The phrase “via ferrata” is of Italian origin and translates to “iron path.” There are many via ferratas all over the world, and these paths have varying lengths. There are short via ferratas that can be completed by a climber in less than an hour, as well as via ferratas that are up to 3,300 feet high. Via ferratas also vary in difficulty levels. These paths can range from short, simple paths to steep and difficult routes which require the skills of that of a serious rock climber. In general, via ferratas are traveled in an ascent route rather than a descending route.
Telluride has a via ferrata, which is often called the “Krogeratta,” having gotten this name after its builder, Chuck Kroger. Chuck Kroger was known as a local legend in the area of climbing and came to the Telluride area in the 1970s. Chuck Kroger started building Telluride’s via ferrata in 2006 but unfortunately passed away from cancer before he could complete the project. Others took on the project after his death and named the via ferrata Krogeratta after him. Telluride’s Krogeratta is a great place to start with the sport of climbing via ferratas, since it is accessible for beginning climbers, but also provides exposure and air for more experienced climbers.
The Telluride Via Ferrata (the Krogeratta) has a route that goes up to 600 feet above the forest on the ground level below. While climbing the Telluride Via Ferrata, climbers have an amazing view of the Bridal Veil Falls. The Bridal Veil Falls are the highest free-falling waterfall in the entire state of Colorado. Climbers on the Krogeratta also have views of the peaks of the San Juan Mountains and can see gorgeous views of the entire town of Telluride below them as they travel. Telluride’s Via Ferrata is a great challenge for newer climbers as well as more experienced ones, though it is not the best activity for those with a fear of heights!
In the past, simple equipment was used when climbing via ferratas. This simple equipment included the use of carabiners attached to short ropes or slings that were fixed to a chest harness. This equipment was implemented with the mindset that even if a via ferrata climber fell, that they would not end up falling too far. Ultimately, it became clear that this simple equipment was not sufficient since climbers were sustaining serious injuries. Presently, the equipment typically used when climbing via ferratas has been enhanced to act as shock absorbers in an effort to distribute the energy of a fall more effectively than the shorter ropes that were used in the past.
The modern-day equipment for climbing a via ferrata is called a via ferrata set. This set includes a lanyard and two carabiners. The lanyard utilizes an energy-absorbing system, typically with a “Y” tape configuration. The “Y” configuration is the only one that is approved by the UIAA. Older lanyard sets used a “V” configuration, which had the potential to be dangerous when both arms were clipped at the same time because in that case, the energy absorber would not work.
Via Ferrata Equipment—Energy Absorbers and Carabiners
Today, the most commonly used type of energy absorber is called a tearing energy absorber. The tearing energy absorber is made with webbing sewn together in order to allow tearing to progressively occur in the event of a fall. A device like this can be used only once to help during a major fall, and the equipment will be severely damaged after it is used for this purpose.
Another type of energy absorber is a metal braking device that incorporates a rope going through the device which is attached to the harness. This type of energy absorber used to be popular, however after a major via ferrata accident that occurred in 2012 and resulted in a fatality, this type of energy absorber is much less commonly used.
There are carabiners that are made specifically for the use during climbing via ferratas. These specially-made carabiners are designed with a larger than usual opening and are made to be strong enough to survive high falls. These carabiners include a stamping with the letter K in a circle. The K stamp stands for “Klettersteig,” which translates to via ferrata in German.
Modern-day via ferratas developed around the nineteenth century with the growth of Alpine exploration and tourism. There are multiple examples of via ferratas in the mid-to-late eighteen-hundreds. In 1880, on Pic du Midi d’Ossau in the Pyrenees, there were iron climbing aids installed. In 1881, these iron climbing aids were then installed in Ordesa. What we now know as via ferratas were installed in the Limestone Alps and these routes are still used today. In 1899, the German Allgau Alps were constructed utilizing via ferratas. Before the First World War, the via ferrata in the Possnecker Path in the Sella Group was finished.
The Dolomites in the First World War
During the First World War, in 1914, the Dolomites were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a part of the Central Powers and fought against Britain, France, Italy, and Russia. During this time, Austria’s troops were in Russia when they withdrew to a defensive line that ran through the Dolomites. From this time through the last months of 1917, the Austrians fought mountain-based battles with the Italians. Via ferratas were used to guide the troops through the peaks and tunnels. Ultimately, the soldiers created a network of via ferratas throughout this area to aid in their battles. After the Second World War, the via ferratas used in the First World War were restored and recreated using steel cables and iron ladders along with metal rungs with anchors in rocks rather than the wooden structures that were used by the troops in the First World War.
Modern Developments in Via Ferratas
Since the First and Second World Wars, the popularity and usage of via ferratas have only grown. Alpine clubs in the 1970s and 1980s developed new routes in some of the more traditional climbing areas, such as the Dolomites and the Northern Limestone Alps. Later, in the 1990s and 2000s, the development of via ferratas started to go down a more commercial path. Various organizations and companies weighed in on the utility of creating new via ferratas in newer and different locations. These organizations and companies included outdoor activity centers, local communities, and cable car companies. Via ferratas were considered helpful to the local tourism industry and to give new visitors to park more options for activities.
The new development of via ferratas has gone beyond the original location areas and has now caught on in the rest of the Alps and even beyond these areas. By the year 2003, France had approximately 100 via ferratas. The modern trend of creating via ferratas is developed sport routes that are typically challenging and located closer to valleys. These sport-oriented via ferratas feature very steep dips that require an extensive amount of strength to successfully climb.
Another feature of modern via ferratas is the use of dramatic locations, such as via ferratas requiring travel along waterfalls or through canyons. These newer pathways also occasionally feature zip wires and wire bridges, which have been added in an effort to make the via ferratas more appealing to park visitors. Mountain climbing through via ferratas is now widely considered a valid mountain activity. With its growing popularity as a sport, climbers are now able to purchase equipment specifically for this activity and guidebooks for popular locations. There has also been a grading system developed specifically for via ferrata climbing.
While there is no official standardized grading system for via ferrata climbing, there is a generally accepted grading system that is based on a 5 or 6-point scale, either designated by numbers or letters. The scale that is used is typically dependent on the geographic area in which the via ferrata climber intends to climb.
In the Italian Dolomites region, the scale used is from one to five, while the Kurt Schall guides from the Klettersteig-Atlas series use a scale ranging from A to E. On this scale, A is considered the easiest path and indicates that the path is straightforward and includes climbing aids. The most difficult level, E, indicates that the via ferrata is extremely difficult, with a path that ranges from vertical to overhanging, with small footholds and typically, no climbing aids other than the wire.