Sunday, November 04, 2007

Via Ferrata in Andorra

The rest of the piccies are here.

While Djanira was away in Madagascar over the summer, I popped back to London for a week or so, and one afternoon I ended up in Stanfords on Long Acre (as you do) where I happened upon a newish Cicerone guidebook entitled "The Mountains of Andorra". Within seconds of picking it up I was walking to the counter - it is a well-written summary of about 50 walks in the Andorran Pyrannees, and just what I was looking for. But the really interesting stuff was at the end of the book, a chapter describing the Via Ferrata of Andorra.

Via Ferrata is a style of climbing which, to paraphrase the guidebook description, "goes against the primary rule of the mountains (leave only footprints, take only photographs), but there is no denying it is a lot of fun". Essentially, a via ferrata ("iron way") is a metal cable which has been laid or strung up the side of mountain, for the purpose of the safety of people who wish to climb it. Basically, you clip a carabiner, attached to your climbing harness via a metre of rope to the cable, so if you happen to fall, the cable saves you from doing so to your death. The story goes that the original via ferrata were created to enable the Italian army to rapidly cross the Dolomites, and it is there that this style of mountaineering is still most famous (though, thanks to Helicopters, the army doesn't use them any more). Yet as the popularity of climbing and mountain sports in general increases, many other areas (such as Andorra) are spending the time and money creating Via Ferrata to increase tourism and boost the economy.

The construction of the Andorran ferrata has been quite a success. As a country, Andorra is blessed with a vast quantity of rock (it is right the middle of Pyrannees) but unfortunately much of it is quite shattered and not so suitable for pure rock-climbing. This is where the Via Ferrata comes in, as it lets you link the good bits of climbing by letting you quickly and safely scramble over the less attractive sections (you climb Ferrata with light walking boots). They are very generously equipped with metal rungs (more so than in the dolomites, so I've heard) so that if you can climb a ladder, you can reach the top. However, what this means is that they lead you into wildly overhanging and exposed territory (in climbing terms, places you'd need to be leading E-something to get to) and they are not for the faint of heart or those without a head for heights.

This weekend was a bank holiday weekend and so DJ and I spent four days in Andorra with some friends, did three via ferrata and a Very Long Walk. It was completely awesome, the last day in particular leading us up a mountain that is essentially one large cliff, finishing off with a tightrope suspension bridge. I say again, it was completely awesome, and we are hooked on this via ferrata stuff. It's going to have wait for a while now though as, despite this weekend's good weather, the first snows have reached Andorra already and everybody's fingers are crossed for a good ski-season. Still, there's no reason the ferrata can't be done in the snow!


Jake Stacey said...

"Hooked on this Via Ferrata stuff"

I thought that was the point?

Alun said...


Anonymous said...

Great blog Als, shame on me for not reading it before. Dave (Bro)