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How hard are via ferratas?

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How hard are via ferratas?

Postby pgoonghang » Mon Jul 09, 2012 6:06 pm

SO, my climbing partner and I are heading over to the Dolomites this fall for our first stab at via ferratas. I am trying to piece together an itinerary using the Cicero guide, but am having difficulty determining the character of the routes.

My partner and I have done some easier trad and canyoneering routes. I've done all of the leading, and we've done things like Cat in the Hat (5.6), Cathedral Peak, (easy 5.6), North Ridge of Mount Conness (4th class), some 5.6ish lover's leap routes (Pop Bottle, Deception, Bear's Reach) and others in the same range of difficulty. We've also done "America's only Via Ferrata", or Angel's Landing in Zion.

The ratings and descriptions in the Cicero book say things like "difficult, exposed climbing" and "unprotected traverse" that are difficult to interpret. I've heard yosemite trails described as "extremely exposed" and on the other end of the spectrum, I've heard Clyde Minaret described as an easy scramble.

So, on the VFs, is it possible/common to have unprotected 4th class sections? What is the protected climbing like? 5.6 stuff, or...?

We plan on doing a few of the easier rated routes on arrival and adjusting our expectations and itinerary on how well we handle that. But it would be great to gain a better understanding in advance so I can narrow down my research.

Any advice is appreciated.
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Re: How hard are via ferratas?

Postby Gangolf Haub » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:25 pm

You hit the nail right on: problem is that it is VERY difficult to rate a via ferrata objectively. Everybody seems to have a different view. I recently did three of the easiest ferratas of the western Dolomites: Günther Messner Höhenweg, Maximilianweg and the Nivesschartensteig to Piz Duleda. Only the last one appeared easy to me I would have rated the other two difficult. Why? If you consult a guidebook they usually will only rate the protected sections - which aren't too difficult since they are well protected. They say something about long unprotected sections but what does it mean really? In the case of MAximilianweg it meant that most of the Via ferrata was unprotected - easy if you hve no problem with exposed ridges but difficult if you consider the quality of the rock and the scree covering about everything. Difficult for one who was born with feelings of vertigo whenever he stepped on a ladder ....

Now, I''ve felt completely different on ferratas which were suppposed to be difficult but which had good protection. But you rarely find them in the Dolomites - more in Switzerland and France. The Dolomites are a range in which mountains are old and eroding. There is a lot of scree everywhere and as an Italian I met on one of the ferratas said: the most difficult parts are the walking parts (meaning unprotected). I think it is a good plan to start with some of the easier ones to see what you're up to and how to interpret the ratings in your guidebook.

As to your question about the "real" difficulty without the protection - it differs. Sometimes there are plenty footholds and you would call it a class IV scramble but more often you just have the cable to hold on while you negotiate the vertical faces. The hardest ferratas are beyond 5.6 without protection but there the difficult parts are usually very short.

Question: where in the Dolomites are you going to? What's on your tick list?
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Re: How hard are via ferratas?

Postby mvs » Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:05 am

pgoonghang wrote:My partner and I have done some easier trad and canyoneering routes. I've done all of the leading, and we've done things like Cat in the Hat (5.6), Cathedral Peak, (easy 5.6), North Ridge of Mount Conness (4th class), some 5.6ish lover's leap routes (Pop Bottle, Deception, Bear's Reach) and others in the same range of difficulty. We've also done "America's only Via Ferrata", or Angel's Landing in Zion.


I'd say that if you've led the trad routes above, then you should find almost all Dolomite ferratas well within your range. Gangolf is right that because the ferratas are in the alpine terrain there are "easy" sections of walking on exposed, scree-covered ledges that require care, and these may actually be the more dangerous sections. But anybody who has done technical multi-pitch rock climbing in an alpine environment should also be used to that.

As a climber you'll be tempted to avoid touching the metal and use rock handholds. This is indeed rewarding. But make no mistake, any kind of fall on a via ferrata would be catastrophic due to the forces involved. When in doubt, "aid" up by pulling on the cable and using all available metal stemples, etc.

I recommend the "Tridentina" ferrata, at the Groednerjoch (Pass) above Wolkenstein if you are in the western Dolomites (go early or late to avoid a crowd). Near Cortina I quite enjoyed the Col Rosa ferrata, whose trail starts at the campground on the north side of town. That is a great one to do early in the morning, here is the view:

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Re: How hard are via ferratas?

Postby chugach mtn boy » Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:01 am

MVS is right, you'll be pretty comfortable given where you've been. Here are a few specific comparisons that may correspond to things in your book. All these comparisons are made on the assumption that you'll use the rungs or cables as holds, because these routes are laid out with that assumption--sometimes they go over blank or overhanging terrain and they're not really trying to follow a free climbing line.

Torre di Toblin by Drei Zinnen/Locatelli hut: The harder via on this pinnacle probably corresponds to YDS 4th class climbing, all of it protected. The easier one is 3rd class, mostly protected. http://www.summitpost.org/both-ferratas/334447

Monte Paterno: The final via above Forcella di Camoscio to the actual summit is like doing easy 4th class. There's some un-cabled 3rd class and some loose stuff up there--the main hazard is not so much you falling off as the rocks others might knock off. The via down the tunnels to Locatelli (Via ferrata De Luca) is mostly class 1-2, a little 3; you probably won't bother to clip. http://www.summitpost.org/paternkofel-monte-paterno/152413

Che Guevara: A little 4th right at the start of the cable, mostly cl. 2-3. No real exposure where not protected.
http://www.summitpost.org/via-ferrata-che-guevara/339734

Cima Capi: Maybe 3rd class, but a lot of people would call it class 2 scrambling. All protected.
http://www.summitpost.org/fausto-susatti-via-ferrata-cima-capi/289694

These routes are all lots of fun because they're gorgeous and spectacular, but the climbing won't challenge you and you'll probably find you can move right along between photo ops ;).
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Re: How hard are via ferratas?

Postby mvs » Wed Jul 11, 2012 9:22 pm

Yep, right Chugach, that is good advice. Actually, I would say to the OP that he and his climbing partner should do some of the classic roped rock climbs in the Dolomites which are out of this world. Via ferratas are fun, but they pale in comparison, and as a climber you soon realize that they belong in the hiking category...something worth doing...but if you have good weather and an experienced partner you should really sample the rock climbs. The Dolomites are many things, a great place for hiking is one of them. But climbing the rock is by far the greatest thing there, and it's really worth bringing your rope and a small rack. (my highly opinioned, one-sided opinion of course!).

If you climb the Vinatzer on the 3rd Sella Tower, or one of the Tofana Pilastros, or "Via Miriam" on the Torre Grande, or any of hundreds of great rock climbs (think of the Vajolet Towers...easy but incredibly exposed and beautiful!), you will go home and dream about your next chance to return. I can say with a straight face that the Dolomites are amazing enough for the alpine-oriented rock climber that it's worth dropping your old life and moving near them.

Here are two pictures from last weekend in Cortina, on "Via Finlandia (VI+)" and "Via Miriam (V+)":

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