In Italian ‘via ferrata’ simply means ‘iron way’, and that is exactly what it is; a series of metal cables, staples and ladders enabling people to climb and traverse otherwise impenetrable rock faces. Via ferrata was created in the Italian Dolomites during the First World War as a means to move the soldiers through the mountain environment, but it wasn’t until many many years later that it became a popular sport. There are now hundreds of routes across Europe, and although they are not for the faint-hearted or those who suffer from vertigo (!) they do make climbing much more accessible for aspiring adventurers with little experience or skill.
During a recent trip to Lake Garda in Italy, we headed for the Sentiero Contrabbandieri, an old smugglers’ route high above the shores of the lake. It turned out to be more of an adventurous, and rather terrifying walk with a few sections of cable, rather than a classic via ferrata, but it was brilliant fun, and with stunning views to top it off.
Yesterday dawned beautiful, bright and sunny in Innsbruck, so we made the most of a day off by heading in to the Stubai Valley to do the Schlicker via ferrata, one that had been on our to-do list for a while. We have skied in the Schlick resort, but this was our first time outside of winter, and the stunning rock pillars that tower so majestically over the pistes were, if possible, even more impressive in the summer.
It was a full day out, with a 1.5 hour walk-in, around 3 hours climbing, and about 2.5 hours walk down, but the views were simply breathtaking all day, the climbing superb, and the location second to none. I couldn’t recommend this highly enough, it is described as one of the best via ferratas in the area, and rightly so.
Via ferratas, or klettersteigs as they are called in German, are much more popular in Austria than in many other European countries, and we are very lucky to have several great routes within just a stone’s throw of Innsbruck. Now that the warm weather has returned we have got back out on the rocks, climbing and klettersteig-ing, and are loving it. Klettersteig is basically assisted rock climbing. You climb up and across enormous rock faces with the aid of metal staples and steps in the rock, all the time following a metal rail that you are permanently attached to, so there’s no chance of getting lost!
Most peaks in Austria have the standard summit cross to signal the top, and often there is a ‘summit book’ tucked inside for each climber to sign and date. It’s a lovely tradition, and the fantastic klettersteig in St Jodok, around 40 minutes drive from Innsbruck, is no exception. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable route, the view from the top is beautiful, and the solitude just marvellous. Hard to find any room for improvement!
So imagine our delight when we looked around and saw a large wooden chest sitting in the forest at the top of the climb, and opened it to discover a huge ‘outdoor fridge’ full of cold beer, water and soft drinks! The sign reads ‘Voluntary donations to the St Jodok mountain rescue fund.
A fantastic cause and a superb bonus after a sweaty climb on a hot day. What a wonderful idea!
I hate to say it in April, but winter in the Alps is well and truly over, and has been for a while. The last few weeks in Innsbruck have seen temperatures as high as 25 degrees C, the cows and horses are back in the meadows, and rock climbing, via ferratas, hiking and running are very much back on the agenda.
Despite the fact that it feels like summer, this is my first Spring in Austria and I love the feel of the city as the seasons start to change. Being a university city, it’s no surprise to see the students out in force as the weather becomes warmer, but the sight of the neverending line of people sitting along the banks on the river Inn next to the university still made me stop, get off my bike and marvel at the power of the sunshine.
The mere presence of the sun means that everyone is happy and relaxed. Stress is forgotten, people suddenly have more free time and want to be outside; having barbecues, playing frisbee, or simply socialising out in the sun.
Here’s to a long summer of enjoying the outdoors x