Push yourself towards your limits on the via ferratas

When I was planning my trip to Italy, I was sure of one thing: I must try the famous Via Ferratas. As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I had devoured books on the history of the via ferratas and their crucial importance in WWI.

World War I was a war filled with many brutal battles fought alone the tops of the Italian Alps. As troops on both the Austrian and Italian side struggled to maintain control of the valleys below, they created via ferratas which are essentially cables and iron rods bolted into the side of the mountain to help them quickly scale steep cliffs. As the Austrian-Hungarian Empire tried moving further south into Italy, the Italians worked tirelessly to protect their land and their people. Many lives were lost and hundreds of families were split during the bloody war. 

Nowadays, Via ferratas have gained a global reputation for being a fun and accessible activity for thrill-seekers who may not have the equipment and skills necessary for technical climbing but who want to experience hanging hundreds of meters in the air on the side of a cliff.

My first via ferrata in Italy was Sottotenente Mario Fusetti Sass de Stria in Valparola Pass.

While certainly not the most difficult via ferrata in the area, this one is filled with history. The approach to the start of it takes you on an easy winding path through historical trenches and old structures from WWI. If you look carefully enough, you can even find shrapnel and other ancient artefacts from 100 years ago.

Using via ferratas requires some equipment, such as a harness, helmet and a series of slings and carabiners to make sure that if you take a fall, you won’t go very far. For our group, the guide also used a rope which he attached to us for extra safety.

You move as a group up the mountain face securing yourself to the fixed cables and ladders with your ropes and harnesses. The climbing itself can vary between being incredibly difficult or conversely an easy hike. Via ferratas can range from a 50 meters tall to over 1,000 meters tall depending on your skill and ability. 

On this particular via ferrata, we climbed up nearly 200 meters before reaching the top where we took off our harnesses and finished the climb with a nice, historic hike to the top of the mountain. The hike took us through trenches and narrow passages left over from the war and the view from the top was another Dolomite stunner. 

The Heart of the Dolomites has tons of Via Ferratas and if you’re looking to do a few, you can find guide books or detailed descriptions on the routes and required abilities. 

One of the most impressive via ferratas takes you up to the top of Marmolada, the Queen and the tallest mountain of the Dolomites. This region has so much history and is easy to visit as a tourist. You can either take the Via Ferrata to the top or you can take a series of three cable cars to reach the summit. Marmolada also is home to the WWI Museum which details the harsh conditions of the mountains during WWI and display real artefacts from the mountains. The glacier on Marmolada also holds significant value. 

In WWI, the Austrian soldiers figured out it would actually be safer to go down the crevasses of the glacier where they could dig tunnels and effectively create a miniature village below the surface. Their plan was a huge success, and the Italians didn’t know Ice City existed at all until years after the war had ended. To this day as the glacier is receding, artefacts from the Ice City are resurfacing reminding us of the past. 

The via ferratas were the perfect blend of adventure and history and a must-see for anyone with an adventurous spirit visiting the Heart of the Dolomites.

Photo credits: Erica Clapp – Young Adventuress

useful for

The use of via ferrata equipment is mandatory: helmet, harness and via ferrata kit.
Do not forget the courage to go through the tunnels and wear trekking shoes that have already been tested so they don't hurt your feet.
It is essential to always check the weather conditions to avoid being caught by rain or thunderstorms which can be very dangerous.
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