Helmets for Big Heads 2

Whether it’s due to excess brains or empty space, I have a larger than average head. This makes it hard to find headwear that fits. Anything marked “one size fits all” does not include me in the definition of “all”. This might be only an annoyance if I were not a rock climber. I need a helmet to protect my head from falling rocks, dropped bits of gear, smacking my head into a cliff when falling off and banging my head against overhangs (which is a habit of mine). If a helmet is to protect my head properly, then it has to fit properly. Unfortunately, there is only a small selection of helmets that will fit my big head.

Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.
Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.

My head is a bit over 62cm in circumference but most climbing helmets on the market only go up to a circumference of 61cm. I don’t think I’m the only climber whose head is bigger than 61cm in circumference and so I have written the following helmet guide for climbers with generous heads. Read more

My Climbing 2015 in Pictures

A Good Turn? Review of Mammut’s Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 via ferrata set

The Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 is Mammut’s top-end via ferrata set. It’s robust, handles well and has some brilliant features, but a swivel joint that doesn’t swivel enough and a couple of simple design issues mean that it isn’t perfect.

Me climbing the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand using the Mammut Tec Step Bionic Turn 2.
Me climbing the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand using the Mammut Tec Step Bionic Turn 2.

Two things persuaded me to buy the Tec Step Bionic Turn 2. The first were the strong safety claims made about it by Mammut. The second was the swivel joint designed to eliminate that annoying problem of your lanyards getting twisted during a climb.

Safety

Mammut states that that the Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 “incorporates the most recent findings from safety research” and that:

  • the lanyards are of “an extremely strong and robust construction”;
  • that the shock absorber that has been optimised to “brake falls even more gently and thus better protect the body”;
  • that the maximum impact force of a fall has been reduced; and
  • that it will still safely hold a fall “in the case of a 180 degree misuse” i.e. a fall when only one carabiner is attached to the cable.

Read more

Climbing a Cathedral and Ringing the Bell on the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand

A little over half way up the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand there is a brass bell hanging from the rock. If you want to ring the bell, then you need to take a detour that traverses the face of the buttress above a sheer drop.  There’s a slightly tricky step to negotiate, before you stand on a very small ledge, hang off the cable with one hand and clatter the clanger in the bell with the other.  It’s a bit surreal and a bit silly, but fun. Ringing that bell feels like you’re declaring to anyone who can hear that you’ve managed to climb this far.

Climbing that far does take quite a lot of effort as the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand throws a few challenges at you. Read more

Small and Perfectly Formed – the Klettersteig Knorren

Valerie climbing the Klettersteig Knorren
Valerie climbing the Klettersteig Knorren

The Knorren is a broken mass of yellow, cream, grey and ochre rock that rises out of the side of its parent mountain, the Penken. One side is made up of steep stone faces, pinnacles and buttresses above a field of boulders and bushes. The other side, facing the valley below, is covered in trees and vegetation. A via ferrata (klettersteig in German) ascends the rock faces of the Knorren by alternating between sometimes strenuous vertical climbing and easier traverses. After reaching the summit, this via ferrata traverses and then descends the spiny crest of the Knorren before negotiating a buttress that stands just apart from the main peak. This via ferrata is easily my favourite of the three I climbed in Austria. It is in a wonderful location with amazing rock and climbing that is fun and occasionally surprising. Read more

A Climb in the Woods on the Klettersteig Huterlaner

Me climbing the Klettersteig Huterlaner.
Me climbing the Klettersteig Huterlaner.

I did my first Austrian via ferrata last week, introducing my brother-in-law Nick and his son Ben to climbing with cables. The Klettersteig Huterlaner was a fun and varied climb with some good views down the Zillertal and of the town of Mayrhofen. As it starts only two minutes walk uphill from the base of the valley and is in the woods, it had a different feel to the mountainous via ferrate I’ve done elsewhere. Read more

Some top via ferrata

The view down as I traversed across the Lauterbrunnen cliffs.
The view down as I traversed across the Lauterbrunnen cliffs.

The Red Bull website has an article by Alison Mann with a list of some of the top via ferrata around the world.  It was flattering to be interviewed by Alison for the article.  Since Alison and I talked, I’ve been curious to see which via ferrata people suggested as some of the best and the article highlights some amazing routes.  Reading about these via ferrata and seeing stunning photos of them really makes we want to get out there to climb.

The article is at:

http://www.redbull.com/en/adventure/stories/1331725297772/8-high-wire-via-ferratas-to-give-you-vertigo

Via Ferrata Accidents – what you don’t know might hurt you

Valerie on the bridge on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini in the Dolomites, Italy.
Valerie on the bridge on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini in the Dolomites, Italy.

If someone asked me what causes accidents on via ferrate, I would only be able to make a few informed guesses. This is because there is surprisingly little readily accessible information on why accidents happen on vie ferrate. This concerns me because understanding why the cause of accidents is essential to preventing them. I’d like there to start a conversation about the causes and prevalence of these accidents as a way of improving understanding and helping people safely enjoy vie ferrate.  As a starting point, I’ll set out what I know and suspect.

Read more

My Climbing 2013 in Pictures

Via Ferrata on the Edge

Me on the 80-metre long suspension bridge on the Murren-Gimmelwald Via Ferrata
Me on the 80-metre long suspension bridge on the Murren-Gimmelwald Via Ferrata

Murren is a pretty village of wooden chalets and hotels perching on slopes covered in woods and meadows.  In the summer, men farm the meadows for hay accompanied by the clanking of cowbells.  Tourists sit in cafes or wander streets kept quiet by a ban on all but electric vehicles.  The Eiger, Monch and outlying peaks of the Jungfrau across the valley provide a dramatic horizon of dark rock and bright snow.  Standing in its centre it’s easy to not realise that this quiet Swiss village comes to an abrupt halt at sheer limestone cliffs that drop hundreds of metres to the bottom of the narrow Lauterbrunnen Valley.  It’s this drop that makes Murren a favourite place for base-jumpers and paragliders.  It’s also along the top of these cliffs that a brilliant via ferrata descends from Murren to the village of Gimmelwald by a route that seems designed to test your nerves. Read more

A Little Bit of the Eiger – the Rotstock Via Ferrata

A ladder on the Rotstock Via Ferrata.  The Eigergletscher Station and Eiger Trail are behind and below.
A ladder on the Rotstock Via Ferrata. The Eigergletscher Station and Eiger Trail are behind and below.

“All the Grindelwald via ferrata are closed.”  The woman at the tourist information office said these words in a firm, brisk tone that indicated that she didn’t realise that I would find them disappointing.  I knew that there was a risk that the long, cold winter might mean that some mountain routes would still be impassable with snow that the hot July sun had not yet melted.  I had started to accept that this might be quite a high risk when I had seen snow clinging to slopes and hiding in gullies as I looked out of the train window on the way in to Grindelwald.  My trip to the tourist information office in Grindelwald had been done in the hope that I would be told my concerns were unfounded because there was one via ferrata around Grindelwald that I particularly wanted to climb.  Not only had the tourist information woman confirmed that I wasn’t wrong, but added that there was also a risk of rock fall.  I could have not let this news stop me from trying to climb, as you can’t, strictly speaking, close a cable and a series of ladders running up a mountain.  However, I know the importance of listening to local advice about mountain conditions if you want to stay safe and so thanked the woman before walking out dejectedly. Read more

Wire and War – the top five vie ferrate for WW1 history

WW1 ruins and a view of Marmolada from the Via delle Trincee.
WW1 ruins and a view of Marmolada from the Via delle Trincee.

Vie ferrate have much of their origins in war.  As the Italians and Austrians fought a war of attrition in the passes, summits and ridges of the Dolomites, they built vie ferrate to help the movement of troops and supplies.  Now these routes are a major leisure activity, with climbers clipping to metal cables fixed to mountainsides to protect them as they climb ladders and scramble over rock.  Via ferrata are an incredibly fun way to explore the mountains and in the Dolomites they also provide one of the best ways of learning about an aspect of World War 1 of which many people are unaware.  Seeing the tunnels, trenches, emplacements and debris of this mountain war can begin to bring to life the hardships and sacrifices of the men who fought on what the Italians called the “il fronte vertical.” Read more

Further Recalled

Today a group of manufacturers have issued new recalls on via ferrata lanyards.  This is the second wave of recalls of this type of equipment in the last six months and relates to a different type of lanyards than in the first wave.  The statements issued by the UIAA (the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) and the manufacturers are clear that the issues with these particular lanyards are potentially fatal.

Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.
Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.

Read more

Wire in the Lakes – the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata

The UK’s first via ferrata is one of the Lake District’s biggest attractions but has also been one of its biggest sources of controversy in the last few years.  How might these controversies, and the quality of the climb, affect your decision to pay to climb this via ferrata?

The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.
The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.

It was probably inevitable that when it opened in 2007 the first via ferrata in the UK would attract some strong opinions.  The system of climbing a mountain using ladders, stemples and occasionally bridges, together with a metal cable to attach to so as to prevent a long fall, could be considered to be more at home in the Alps.  Vie ferrate have their origins in the Alps and they seem more at home among the cable cars and ski pulls that dot those mountains.  Yet a via ferrata had been constructed on Honister Crags to provide a way to climb from a little way above Honister Pass to just below the summit of Fleetwith Pike. Read more