Via ferrata

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Via ferrata climber on Piz Mitgel
A series of clips at the entrance to the Hermann-von-Barth -Weg to the Partenkirchener Dreitorspitze

A via ferrata is a (insured) climbing route on natural or artificial rock that is secured (insured) with iron ladders, iron pins, brackets (as steps) and (steel) ropes . In the past, rock passages on hiking trails were secured with steel cables. From this, via ferratas developed over time, which made increasingly difficult routes accessible for non-climbers. Today climbing via ferrata has developed into an alpine discipline of its own.

The iron brought into a via ferrata serves on the one hand for movement (additional handles and steps) and on the other hand for self-protection with a so-called via ferrata set . In difficult via ferrata, self-belaying can also be supplemented by a rope team . Some climbers try to climb a route freely by using the iron inserted in the path only for safety and not for movement.

The Italian name for via ferrata is Via Ferrata (plural: Vie Ferrate ), which literally means iron route and describes the character of modern via ferratas very well. The term Via Ferrata is not only used in Italy, but is also common in German-speaking countries and in some other countries. There are well over 1000 via ferratas in the Alpine region, 500 of which are in Austria, where an average of ten new routes are built each year.

Creation of the via ferrata

Modern sport climbing route with rope bridge, Postalmklamm Austria

Ladders and similar devices for opening up paths between mountain villages and alpine pastures were known in the Alps for centuries. However, these paths were not yet used for tourist purposes, but were primarily farm roads. They also offered no means of securing and consisted largely of wooden elements. Nevertheless, such routes can be regarded as forerunners of today's via ferratas. Some of these paths, such as the “Albinen Ladder” near Leukerbad , are still accessible today.

The creation of today's via ferrata can be divided into three epochs:

  • Construction of the first via ferrata in Europe:
From 1843, under the direction of Friedrich Simony , the construction of the first via ferrata in Europe on the Dachstein began , using iron pegs, hand hooks, chiseled steps and a ship rope as climbing aids. This was followed by 400 m of safety ropes on the Großglockner in 1869 , a via ferrata on the Zugspitze in 1873 , in the Pyrenees the Midi d'Ossau in 1880 and the Ordesa in 1881 were given iron climbing aids. In the German Alpine region, the Heilbronner Weg was also one of the first classic via ferratas in 1899 , and in 1903 the Marmolada was equipped in the Dolomites .
  • World War I Trail:
Many see the origin of modern via ferratas in the First World War . Austria-Hungary waged a mountain war against Italy in South Tyrol and in what is now Slovenia , in which every summit was fought. Of course, access routes for patrols and supplies had to be created for this. One example is the so-called Leiternsteig at the Toblinger knot in the Sexten Dolomites .
  • Modern sport climbing routes:
Modern crates, which became very fashionable from the 1980s, usually differ from conventional crates in terms of special attractions or difficulties. For example, overhangs or rope bridges are included in the path. These trails are mostly created with the idea of ​​offering the sporty mountain tourist new challenges. The initiators are often the local tourism associations or cable car companies.

In order to enable climbing in via ferratas in urban regions, via ferratas on houses or silos have also emerged in recent years, e.g. B. 2012 at the silo tower in Brühl .

Components of a via ferrata

Via ferrata components

The essential component of a via ferrata is usually a wire rope accompanying the path lengthways , which is anchored in the rock by hooks at different distances depending on the terrain. These "hooks" often consist of reinforcing steel ( bars with raised grooves rolled with a diameter of about 12 mm), here often with curved welded eyes and glued into drill holes in the rock with dowel glue.

Similar to a fixed rope, the rope serves both as an aid for ascent and for securing . Some via ferratas (especially in the western Alps ) are also equipped with two separate wire ropes for securing and holding. There are also other aids, mostly made of iron, such as clips, pins, ladders and bridges. Sometimes you can also find handles and kicks artificially carved into the rock.

Steel ropes predominate as wire ropes. Aluminum wires over a steel cable core ("STALU"), as it is often used in high-voltage lines, has the advantage of having a larger diameter that is easier to handle with the same weight per meter, but the aluminum strands chafe through more easily and can then split open, i.e. the ends stick out pointed. Steel ropes with a synthetic fiber core come from the cable car sector, their advantage is greater flexibility and a larger diameter.

Each end of the rope is bent into a loop by an anchoring eyelet, the inside is often reinforced with a thimble to prevent abrasion and typically clamped with U-clamps so that the nuts remain clearly visible for checking.

Via ferrata equipment

The UIAA and the DAV safety group recommend the following via ferrata-specific equipment for climbing a via ferrata (in addition to the general equipment for alpine terrain: clothing, shoes, weather protection, provisions, etc.):

  • Climbing harness or a combination of hip belt and chest harness (there is no special via ferrata harness , but alpine or sports climbing harnesses are used)
  • UIAA approved mountaineering helmet
  • Via ferrata set in accordance with the UIAA standard (securing the stand in the form of a firmly attached sling is not suitable as it cannot withstand a fall load from several meters and the lack of dynamic brakes can lead to serious injuries.)
  • Via ferrata gloves protect against injuries on the steel cable

A current commercially available via ferrata set according to the UIAA standard usually consists of a rope brake and two pieces of rope, each with a via ferrata carabiner . In the event of a fall, a band specially sewn for this purpose - a band energy absorber - is torn or a piece of rope is pulled through a rope brake plate. The approved systems can be constructed in different ways and are capable of cushioning a fall dynamically; there are a few variants on the market that are very similar in their fall-absorbing effect. Recently there are also systems which are moved up the steel cable by the climber, but which fix themselves against a backward movement by a clamp mechanism.

For difficult sport via ferrata climbing shoes may be necessary as equipment if there are hardly any rock steps or artificial steps.

In addition, depending on the location and length of the via ferrata, alpine equipment ( weatherproof clothing , gloves, sunglasses , bivouac sack , liquid and food, etc.) is necessary.

Assessment of the difficulty

When evaluating via ferrata, normal conditions are assumed. In route descriptions, the tours are often divided into sections that have different levels of difficulty. If the level of difficulty is in question, several sources should be consulted, as there are occasional deviations in the assessment. Subjective differences can arise due to body size, condition, daily constitution, etc.

There is no generally recognized scale for via ferratas. In addition to the “Hüsler scale” set up by the “via ferrata pope” Eugen E. Hüsler with verbal classifications (K1 “little difficult” to K5 “extremely difficult”) and other, often regionally widespread scales, the letters introduced by the guide author Kurt Schall have established themselves ( A-E). In addition to the pure difficulty, other information (e.g. ascent time, total walking time, height difference, etc.) is also important.

In the meantime, however, there are also several extreme via ferratas whose difficulties exceed the established rating scale (difficulty F).

rating difficulty terrain Fuse requirements equipment Abroad or comment
(not very difficult)
easy flat to steep, mostly rocky or interspersed with rocks, exposed passages possible Wire ropes, chains, iron clamps ("clasps") and occasionally short ladders; Most of the inspection is possible without using the safety devices Surefootedness and head for heights recommended office condition (but depends on the length of the tour from) Via ferrata equipment recommended. Experienced walkers will also be found here without self-assurance. Italy: F (facile)
France: F (facile)
(moderately difficult)
easy to moderately difficult, sometimes a little more strenuous or exhausting steeper rocky terrain, some small steps, exposed areas are to be expected in any case Wire ropes, chains, iron clips, step pins, longer ladders (possibly also vertical); Inspection without safety devices is possible, but difficulties up to the 3rd level of difficulty (UIAA) are to be expected As with A, but better stamina and some strength and endurance in arms and legs are clearly an advantage Via ferrata equipment recommended; It is also possible to visit in a rope team Italy: M (media difficoltà)
France: PD (peu difficile)
mostly difficult, strenuous and exhausting
steep to very steep rocky terrain, mostly small steps, longer or very often exposed passages Wire ropes, iron clamps, step pins, often longer and even overhanging ladders, brackets and pins can also be further apart; sometimes just a wire rope in vertical sections; Inspection possible without using the fixed safety devices, but difficulties often already lie in the 4th level of difficulty (UIAA) good physical condition, as longer climbs at this level of difficulty are already among the great via ferrata undertakings Via ferrata equipment like B is strongly recommended, inexperienced or children may need to be taken on a safety rope Italy: D (difficile)
France: D (difficile)
(very difficult)
very difficult, very strenuous and very exhausting
vertical, often overhanging terrain; mostly very exposed Wire rope, iron clamps and stepping pins (many of them are far apart); in exposed and steep places often just a wire rope as with C, but in good physical condition, enough strength in arms and hands, as longer vertical to overhanging areas can occur; Smaller climbing spots (up to the 2nd level of difficulty) without safety devices are also possible Via ferrata equipment mandatory, even experienced via ferrata climbers can be found in the rope team; Not recommended for beginners and children Italy: MD (molto difficile)
France: TD (très difficile)
(extremely difficult)
extremely difficult because it is very strenuous and extremely exhausting vertical to overhanging; exposed throughout; very small steps or friction climbing like D, but more often combined with climbing a lot of strength in hands (fingers), arms and legs, increased level of stamina, mobility, over longer distances the main burden can lie on the arms Via ferrata equipment compulsory, rope team particularly worth considering for tours with places without safety devices; Not recommended for beginners and children Italy: ED (estrema difficoltà)
France: ED (extrêmement difficile)
(more than extremely difficult)
more than extremely difficult, as very strenuous and extremely exhausting and good climbing technique is essential primarily overhanging; exposed; very small steps or friction climbing like E, combined with climbing like E, but good climbing skills are mandatory Via ferrata equipment compulsory, top rope belaying recommended; not recommended for people who cannot easily master level E.
There are currently only a few category F via ferratas in the Alpine region. a. Bürgeralm (via ferrata with arena variant), Postalmklamm, Gosauschmied Hammer.
(highest difficulty)
highest difficulty on the via ferrata often vertical, overhanging on long passages like F, with greater demands on athletics like F, but very good sport climbing skills are mandatory Via ferrata equipment compulsory, top rope safety recommended; not recommended for people who are not very confident in level E. So far there is only one via ferrata with category G, the “Ferrata Extraplomix” , which was built in Gran Canaria in March 2012 . The difficulties there are significantly higher than at the Bürgeralm (via ferrata with arena variant) and the Postalm via ferrata (with F variant) in Austria. For this reason, the new rating G was used.
rating difficulty terrain Fuse requirements equipment Abroad or comment

Dangers and Risks

Because insurance is mostly made of iron, via ferratas are particularly dangerous during thunderstorms. Metal wire ropes, like lightning conductors, can divert lightning currents, which further increases the risk of lightning strikes, which is already increased in the mountains. In the event of sudden weather changes , the wire ropes can also freeze and no longer offer the necessary friction. If they are buried under snow, they can no longer be used.

The risk of falling rocks must also be considered in via ferrata. Since via ferratas are usually used by more people than alpine climbing routes in comparable terrain, the risk of stones being stepped on is particularly high here.

The dangers of falling in via ferrata are often underestimated. Even if the via ferrata set is used correctly, falls can be relatively long, namely until the next anchoring of the wire rope; this is often several meters. The rigid wire rope and its anchorages slow the body down extremely abruptly. In the event of such a fall, higher impact forces can arise than in the case of falls while climbing, as these are held by the elastic climbing rope . In addition to a significant risk of injury, if the prescribed via ferrata brake is not used or is used incorrectly, serious and even fatal injuries can occur if you fall on a wire rope. Without a dynamic braking system, wire rope breaks, snap hooks and rope breaks can occur. Since the fall occurs along the wire rope that is shared by all climbers, the following can also be affected. Additional conventional belaying is therefore often recommended, especially for inexperienced climbers .

According to the Austrian Alpine Association , one of the main causes of the via ferrata accidents, which have increased significantly in recent years, is not to be found in incorrect equipment, but rather in the “ human factor ”. The reason: "Even the best and most technically sophisticated via ferrata set is completely useless if you can't handle it."


  • Csaba Szépfalusi: Via ferrata guide TYROL. All via ferratas in North and East Tyrol. Tyrolia Verlag, Innsbruck 2013, ISBN 978-3-7022-3269-6 .
  • Eugen E. Hüsler: Adventure via ferrata. Bruckmann, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-7654-3793-X .

Web links

Commons : Via ferrata  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Via ferrata  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Szépfalusi, Csaba: ferrata Guide Austria . Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck 2016, ISBN 978-3-7022-2548-3 , p. 14 .
  2. ^ Paul Werner: Via ferrata atlas Alps . 3. Edition. Bergverlag Rudolf Rother, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7633-8088-4 , p. 12 .
  3. Dieter Wissekal, Peter Grimm: Origin and History., accessed on June 25, 2008 .
  4. Szépfalusi, Csaba: ferrata Guide Austria . Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck 2016, ISBN 978-3-7022-2548-3 , p. 14 .
  5. Ralf: Via Ferrata Vertigo- Free - Kletterwald Köln-Brühl, March 3, 2012, accessed May 20, 2018.
  6. Koeln: Europe's highest climbing tower in Brühl: Not for the faint of heart Published May 12, 2012, accessed May 20, 2018.
  7. Via ferrata highlights from Höllental to Hochkönig, section "The urban via ferrata: Via Ferrata free from giddiness". Formerly on Article dated May 9, 2014. Retrieved on May 20, 2018.
  8. Via ferrata special ( Memento from September 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  9. a b Walter Würtl, Peter Plattner: scale jungle. Difficulty rating for via ferrata. (PDF) In: Uphill. Österreichischer Alpenverein , 2009, pp. 10-13 , accessed on September 1, 2015 .
  10. Gran Canaria - the new "via ferrata archipelago"., June 5, 2012, accessed September 18, 2012 .
  11. Wilde Gams via ferrata., May 1, 2012, accessed September 18, 2012 .
  12. Bürgeralm - via ferrata with arena variant., June 19, 2009, accessed September 18, 2012 .
  13. Bürgeralm via ferrata with arena variant., June 19, 2009, accessed September 14, 2019 .
  14. Postalmklamm (with F variant)., May 30, 2006, accessed September 14, 2019 .
  15. Gosauschmied Hammer via ferrata., July 3, 2019, accessed September 14, 2019 .
  16. Description of the Extraplomix via ferrata and video on ; Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  17. Description of the arena variant on ; Retrieved June 20, 2010.
  18. Description of the Postalm via ferrata on ; Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  19. ^ Paul Werner: Via ferrata atlas Alps . 3. Edition. Bergverlag Rudolf Rother, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7633-8088-4 .
  20. ^ Pit Schubert, Pepi Stückl: Alpine curriculum, volume 5 . 3. Edition. BLV, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-405-14825-1 .
  21. Peter Prantner: The pitfalls of the mountain sports boom., June 21, 2012, accessed on June 2, 2013 .