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.

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My Climbing 2013 in Pictures

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