once through this you will find another exposed slab, thankfully well equipped with metal aids and protected by a chain. To reach the summit of Ressegone allow yourself another 30 minutes.

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Bocchette Alte: Brenta Dolomites, Madonna di Campiglio
700m Moderately difficult
6 hours complete

The interest starts a short walk from the rifugio Alimonta. With your back to the 'Bocca degli Armi' a ladder quickly gains you height. After enjoying the view from the foot of the north ridge of Cima Molvena follow the path that descends via an exposed ladder and short well equipped stretches until reaching the Bocca Basso dei Massodi. Pay special attention to traces of ice here.

Continuing towards the Bocchette Alte a long series of metal stairs climb the overhanging shoulder of Massodi. From here the path leads towards the Bocca Alta dei Massodi and a fine panoramic view.

The Bocchetta Alta and Bassa dei Massodi is reached after descending a long and vertical ladder. The Bocchette dei Massodi itself is equipped with ladders at it's most vertical points. If it is busy you can run into a few jams here, but soon enough you will be at the foot of the Cima Brenta, the highest point of the ferrata. Take a well earned rest because the next section is long and exposed..

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Olivieri: Punta Anna-Tofana di Mezzo, Dolomites
1000m Moderately difficult
6 hours start to summit

Even if some passages are a little delicate this route never becomes technically serious. Instead it is the routes overall length that make it a serious proposition, especially if the weather should change.

From the rifugio Pomedes head west along a steep path, and after 30 minutes you arrive at the start of the difficulties. A vertical wall terminates at a long ledge. Following this you arrive at a pulpit on the ridge of the Punta Anna where you will be able to see other ferratisti on the final stages of the ferrata. The ridge is exposed and requires attention.

After an hour you arrive at the crest of Punta Anna. From here a horizontal chimney leads to a overhanging buttress where upon turning right, you encounter a series of steep slabs. Ascending these you arrive at a large ledge where you can decide to call it a day by reaching the mid point of the funivia, or if the weather is good and you are in form continue to the summit of Tofana di Mezzo, another 2-3 hours...

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