Via ferrata in the Dolomites

The ultimate online guide for Ferrata in the Dolomites

Hi! Welcome to the ultimate online guide for the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites. If you’re looking for information on Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, you’re in the right place. I am a certified mountain guide, born and raised in the heart of the Dolomites, and I climbed my first Via Ferrata in the Dolomites when I was a child.

For many years, I have been guiding clients on some of the most beautiful via Ferrata routes in the Dolomites, so I am very familiar with these amazing routes. Additionally, along with my colleagues, I have built and maintained via Ferrata here in Cortina d’Ampezzo for many years.

So, you can trust that all the information provided about Via Ferrata in the Dolomites comes from a reliable and secure source!

That said, let’s begin to explore the world of via Ferrata, learning what they are, what equipment is needed, what the dangers in via Ferrata are and how to avoid them, and much more.

Topics about Via Ferrata

I’ve divided my advice on via Ferrata into four main topics.
Click on the topic you want to explore further, or scroll down to navigate the site and discover other useful information about Via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

  1. What is a Via Ferrata?
  2. History and origin of via Ferrata.
  3. Technique and advice.
  4. Difficulty and ranking system.

More useful information about Via Ferrata in the Dolomites


What does Via Ferrata mean?

The term ‘Via Ferrata‘ (Italian for ‘iron way’) refers to a mountain trail that is outfitted with steel cables, ladders, and various fixed anchors, including wooden walkways and suspended bridges.

This artificial infrastructure transforms what would be a perilous route into an accessible adventure, even for those with limited climbing experience. It enables individuals unfamiliar with advanced climbing techniques to traverse ledges, ascend vertical rock walls, and reach mountain peaks.

To minimize the risk of fatal falls, a steel cable runs alongside the trail, providing a secure attachment point for climbers through the use of a Ferrata Set. Winding along ledges, scaling vertical rock formations, and navigating exposed mountainsides, this artificial equipment opens up mountain peaks to individuals with a good level of fitness, offering a thrilling yet safe experience.


History and Origins of Ferrata in Dolomites

The concept of improving access to a hill, peak, or mountain hut has a long history. As early as 1492, Antoine de Ville, a captain in the French Army, mentioned using a ladder to reach the summit of Mont Aguille.

However, it wasn’t until 1880 that the first Italian via Ferrata was established. The Alpine Guides of Madonna di Campiglio in the Western Dolomites equipped the eastern side of Cima Brenta to facilitate climbing for their clients.

In the subsequent years, particularly in the Eastern Alps, numerous mountain routes were equipped to allow passage for mountain troops in particularly inaccessible areas, serving the purpose of controlling the war front. Many ferrata, especially in the Italian Dolomites, often have a military origin and were established during the challenging frontier war fought between 1915 and 1918.

The first Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

A little-known fact: the first Ferrata in Cortina, known as ‘the Queen of the Dolomites,’ was established in 1907, thanks to the ingenuity of Luigi Gilarduzzi, also known as “Minighèl”. A professional blacksmith, he served as the keeper of the former Wolf von Glanwell Hut, situated in the Travenanzes Valley and destroyed by Italian artillery in August 1915.

This man realized that he could build a more direct and quicker route to the Cantore Hut (today the Giussani Hut). And so, by himself, he forged and placed almost 200 iron pins on the vertical wall. Today, the Ferrata is known as “Minighel’s Ladder“.

Tourism has significantly increased the value of the Ferrata in the Dolomites. Today, the use of via Ferrata is an activity accessible to all, an activity that involves navigating a sporting route spread across rocky walls, equipped with cables, steps, ladders, and other elements designed to facilitate the climb while ensuring safety.


How do you climb a Ferrata in the Dolomites?

How do you climb a Ferrata? Six important things to know to climb a Ferrata in the Dolomites.

  1. Get ready

    Before embarking on the Ferrata, study the route on the map and inquire with locals about potential escape routes. Before beginning the ascent, ensure you wear the climbing harness, via Ferrata lanyard, and helmet in an area protected from any potential rockfall caused by climbers above. It’s advisable to start early to avoid queues!
    Vie ferrata map

  2. Hooking and unhooking the carabiners

    On the Ferrata, one progresses in self-belay, which means connecting directly to the anchoring cable using the two carabiners of the lanyard. A single carabiner is not sufficient to secure oneself safely because the anchoring cable is fixed to the wall with pins that prevent the carabiner from passing through. It is, therefore, necessary to unhook from the cable and reattach immediately after passing the pin. Using only one carabiner in this phase would leave one unsecured to the wall, with obvious safety risks. Using two carabiners, however, allows one to remain constantly attached to the anchoring cables. The two carabiners must be used consecutively, unhooking the second only when the first has already been hooked past the pin.
    Carabiner for via ferrata.

  3. One hand must hang on to the cable

    One hand must grip the cable, while the other can utilize holds provided by the rock. Keep the two carabiners consistently positioned in front of the hand following the cable, ensuring they are readily accessible at all times. Wearing Ferrata gloves and carrying a small rucksack can enhance your overall experience for added comfort.
    Hold the rope.

  4. Utilize your feet and legs

    Employing your feet and legs is crucial for effective progression on the Ferrata, reducing the strain on your arms and preventing rapid fatigue. Instead of relying solely on arm strength, leverage your legs to push yourself upward, minimizing the exertion on the cable with your arms. This not only conserves energy but also enhances your overall endurance and comfort during the ascent.

    Use your legs.

  5. Keep the distance

    Two climbers should never find themselves on the same segment of Ferrata (the portion of cable between two successive pins). In case of a fall from the first climber, the second climber would also be swept away with consequences easy to imagine.

    Distance

  6. Don’t skimp on the purchase of the Ferrata Set

    Invest in high-quality equipment because, in the end, it could save your life in the event of a fall. When buying the Ferrata Set, make sure to choose one with carabiners featuring an automatic locking safety mechanism, rather than a screw gate. Remember that after any fall, it is essential to replace the Ferrata lanyard.

    Don't skimp on the purchase of the via ferrata set


Difficulty & Ranking System

The difficulty of a via ferrata primarily stems from the steepness of the wall and the availability of holds and supports, whether natural or artificial. The more accessible routes are commonly referred to as Sentiero Ferrato (Iron Trail), whereas the more challenging ones are designated as Via ferrata.

It’s essential to emphasize that technical difficulty is just one facet of the overall challenge posed by a Ferrata.

Moreover, the length of the route contributes to its level of difficulty. Consider the ‘Sentiero ferrato Ivano Dibona’ on Monte Cristallo, for instance. This panoramic Ferrata lacks significant technical challenges, but statistics reveal it as a location with the highest number of rescues. Despite its ease, it is an extensive Ferrata that tests the physical endurance of those who may not be adequately fit. Additionally, despite guidebook descriptions categorizing it as an easy route, it attracts a diverse range of hikers, many of whom set out late in the morning with often insufficient equipment.

Navigating via Ferrata in the Dolomites introduces enthusiasts to a spectrum of challenges, where technical intricacies, route length, and physical stamina collectively contribute to the overall difficulty of the experience.

Ranking system of Ferrata routes in the Dolomites

Just like climbing, a Via Ferrata ranking system has been set up to assign difficulty levels to them.

DIFFICULTY FERRATA CHARACTERISTICS
EASYNot particularly exposed Ferrata, unchallenging with long sections on footpaths.
SLIGHTLY DIFFICULTSome via ferrata are occasionally long and exposed, but they demand only limited strength, facilitated by the presence of safety wires.
DIFFICULTFerrata with some sections of overhanging rock face. The Ferrata requires physical strength and fitness. Exposed for long sections.
VERY DIFFICULTA Ferrata that demands significant agility, technical skill, upper body strength, and absolute fearlessness of heights.
EXTREMELY DIFFICULTAs well as being very difficult (see above) the physical fitness and strength required are greater in that the difficult sections are long and continuous. At times, Ferratas labeled as ‘extremely difficult’ have been intentionally designed to push participants to their limits.

If you want to delve deeper into the topic, take a look at the page dedicated to the difficulty grades of via Ferrata.


Do you want to be at ease and learn more about Ferrata routes in the Dolomites?

Don’t forget, however, that if you are a beginner and have no experience on ‘vertical terrain,’ hiring a mountain guide will not only be a safety guarantee but is also the best way to learn how to use the technical equipment, get an insight into the tricks of the trade, and climb via ferrata in the Dolomites on your own. Familiarizing yourself with the unique challenges and breathtaking landscapes of via Ferrata in the Dolomites is not only an adventure but also an opportunity to gain valuable skills under the guidance of a seasoned professional.