Climbing is having a moment. More and more indoor climbing gyms are opening across the country and people are flocking to them, seeking out the physical challenge in a contained, low-risk environment. After all, not everyone has the willpower, stamina, and guts of Alex Honnold.
But there’s another type of climbing that’s getting a lot of attention lately that might scratch your itch for a new challenge: via ferratas. These European-style assisted climbing routes have steel cables, as well as foot and handholds built into the mountain. Unlike rope climbing, they’re instantly accessible to novice climbers.
“They’re a great way for people who have never climbed to get out on the rock and actually experience the climbing aspect of the sport [right off the bat],” says Shannon Schiner, lead via ferrata guide at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of the several U.S. locations to build a via ferrata in the last few years. “And it’s also great for people who have a lot of climbing experience to get out there without having to carry a ton of gear.”
But via ferratas weren’t always a recreational activity. In fact, they actually got their start in Europe during WW1, when troops needed to transport large numbers of men and gear to a higher vantage point, explains Schiner. It’s this ability to have multiple people on a climb (as opposed to, say, top rope climbs where only one person climbs while the others belay) that made the routes so efficient back then, and also what makes them so fun now. “You can climb quite a distance in a very short amount of time,” says Schiner.
More experienced athletes can choose to climb on the side of the steel cable where there are no added supports to boot, so beginners and more advanced climbers can have fun together and still be safely challenged.
Best of all, the thrill doesn’t go stale the more mountains you climb. Each via ferrata is different and challenging in its own way, depending on the type of rock they’re built on and/or the location they’re in. Via ferratas can be very vertical, as well as transverse and horizontal, and can include a variety of different elements that make each unique, she adds.
So go out and explore (no gear required). Here are some of the greatest via ferratas around the world.