Via ferratas with steel cables, ladders and steel brackets are becoming increasingly popular. The Österreichischer Alpenverein (ÖAV) alpine association has compiled tips on safe via ferrata practices:
- Plan carefully: planning is the key to safe and enjoyable tours. Find out exactly about the difficulty, length, ascent and descent, weather and conditions.
- Adapt goals to personal requirements: an overly high level of difficulty can spoil the experience and lead to dangerous situations
- Complete, standard-compliant equipment: climbing harness, via ferrata set, rock helmet, ankle-high hiking boots / climbing boots on extreme climbs / crampon-compatible hiking boots and light crampons for high-Alpine tours, via ferrata gloves, climbing backpack, rucksack pharmacy, telescopic hiking poles, sun protection, a snack
- Do not climb if there is a risk of thunderstorms: lightning strikes are life threatening. Rain, wet and cold increase the risk of falling. A via ferrata is essentially an oversized lightning rod!
- Check wire cables and anchor points: Falling rocks, snow pressure, frost blasting or corrosion can cause damage to the stone layer. Do not enter a closed via ferrata!
- Partner check at the entrance: check each other’s belt buckles, connection via ferrata set with climbing harness and helmet.
- Keep sufficient distances: only one person may travel between two fixed points.
- Clear communication during overtaking: communication and considerate behaviour prevent dangerous situations during overtaking manoeuvres or oncoming people.
- Beware of falling rocks: careful climbing prevents rockfalls!
- Respect nature and the environment: travel by public transport or carpool. Avoid rubbish and noise.
Via ferrata in St. Anton in Montafon
A head for heights and sure-footedness are prerequisites for via ferratas.
Via ferrata at the Litzner Seehorn
There is no uniform difficulty rating for via ferratas. In Austria, however, the five-letter scale devised by Kurt Schall is predominantly used (source: Österreichischer Alpenverein)
A – easy: simple, secured trails, leaning (longer) or vertical (short) ladders, railings and iron brackets. Some places may already be exposed, but are easy to walk on. Generally possible for sure-footed mountaineers and those who are not afraid of heights, possible without via ferratta set. Well suited for beginners.
B – moderately difficult: Steeper rocky terrain present with some small, exposed passages. Vertical, longer ladders, iron clips and steps. Can be difficult and exhausting.
Even experienced mountaineers use a safety harness. Climbing difficulty: approx. II – III
C – difficult: steep to very steep rocky terrain, mostly small steps, which are almost always exposed. Even slightly overhanging ladders are sometimes present. Iron clamps and steps can also be a little further apart, sometimes very strenuous. Climbing difficulty: approx. III – IV.
D – very difficult: Vertical, often also overhanging terrain. Clamps and pins are often far apart. For the most part very exposed and often only secured with steel cable. Great arm strength, good climbing technique and good training condition are required, sometimes in combination with easy climbing (I – II) without wire cable.
E – extremely difficult: overhanging rocky terrain for the most part. Extreme demands on strength, climbing technique, skill, courage and morale. Only for experienced via ferrata professionals. Optimum training condition required. Sling for resting recommended!
All requirements for “D” level but more extreme. In addition, there is also the transition stage “F” for exceptional difficulties.
In principle, all via ferrata climbers – even experienced mountaineers or climbers – are advised to feel their way from easy to difficult climbs step by step in order to develop a feeling for evaluating difficulty. As a via ferrata climber, in addition to the degree of difficulty, you should consider the special requirements in the areas of condition/endurance, physical strength, mountain experience, courage/mental preparedness/exposure during planning.