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The Via Ferrata: Definitely Not a Good Option

Submitted by metoliusmunchkin on 2002-07-03 | Last Modified on 2010-02-26

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A cornucopia of via ferrata* (see last page for definition and background) related opinions have been formulated over the past months to perhaps a short year, many of them negative. I myself agree with these opinions; especially those concerning the danger variables that tag along with the use of the via ferrata system. My agreement with such opinions is accompanied by the known fact that a fall while utilizing the via ferrata system, can result in death even with safe or proper use and instruction.

Used in climbing is a series of numbers used to justify the severity of a climber's fall. This measurement, or justification, not only measure the effects upon the climber, yet the gear resisting the consequent effects of the fall as well. It has been said that the greatest fall factor able to be created upon a via ferrata system with the use of a quickdraw (the standard use of the system) is two ("2"), though with a fall of ten metres (per say) with a one metre length quickdraw-and-leash, the user has just then simply created a fall factor of ten ("10"). Therefore, (as the average quickdraw-and-leash length is one metre) the longer the quickdraw (one metre is in fact considered a long piece of gear), the more dangerous a fall's effects can have upon the fallen party.

Even with a half-metre quickdraw equipped with a leash, and a fall of five feet (the average fall length in my mind), the fallen party is still creating a fall factor of ten ("10") which can undoubtedly cause the fallen party to dislocate from his/her harness thus creating a ground fall which usually and ultimately results in death.

Furthermore, crags (vast areas of rock, where rock climbing routes are set with either permanent or impermanent gear) will loose great popularity due to lack of use of the greater climbing population (which in turn causes less traffic equalling less popularity. Many climbers enjoy the pleasures of sport and traditional climbing (which in all cases involves the use of gear and ropes). With the via ferrata system, this simple pleasure is nullified.

This new system moreover, is specifically built in order to reduce the amount of physical skill as well as the amount of gear and technicalities required to climb the routes they occupy. The need for a person's physical ability is less evident and less needed, which accordingly diminishes the purpose for most sport and traditional climbers to climb at that particular crag. With this lack of popularity, the crag may close down.

Possibly the most alarming aspect of the via ferrata, is its falsity found within its promises and claims. The via ferrata systems claim to provide an ease of use for those with minimal knowledge of climbing's many technical categories. However, it has been noted as I will quote from an anonymous yet experienced climber** that via ferratas do not in all actuality provide an ease of use.

It has been quoted; "I spent over three hours on the [system]. It was challenging in places, hard even. Other parts were all tedious ledge traversing. The rock was over hanging in many places, so there were a lot of Rebar rung ladders. I found that unpleasant and hard on the hands."

The via ferrata was created in order to provide ease while discovering the mountainous experience. If this product can not merely obtain its main objective, has it not then failed in the eyes of the consumer? This quote comes from a relatively young climber as well. One could only imagine the effects of a via ferrata for those older persons (senior citizens for example) or for those with osteological/muscular problems who would love to experience the climbs (or more "treks").

In conclusion, allowing the use of via ferratas on our local crags and mountainous regions will definitely cause more damage to communities than good. Many will become seriously injured, either resulting from a ground fall (causing death), a fall, or from discomfort and lack of ease (both resulting, with all probability, in complications to injuries previously sustained or sicknesses contained within the body's system). The rock can also become charred, damaged, or unsuitable for use (off limits) resulting in rock slides though it also makes for an unpleasant sight which is also described without stating its potential danger rate.

* The via ferrata has been used for years throughout Europe as a time saving and what some believe safe way of experiencing the adventures of alpinism. Though the via ferrata to most, myself included, is a most dangerous system.

From what we have gathered throughout the history of climbing in general, the Europeans have definitely dominated every aspect of the word. When it comes to advances in technology, techniques, and other necessities, there has been no counterpart to their successes. However a new form of climbing technology has recently appeared in the slightest of popularities in North America. Although, the North American debut of this technology has not been well received by the majority of the climbing populations.

This new technology is the via ferrata.

Via ferratas were first used in the Alps during World War II, in order to provide the possibility of fairly quick passage (ease of passage on the troops' mountain missions). This system was also originally set by professional guides in order to speed their "non-climber" clients up and down mountains in a faster time to avoid complications and injuries. Recently however, the via ferrata has been used for more recreational purposes. The via ferrata is a European form of equipping their mountains with (basically) fixed "ropes" of cable or even Barstock steel that are bolted to the mountain to allow for ease of passage for "non-climbers" with minimal instruction.

Simply put, a via ferrata is a route that has been equipped with anchors, cables, rungs, bridges etc. used/accessed with a harness and some shock-absorbing leashes for the user to clip in to the system.

** This climber has had over ten years of rock climbing experience.


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2 out of 5 stars As a climber for several decades and not a strong supporter of via ferratas in general, I still find the long and erudite statement by metoliusmunchkin greatly overstates the hazards and other negative aspects of the system. I don't intend to pick apart each of his/her points but MM's reliance on the via ferrata's failure to ensure an "ease of use" really stresses the credibility of the entire article. Indeed, anyone who uses a via ferrata will find the route easy in places, more challenging in others, and so it should be -- it is obviously to all, still a self-propelled activity in steep terrain. Such tourists are undoubtedly thankful for the opportunity to have a safe taste of the environment of climbing without imagining that they have instantly become climbers themselves. Although there may very well be accidents over time, my main personal issue with the system in the Canadian case is that is has introduced another cash cow for the growing number of 'mountain guides' -- an easy day of work, of 'mountain guiding' in kindergarten. I understand that fees and guides for via ferratas are not usual in Europe, for example.

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