With some grit, the right gear and a measure of mountain confidence, you can enjoy a truly adventurous alternative to the path most travelled with via ferrata.
Attached to cables via a harness with two lanyards keeping you clipped to the ‘ironway’, you climb using metal rungs, pegs, bridges, ladders, and carved steps. It is a truly exhilarating way to reach the summit without the risk of unprotected scrambling or needing major technical climbing and roping abilities.
The origins of via ferrata date back to the nineteenth century, when ladders and cables were used in pathways connecting remote mountain villages. During the First World War, they were a way to stealthily move troops along the craggy ridges and rocks that were used for lookouts on the frontline through the Dolomites and Julian Alps. Nowadays it’s a sport, with the only enemy threat being vertigo or bad weather.
Via ferratas are rated according to their difficulty and can range from routes that are little more than paths with chains in challenging sections to demanding overhangs and strenuous segments requiring strength, skill, and suppleness to traverse the terrain.
You need a helmet, harness (with via ferrata specific additions which can be rented from a tourist office or sports shop for about 20 chf), a pair of gloves (cycling gloves are a good idea) as protection from the rough cables, decent hiking shoes, and weather-appropriate clothing.
So, where can you go if you want to experience the unconventional road to the top?
Via Ferrata Rougemont
An easy intro for complete beginners! Park in (or train to) Rougement and catch the lift up to Videmanette. There are several options for via ferratas from there, the beginner route is ‘Voie 1’. If you’re a newbie, try not to get distracted by the other more challenging options…unless you dare!
Via Ferrata le Pilier or le Face, Moleson
Park at ‘le Moléson’ or catch the bus to Moléson-sur-Gruyères from the Gruyères train station. Take the funicular up to Plan-Francey and follow the hiking path to the start of the via ferrata. You can choose to climb via two options (Le Face being more challenging than the Le Pilier). Once you’ve hiked back down from the summit, you can treat yourself to a go on the summer sleds!
Tip: There’s a combo deal if you rent equipment and buy the lift ticket.
Via Ferrata Rochers de Naye, Montreux
Park at the top of the Col de Jaman (or take the train to Jaman station) and follow hiking signs to the via ferrata. The climb is quite a vertical one in places, with some overhang towards the top. It’s satisfying when you make the final scramble over the edge and meet the ‘traditional’ hikers who wonder where on earth you popped up from.
Tip: Once you’ve taken the most exhilarating way to the summit, you can take the thrilling descent through the inside of the mountain.
Via Ferrata la Tour d’Ai, Leysin
Park (or train to Leysin) and take the cable car up to the Berneuse. You’ll see the Tour D’ai and its cliffside (that’s what you’ll climb up).
From the restaurant, hike steeply down to the little lake and then follow a small trail which almost follows the ski lift line on the left side of the cliff. This will take you up to the start of the climb. The beginning bit has some tricky maneuvers but once you get past those, you can relax into the rhythm of the climbing, and clipping. The hike down is also a bit of a scramble in places, but then you can meet the wider footpath and head back down to Leysin.
Tip: Bring along your mountain bikes and lock them up by the small lake. That way you can descend happily on wheels back to Leysin after the satisfying climb.
Via Ferrata de la Cascade, Les Diablerets
This was the first one I ever did, and it was very memorable, especially because of the zipline at the end (which has since been removed for safety reasons.) It would still be worth the visit though. There’s a car park just before you arrive at the Col de Pillon. From there, the start of the via ferrata is about 20 mins walk away. It’s a strenuous climb, which requires quite a lot of upper body strength and nimble maneuvering. Not for the faint-hearted or beginners.
As ever, always check the forecast before you head out…it’s not a good idea to be attached to metal cables with an electric storm hanging overhead!