The word Via Ferrata is Italian and means “Iron Path”, which gives us a little insight into the origin of these fixed-rope routes: La Grande Guerre, and the grim battle between the Italians against the Austria-Hungary Empire in the mountains of the Dolomites and the surrounding Alps. Both sides fought for the control of the summits in order to observe and strafe the enemy. These iron ladders, pegs, staples and ropes were fixed to the mountains to enable faster and easier movement and supply.
After the war these precipitous paths were neglected, but many years later mountaineers begin to equip these paths with steel cables to enable faster travel to their climbing routes. It’s fair to say that since the mid noughties, Via Ferrata has experienced something of a renaissance. Equipped with the latest in safety kit, mountain adrenalin junkies can now explore new attractions in addition to the old, refurbished routes. These include suspension bridges over deep gorges, rocky overhangs next to raging waterfalls, as well as steep traverses and vertiginous climbing, all offer fresh perspectives on the mountains.
Via Ferrata is an ideal day out from the valley, or as part of a hike or from a hut. Especially in the Dolomites, you can hike from Refugio to Refugio and make a few routes part of the trip. Make no mistake, you need a head for heights and a good degree of fitness, but these iron paths are a fantastic way for outdoor enthusiasts without previous climbing experience to experience the thrill of moving in vertical terrain.