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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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!
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!