Via Ferrata Grades

The difficulty levels of via Ferrata in Italy, Austria, Germany

Delve into the intricacies of Via Ferrata grades with me. Much like climbing grades, different countries employ diverse scales to assess the difficulty of via ferrata. The difficulty of the via ferrata depends primarily on the steepness of the rock wall and the presence of holds and supports, both natural and artificial.

In the Dolomites, it is crucial to distinguish between the “Sentiero Ferrato” and the “Via Ferrata”: the former is designed to facilitate dangerous and exposed sections of hiking trails, sometimes slippery but without vertical walls. The Via Ferrata, on the other hand, winds its way along walls that can be more or less steep, and at times even overhanging. The very easy ferrata are commonly referred to as “Sentiero Ferrato,” while the more challenging ones are designated as “Vie Ferrate.”

Regrettably, there exists no universally adopted standard among UIAA members. Within this discourse, we will unravel the distinctions in the difficulty levels of Ferrata as applied in Italy, Austria, and Germany.

Italian Scale: Facing Challenges with Completeness

In Italy, the classification of via ferrata difficulty is based on five main values that consider the overall challenges of the route: F (easy), PD (slightly/moderately difficult), D (difficult), TD (very difficult), and ED (extremely difficult). This scale takes into account the global challenges of the excursion rather than focusing solely on specific difficulties of the via ferrata. To this initial classification, four additional descriptions are added, defining specific characteristics of the route: terrain type, path safety (metal cable, ladders, bridges, etc.), physical exertion, and required equipment.

Austrian Scale: Alphabetical Order

The Austrian classification, originating from a series of Ferrata guidebooks written by Kurt Schall, follows an alphabetical order approach. Categories range from A (easy) to E (extremely difficult), with the addition of the letter F to indicate difficulty levels beyond extremely difficult. Austrian via Ferrata grades have also appeared on signs at the beginning of many via ferrata in Italy, especially in Trentino – Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

German Scale: Husler’s Approach

The German classification, the Husler scale, has started gaining popularity in Italy. Characterized by the suffix letter K (Klettersteig, meaning “via ferrata” in German), the scale assigns numbers from 1 to 6 to indicate the difficulty of the route, where 1 represents an easy path and 6 denotes an extremely challenging undertaking.


Understanding the nuances of each classification allows enthusiasts to successfully tackle routes, keeping the passion for climbing and exploration alive. Whether you’re traversing Italian, Austrian, or German Via Ferrata, each ascent offers a unique opportunity for connection with nature and personal growth.


The scale of the Difficulty Levels of Via Ferrata

ITALY AUSTRIA GERMANY TERRAIN SAFETY ABILITY EQUIPMENT
Easy (F)A
K1 Flat to steep, mostly rocky or interspersed with rocks, exposed passages possible Wire ropes, chains, iron clamps, individual short ladders. Ascent is largely possible without the use of safety devices. Steady footing and a head for heights recommended Via ferrata equipment recommended. Experienced walkers may not require safety equipment.
Moderately difficult (PD)B
K2 Steep rocky terrain, some small steps, exposed sites Wire ropes, chains, iron clips, stepping pins, longer, possibly vertical ladders. Difficulties without safety elements up to III (UIAA). Steady footing and a head for heights, good condition, some power and endurance in arms and legs Via ferrata equipment recommended
Difficult (D)C
K3 Steep to very steep rocky terrain, mainly small steps, longer potentially very often exposed passages Wire ropes, iron clamps, stepping pins, longer or overhanging ladders. Clamps and pins can also be further apart. In vertical sections partly only wire rope. Difficulties without safety elements up to IV (UIAA). Steady footing and a head for heights, good condition, power and endurance in arms and legs Via ferrata equipment strongly recommended, untrained children may have to take the rope
Very difficult (TD) D
K4 Vertical, often overhanging terrain, mostly very exposed Wire rope, iron clamps and stepping pins are often far apart. On exposed and steep places often just a wire rope. Enough strength in arms and hands, as longer vertical to overhanging areas and smaller climbing areas up to II /UIAA) possible. Via ferrata equipment obligatory, even experienced via ferrata climbers may require the use of a rope. Not suitable for beginners and children!
Very hard (ED) E
K5 Vertical to overhanging, exposed throughout, very small steps or slab climbing Wire rope, iron clamps and stepping pins are often far apart. On exposed and steep places often just a wire rope. Often combined with scrambling. A lot of strength in hands (fingers), arms and legs, increased level of condition, mobility. Via ferrata equipment obligatory, rope teamwork is worth considering, especially when touring places without safety devices. Not suitable for beginners and children!
F
K6 Primarily overhanging, exposed, very small steps or slab climbing Wire rope, iron clamps and stepping pins are often far apart. Combined with scrambling. Good climbing technique is imperative, a lot of strength in hands (fingers), arms and legs, increased level of condition, mobility Via ferrata equipment obligatory, top rope climbing equipment recommend. Not recommend for people who cannot manage difficulty level E without problems.

After mastering the Via Ferrata grades, delve deeper into the topic and learn everything there is to know about ferrata in the Dolomites.