Averau… Part Via Ferrata and Part WW1 Adventure

The main reason we came to Italy was to do via ferrata. It was something we’ve only done once before, and it captured our hearts and imaginations, so much so that we planned a vacation around it two years later. Back in 2015, on our last day in Arco, Italy, we rented equipment and gave it a go. And we loved it! Oh how we loved it!

In via ferrata, there is an iron cable bolted into the rock. It’s a permanent fixture on the mountain’s skin.

This is what a via ferrata cable looks like. It’s up to you to figure out where to put your hands and feet on the rock of the cliff as you head up.

You wear a helmet to protect you from rock fall.  You wear specialized gloves to protect your hands from the sharp rock and the bite of the iron cable. You wear a climbing harness, and you have 2 carabiners attached to it with a stretchy elastic cord, and a break-away bag… something with more line in it that unspools if you fall, snagging you as if you are on a climbing rope.

Here you can see the ferrata gear you wear… there’s the climbing harness (purple), the climbing helmet, the fingerless gloves (sometimes you need your fingers to be making contact to grip the rock better) with their padded palms, and the carabiners on their stretchy lanyards.

The idea is that you move (and unlock) one carabiner at a time as you head up the rocky cliffs of the mountainside, placing it above the next fixed bolt (so that you always have one line on the mountain, securing you, at all times). In the photo above, I next had to get back over to the cable, unclip one carabiner, re-clip it above the bolt, and then do the same to the second carabiner before moving on.

Here, Bill is below a fixed bolt. Sometimes there are good ledges like this where you can rest up a bit before moving on.

Via ferrata is part climbing, part safe scrambling. And what I really like about it is that you are clipped into the mountain, so to speak, in such a way that you are not dependant on a belayer, there’s redundancy built in (in that you’re clipped in twice, with two specialized carabiners on stretchy leads), and better yet, you don’t have to re-rope if the route is long and spread out.

It takes no exceptional climbing skills, no foot-torture climbing shoes (you wear hiking boots or approach shoes), and no extensive mountaineering training to do, and yet it is full of that sense of adventure. It has that limit pushing adrenaline rush. It has physical exertion. And it pretty much always has exceptional alpine views. It is taking our regular playing in the mountains up a notch.

The views on our way up Averau that day were incredible! Look carefully here and you can see me hiking ahead over the crushed, white limestone of the trail.

Historically, during World War 1, vast lengths of iron cables were strung up and over the mountains on the Austro-Italian border. The idea was that troops could use them and move safely, and secretly, through the alpine terrain. Via (meaning by way of, in Latin) and ferrata (meaning iron)…. becomes via ferrata meaning “by the iron way.”

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Of course, those historic WW1 soldiers weren’t clipped in and simply used the cables as hand holds. And those soldiers carried heavy clothing, heavy equipment… and BIG guns!

So this whole holiday, with a brief respite in Venice to get our travel jet-lagged legs under us (along with a dose of Italian culture), was going to be spent in the alpine environment that we love. (More on Venice to come later, I promise!).

Even though we are still in Italy, this whole area around San Cassiano is exceptionally Germanic, having belonged to Austria prior to WW1. We overhear conversations in German far more than we ever do in Italian. Everything is exceptionally orderly and runs on time, there are flower boxes overflowing with geraniums or petunias (wild bursts of colour) in every roadside Bavarian looking hotel and pretty much every household balcony, and you can get apple strudel (apfel strüdel) at every refugio, bakery, and coffee shop!

Come along and see what the first via ferrata of our trip was like and why we we’re so excited about being here, vacationing in this way!

We began in this gorgeous valley near the Falzarego Pass. The Dolomite Mountain peaks are very distinctive shapes with their jagged rocky columns and pinnacles.

That initial valley saw us rising through a beautiful larch forest with amazing views across the valley (that includes via ferratas we’ll explore as time goes on here!).

The really neat thing about this valley is that we came across a lot of World War One structures… manmade caves, dry stacked rock walls, cut out sniper lookout spots, supply storage areas, building foundations… they all gave us a glimpse into an era long gone by.
Carved out of gigantic boulders, they were so captivating! What would it have been like to live in one of these? Or to over winter! Or hide from gunfire? Yikes!
Here Bill stands beside one of the WW1 foundations, but his attention is snagged by the gorgeous Dolomite views across the valley.
There were lots of secret cave dwellings that would have been hidden from aerial views & attacks.
One of these dwellings, carved out of a glacial erratic, looked totally like a Troglodyte cave dwelling from eons gone by!
As we left the hillside caves, we came into a meadow that showed us our target: today we’d be summiting that mountain in the distance, that rises like a fortress out of the landscape. THAT is Averau.
Soon we were hiking up a coulee of sorts to a much higher altitude.
It was fun, hiking up through the rough rock features of the area; sometimes we found ourselves travelling through cracks between fins of rock.
Some of the cracks were quite lengthy, but easy to navigate.
The trail symbol was painted on rocky boulders. There’s simply no way you can get lost up here!
The hiking trail in was very beautiful! And that mountain in the distance had a cloud snagged on it for the entire day! It just kept forming and dissipating throughout our hikes & climbs.
Our trail came up through the pass and then followed along the base of the cliff that is the sheer side of the Averau mountain we’d be summiting this day.
Look carefully, and you’ll see the scratch that is our trail running through the greenery at the base of this magnificent cliff.
Looking back on our path as we approach the Averau rifugio site. The spot between the two cliffs is the pass we came through. That initial valley is on the other side.
Trails in this area are very well marked. We’d hiked most of the way up the mountain. This shows what remains of the peak for us to climb.
Looking down behind Bill, you can see Cinque Torri, a very popular climbing place (and the approach can be as simple as a chair lift to the base of it! Nothing like our North American approaches! These Europeans have it all figured out!)
This was the start of our via ferrata. Often the start moves are the hardest as they’re most polished with people attempting to get on the rock. They weed people out that way for sure, and on this day we saw two people give up and head out.
Look carefully, and you’ll see the cable, bolted into the mountain, that I’ve followed to this point.
Here, via ferratas are very popular. You will never have one to yourself, but everyone is very patient. If people come up faster than you are climbing below you, you simply let them pass at the next safe opportunity. These people are ahead of us on the route.
Looking back down on Bill as he climbs up behind me. This ferrata has a lot of good spots from which to re-clip. The whole climbing part was only 15 minutes or so… so an excellent first VF to do!
We came out up the top of the ferrata with about 20 minutes more of hiking ahead of us to attain the peak.
Climbing up top, we passed this man, his daughter and his wife. His wife told us proudly that they were 86 years old! How incredible is that!?
Hiking up to the peak, the views were amazing!
Every peak has a cross mounted up on it, and a tin that contains a summit log book that you can sign.
Here we are at the top. Behind us, you can see down into the Pisa Giau valley far below. To the left of Bill is the crazy switchbacked road that leads to the famous Falzarego Pass.
It was exceptionally beautiful up there!
The Dolomite mountain peaks are so jagged and dramatic.
This column of rock is the famous Cinque Torri climbing area. We were far above it now.
The one disadvantage to this particular via ferrata was that you had to down climb to come out of it… a tricky thing to do with clunky hiking boots on when you can’t easily see where to put your feet! A tricky thing to do, too, when you have to wait for people coming up to get off the cable.
Some of the spaces between them were quite large though… meaning you needed some pretty good flexibility to navigate them!
Luckily, there was a slight detour you could do down a ladder of stemples… bent iron bars pounded down the side of a chimney of rock.
Back down at the rifugio (a service building that has a restaurant, washrooms and sometimes a place to stay overnight), we sure were hungry!
Because this is a hot spot for WW1 historical ruins, this rifugio had a young man serving Russian goulash, something the troops would have eaten up here, using an old cook stove and dressed in an Austrian military uniform from that time period.
As we were about to leave, the older gentleman and his wife & daughter emerged from the trail.
As I was finishing my goulash (served in an army tin just like the ones they would have used, back in the day), this octagenarian said to me in his halting, heavily German accented English, “And now you will need your lumber jacket for the wind. Russian goulash from la guerre in your belly to stay warm.” Good advice!
So we headed out, taking a slightly different “advanced” hiking route on the way down. I’m so glad we did!
It was a neat trail up the Croda Negra that took us over the top of that smaller peak in the area.
We came across some amazing WW1 ruins… caves, dug out of the mountain peak with airy, clifftop views of the approach to the pass.
And what incredible views those soldiers would have had! We learned later that the Austrians dug out and built many of these lookouts in the best, most strategic points long before the Italians ever joined the war…. even though the Italians were considered allies at the time. They came in handy, when the Italians switched sides.
There were carved out areas, providing protection (from the elements, from gunfire and from being seen) for shooting & spying attempts on the valleys and passes, like this one.
And caves like this up there!
Despite coming out shooting, Bill’s so happy his life has never seen conscription and military service duty!
We scrambled our way back down off that peak, and wound around back to the valley through which we’d come up.
We ended the day back down at the Bar Strobel, where we’d parked. There we had a traditional appetizer of the region: speck and gherkins.  Speck is sliced, paper thin, from a pork leg that has been smoked for months with laurel, juniper and pine. It is quite red and marbled and soft… not tough to chew like prosciutto. It was served with a sweet horseradish and local bread.

Should You Go:

Via ferrata grading is easy to understand. Difficulty is rated on a 5 point scale (1 being easy and 5 being the most difficult). Exposure (as in how steep the drop offs are, or how catostrophic a tumble might be) is rated as an A, B or C, with C being the most exposed.

If you are interested in trying via ferrata, read these excellent posts for beginners from the Severe Climber: Tips For Via Ferrata and Via Ferrata Virgins.

This ferrata was graded a 2A. So not too difficult, and not too exposed. An excellent warm up for the area.

It has 390m ascent on the hike in; 75m for the via ferrata climb itself.

Location: start at the parking lot across from Bar Strobel, just a smidge north (about 500m) of the Falzarego Pass.

Hiking maps: look for hike #419, then #441 to the Averau Rifugio at 2416m. From there, take the trail to the Averau Via Ferrata route that bends around Averau peak, to the left as you approach the rifugio where your trail comes out, over the cable car mechanical building.

Timing: From Bar Storbel to Averau Rifugio is approximately a 1.5 hour hike. From Averau to the VF trailhead is about 15 minutes. As you’ll be climbing up and then back down this VF, be sure to use the Averau chair lift/rifugio bathrooms before setting out to the VF start point. The VF part of the climb takes only about 10-15 minutes. From the top of the climb to the peak takes about 20 minutes.

One other thing: Down-climbing is a bit tricky… often you simply hike out of a via ferrata, but in this case the only way out is the way you went in, with a brief detour to the chimney. So it takes a bit longer as you wait for up -climbers to come through the parts of the route through which you need to pass.

For more on our 2017 Italy-Slovenia Trip go here: Venice & The Dolomites 2017. And for other places we’ve been around the world, poke about under the Travel tab of my Blog.

Many thanks to Dave Foster, a friend of Bill’s through his volunteering in the climbing world. Dave sent us a TON of information about which routes to attempt in the area and what fun we could have here! So here’s to you, Dave, if you’re out there! This has been a fabulous holiday so far thanks to the incredible book you wrote us & inspiring photos you included in that powerpoint!

11 Comments on “Averau… Part Via Ferrata and Part WW1 Adventure

  1. Beautiful .. though while I enjoyed reading about your experience I have never been drawn to rock- climbing but certainly up to that point this looks like a great expedition. The goulash looks great too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A wonderful start of Via Ferrata adventure, Sheri. I’m secretly gathering information from your trip for the day when we do a tour of Europe. Beautiful mountains.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, I’m guessing you don’t have a fear of heights? 😉 Looks like fun, actually. I can’t imagine doing it at 86 – I’ll be lucky to be climbing the steps to the house at that stage.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Piz da Lech Via Ferrata – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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