It was summer 2017 and we were visiting Chamonix in the French Alps looking for a new adventure activity to try….that’s when we came across ‘Via Ferrata’…
We hadn’t heard of Via Ferrata before but after picking up a leaflet in the Tourist Information centre and Googling what it involved, we thought it would be fun to give it a go. It turned out to be one of those activities that looks good on paper, but truly tests your courage when you’re actually doing it.
Via Ferrata can be roughly translated to ‘iron road’. It describes the activity of climbing along a pre-determined route up, or along a cliff, that follows a steel cable. You wear a climbing harness with a couple of ‘leashes’ on them which are clipped to the cable – one must be clipped at all times to prevent you from falling off. Convinced to have a go yet??
Our safety induction lasted all of 30 seconds from the lovely French man that rented us the harnesses and helmets. With his broken English and our broken French we got the idea that the leashes were pretty important.
Off we trotted to the base of the mountain side and the start of the Passy Via Ferrata route. With little climbing experience between us we thought it best to let an experienced couple go ahead of us so we could work out how not to fall off. Gulp. What had we got into?
As the couple set off at the speed of light, we followed their lead and clipped onto the steel cable. Every 10 metres or so there was a bolt where you had to unclip one leash, clip on past the bolt and do the same with the other leash. That was interesting. At first, the route was fairly sedate, walking along ledges and making our way up steel-rung ladders.
“This was one of those experiences where we both thought ‘Wow! Did we really just do that?’ – The MahoJos”
Then things got really interesting. Ahead of us was a steel cable bridge. Just a steel cable to walk along (over a ravine) with a couple of cables to hang on to for grim death.
Then the ledges started to get thinner, the ladders steeper and all the while we were getting higher. The plus side to the height gain was the the views were stunning. The downside was that we knew a mistake would be costly. This was the point that we both paused for breath and remembered that we couldn’t turn back. That was one of the rules.
You’re not allowed to turn back because other people would be coming up behind you. Trying to pass another person by unclipping and re-clipping to the cable obviously wasn’t recommended. We had to keep going, and now the sun was beating down on us.
When we finally got to grips with the fact that we had to keep going, we relaxed into a rhythm and tackled some more interesting ‘bridges’ and ladders. Altogether it probably took us 1.5 hours to complete, but it felt like a lifetime at some points. Physically, this was a tough test for us both, but the biggest test was mental.
Definitely something we’ll try again!
Want to find out more about Via Ferrata in the Chamonix valley area? Check out this page? If you want to find info about Via Ferrata in your area or somewhere else, stick it into Google to find other routes.