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 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 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

Recalling a Crisis

A failure of crucial safety equipment leads to a tragic death.  Major manufacturers issue urgent recalls of the equipment and an emergency meeting of the industry body decides to review safety standards.

If this were a story about a major consumer product, it would be major news.  It’s not.  This is a story about a piece of specialist mountaineering equipment – via ferrata lanyards.   For this reason you won’t find this story mentioned outside the specialist press.  It’s a story with a lot of the features of a crisis.  Although the response to it has been swift, it raises all sorts of questions about the regulation of mountain sports and the accessibility of the mountains to the public.

Climbers on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini

Vie ferrate

Vie ferrate are a way of enabling access to mountainous areas that would normally only be accessible to experienced mountaineers or rock climbers.  These “iron roads” have a mixture of attachments to the rock to help people climb past the sections where the rock climbing is a bit harder. Read more

Rocking stag weekend

The Plan

Rock climbing certainly had to be part of it.  My best man, Jim, and I agreed that pretty early on.  My stag do would have to involve adventure and I’m a keen climber, plus I had met all of my friends who would be on the trip through rock climbing.  However, there were some issues with this idea.

Climbing on Glaciated Slab in Borrowdale.

My brother isn’t a climber and had been less than enthusiastic when I had taken him to a climbing wall in the past.  My friends also tend to be wall and sport climbers, with little experience of the trad climbing that is more common in the UK.  The solution, I thought, was to find somewhere with some easier, single pitch climbs on which I could set up a top rope.

I also thought this would be a great opportunity to try out something I’d been interested in doing for a while – the via ferrata at Honister Slate Mine in the Lake District.  I’ve done lots of via ferrata in Italy and I was curious to try out England’s first via ferrata.  Climbing on ladders and stemples (i.e. big staples punched into the rock) while attached to a safety cable also seemed more accessible than full rock climbing, while still being a mountain experience and adventurous.

The plan was to do the via ferrata on the Saturday and rock climb on the Sunday.  To get round the fact that my friends don’t own tents, we would stay in a yurt.  This was something else I’d been interested to try now that there are a few companies providing them as a more glamorous alternative to camping.

In a big estate car, we would drive up to Seatoller (in Borrowdale and just below the Honister Pass) on the Friday night and then be ready to go the next morning.

This was the plan, but plans don’t always go as you expect. Read more

UPDATE – Totally Recalled

It’s been reported that an emergency meeting of the Safety Commission of the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme – International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) will be held this week because of concerns over the safety of via ferrata lanyards from several manufacturers.

My Edelrid via ferrata lanyards in use

A couple of weeks ago Edelrid recalled some of its via ferrata lanyards after a fatal accident on a via ferrata in Austria.  Since then, manufacturers Wild Country, AustriAlpin, Singing Rock, Climbing Technology and Edelweiss have all issued their own recalls on their via ferrata lanyards.  Apparently, initial research is suggesting that grit in intensively used, elasticated lanyards abrades the nylon and causes the lanyards to fail to hold a falling climber.

I did a post on the original Edelrid recall as I think it is intriguing how much trust climbers and mountaineers put in the equipment they use and the people who make it.  My feeling is that we can probably trust manufacturers to warn us if our gear is potentially unsafe because of the premium their customers put on safety.

This wave of recalls shows there is a widespread problem with a particular type of product, but it’s not a universal recall of all via ferrata lanyards.  Read more

Totally Recalled

Earlier this week equipment manufacturer Edelrid issued a product recall for a selection of their via ferrata lanyards.  This recall follows a fatal via ferrata accident a couple of weeks ago.  Apparently, investigations have so far established an association between increased use of these lanyards and a weakening of their elasticated webbing.  As the Edelrid lanyards involved in this accident had apparently been rented, it is quite possible that they had seen greater than usual use.  However, the actual cause of the accident has not yet been established and Edelrid have issued the product recall as a precaution.

Using my Edelrid lanyards on the Via Ferrata Michielli Strobel.

Every so often you see product recalls for mountaineering equipment.  In the last year, for example, Petzl has issued product recalls for Scorpio via ferrata lanyards and some GriGri 2 belay devices.  Most of the time I just glance at these notices, but the Edelrid notice grabbed my attention because I’ve used Edelrid lanyards for the last couple of years.  My model isn’t covered by the recall and so I’m saved the hassle of returning the set for inspection and repair.  But this particular recall has got me thinking about is the trust we place in both our gear and the people who make it. Read more

Via Ferrata Virgins – getting started at via ferrata

If you have never done a via ferrata before, then there are some things you need to know and consider to have fun and stay safe.

Me on the Via Ferrata Lamon.

Your level of experience

If you are a confident rock climber or a hiker with experience of scrambling, then you should feel comfortable with much of the practice of via ferrata.  You are also likely to have the essential skills and knowledge that comes from being in the mountains that you need to keep you safe.  However, even with these skills and knowledge, I would recommend getting yourself familiar with what a via ferrata involves before trying one.

Even though I came to via ferrata with rock climbing, scrambling and hiking experience, I found reading up on the subject and speaking with friends I knew who had done via ferrata to be really useful.  Read more