One of the beautiful things about hiking in Europe is that there are so many ski resorts in the mountains here that it’s possible to do lift-assisted hiking in virtually every town you come upon in the summer in this South Tyrol region. Doing that, you can then spend the bulk of your time up in the views! (And get strudel at the base… just thought I’d mention it! It’s Germanic Italy here, after all.)
Piz da Lech is a via ferrata that begins near the town of Corvara. Perched above the town, it is easily accessed by taking the Boè gondola, followed by the Vallon chair lift, up to a point on the mountain that is within a short hike to the start of the VF route. It has outstanding views from the top of the Sella group of mountains, with their dramatically-cut stone pillars and deep chasms. The Sellas are mountains that remain hidden from view until you summit up top… and catching a glimpse of them from way up there is so well worth the effort!
Having successfully gotten our feet wet, so to speak, on a short 2A via ferrata the day before, we thought we’d up the ante and try a 3B rated VF, one with a long, airy ladder part to experience.
Taking the gondola and chairlifts up meant that we’d conserved a lot of strength & stamina that we could put into the more challenging climb (both from a difficulty standpoint, and an endurance/ length-of-route standpoint).
The ladders aren’t difficult, but they are long and they stand out a fair ways from the cliff. Holding the ladder while clipping and unclipping and looking down, way…way..way… down was a tricky thing to wrap your head around. The rungs feel a wee bit sketchy from an exposure perspective. And then some of the points where you’d exit a ladder and get back on the rock for a bit until the next ladder felt a bit airy, to say the least!
Once we exited the ladder section, we were finished the true climbing part of the via ferrata. The rest was light scrambling and a little walking to make it to the summit.
From then on, it was just a moderate mountain walk up to the top with fantastic panoramas, heart stopping views over the ledges of cliffs that overlooked the Sella range, long looks that went so far down to the scree below that your stomach does a little flip flop, and glimpses of deep chasms between pillars of rock. A dramatic setting, to be sure!
For a while we stopped, caught our breath, took in the scenery, and watched the clouds form. Yup. Watched the clouds form. They’d waft in, get thrust up by the thermals coming off the sunlit land below, and dissipate… after some spectacular billowing. Take a look…
This via ferrata was not too physically demanding, though I did go through a lot of water on the way up the climb. I found some of the climbing parts a bit challenging, but not impossible. Some moves just took a few tries, that’s all. I do not climb as much as Bill does, and he felt they were easy. As a last resort, you can always reef yourself up, using the cable like a rope to haul yourself to the next bolt.
It seems to me that the difference between a ferrata that is 2B and one that is 3B is that the 2B is more like tough scrambling with exposure, and 3B has full-on climbing sections, with exposure. It is still most definitely do-able (especially if you’re flexible and have a good level of basic fitness and are comfortable with “airy” exposure sections), as there were a lot of solid hand and foot holds on this route.
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 catastrophic a tumble might be) is rated as an A, B or C, with C being the most exposed.
This ferrata was graded a 3B. So moderate climbing challenge (say, a 5.7), and a bit exposed and “airy,” as they say.
It has 200m for the via ferrata climb itself. For the hike in, 150m elevation gain from the chair lift to the VF start. The summit is at 2910m.
Location: Start at the parking lot for the Piz Boè Gondola in the town of Corvara.
Hiking route: Look for hike #646 for the route down to avoid the chair lift.
Timing & Logistics: The gondola opens at 8:30am. Go early, for opening. You pay for a return ticket at the main building beside the parking lot, just for the gondola. Once you’re up top, you purchase a second one way ticket at the chair lift itself. From the top of the chair lift to the VF trailhead is a 10 minute walk, tops. There are no washrooms up there, so use the facilities at the top of the gondola before heading up the short chairlift. It took about 2 hours to do the ferrata climb. It took about an hour and a half to hike out, down the ramp from the mountain peak to the chair lift. Keep your harness and VF gear on for the hike down as you’ll need it to descend in 2 places on the way out.
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!