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. Moreover, 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.

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.


Topics about Via Ferrata

I’ve grouped my via ferrata advice into three main sections: Equipment, Techniques and Tips, and Difficulty Scale. If you’d like more details, scroll to the bottom of the page to find a list of topics about via Ferrata in the Dolomites. Click on any topic to dive deeper, or simply scroll down to explore the site for more useful information on via Ferrata in the Dolomites.


Ferrata equipment: what gear is required?

In addition to the standard gear required for mountain hiking, such as appropriate clothing, backpack, first aid kit, food, and drink, embarking on a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites demands specific Ferrata equipment to ensure safety. This specialized gear includes a helmet, harness, ferrata lanyard, and ferrata gloves. While not mandatory, ferrata gloves prove beneficial for shielding your skin against both the cold and potential abrasions.

The shoes must be chosen carefully, being another important element of the equipment. A headlamp, ice axe, and crampons are sometimes indispensable, but it depends on which Ferrata you intend to climb and the time of the year. But let’s see in detail what characteristics the individual elements that make up the Ferrata equipment must have.

FERRATA HELMET

The helmet is just a mandatory piece of equipment. It is essential to be able to safely climb the Ferrata.

Contrary to the widespread belief that a climbing helmet serves only to protect your head from falling rocks, its role extends well beyond such scenarios. A high-quality climbing helmet is not only a guardian against potential rock hazards but also a crucial safeguard in the event of a fall.

When embarking on a challenging venture like a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, the importance of a reliable climbing helmet becomes even more apparent. It becomes an essential piece of Ferrata gear, offering protection not just from overhead rockfall but also minimizing the impact in case of a fall. In the dynamic and unpredictable terrain of Ferrata in the Dolomites, a properly fitted and sturdy climbing helmet serves as a vital defense, enhancing both safety and confidence during the ascent.

Remember, your climbing helmet is not merely an accessory; it is a key component that contributes significantly to your overall safety, making it an indispensable companion for any adventure, especially on challenging routes like a Ferrata in the Dolomites.

What are climbing helmets made of? Today, most shells are made out of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS).
There are three main categories of helmets:

1 – Hardshell helmet.
2 – Foam shell helmets / In-mold helmets.
3 – Hybrid shell helmets.

For via Ferrata, I suggest a robust hardshell helmet.


HARNESS

If you’re gearing up for your adventure and planning to climb a Ferrata in the Dolomites, a harness is another essential piece of equipment. There are various types of climbing harnesses available, but primarily, there are two different types: the sit harness and the full-body harness.

The harness I recommend is the sit (or sitting) harness. A sit harness typically comprises a waist belt and two leg loops connected at the front of the hips through a permanent webbing loop known as a belay loop. These harnesses, available for both men and women, are widely used due to their ability to provide a broad range of movement while ensuring a high level of safety.

On the other hand, the full-body harness combines the features of a sit harness, offering support to the hips and upper legs, with a chest harness that supports the shoulders and chest. While less comfortable than the sit harness, it becomes impractical when putting on or taking off a fleece or windbreaker.

Full-body harnesses are most commonly employed in industrial and rescue scenarios and are also used by small children instead of a sit harness, which is easier to slip out of. They are the preferred choice for children, but for adults, this type of harness is generally not recommended. The exception is when carrying a heavy backpack or load, in which case a full-body harness might be a better choice.

To summarize, for most climbing and via ferrata activities in the Dolomites, a sit harness is the preferred and more comfortable option for adults, providing an excellent balance between mobility and safety.


VIA FERRATA GEAR: THE IMPORTANCE OF A LANYARD!

The Ferrata lanyard is what you use to connect yourself to the iron rope and fixtures attached to the mountain or rock. It is a purpose-made device consisting of short lengths of rope, carabiners, and an energy absorber.

In rock climbing, the dynamic rope performs adequately the function of an elastic stop in case of a fall, but in a via ferrata, since one travels singly, the Ferrata lanyard has two very short rope lengths: this creates a high Fall Factor. Fall factor and impact force are two important concepts in the physics of climbing falls.

To understand a climbing fall, it is important to recall a basic law of physics: when an object falls, it stores energy. The Fall Factor “Fc” is the ratio of the height of the fall to the length of rope used to stop the fall. In a normal roped and belayed rock climb, the maximum fall factor one can reach is 2. On a via ferrata, however, the Fall Factor can be significantly higher than 2. Learn more about the Fall factor.

Without going into arcane technical details, one has to realize that the higher the Fall Factor, the graver the consequences of a fall. To minimize these consequences, the two short rope lengths are equipped with a braking device that absorbs the energy of the fall and drastically reduces the Fall Factor.

A great product that I recommend is the Kinetic Gyro Rewind Pro. Renowned German magazines Alpin and Bergsteiger dedicated their attention to Ferrata lanyards and bestowed awards upon the CAMP Kinetic Gyro Rewind Pro. The Gyro system on the CAMP Ferrata lanyard was recognized as the best anti-tangling system available in the market.

Another highly recommended product is the one produced by Edelrid, the Cable Comfort VI. A high-end Ferrata lanyard with high-strength elastic arms and exceptional ease of use. Compliant with the new European safety standard for Ferrata kits. Similar to the Kinetic Gyro Pro, this Ferrata lanyard is also equipped with an integrated swivel component that prevents the ends from twisting during use.

How is a Ferrata lanyard composed?

A Ferrata lanyard is composed of several components, including:

  1. Carabiners: These are used to attach the lanyard to the steel cable of the via Ferrata.
  2. Elasticated Arms: These are flexible arms that allow for freedom of movement while maintaining a connection to the cable.
  3. Swivel: The Swivel is a rotating ring that prevents the entanglement of the arms.
  4. Shock Absorber: This component dampens the forces in the event of a fall, enhancing safety.
  5. Tie-in Loop: This loop is used to connect the Ferrata lanyard to the climber’s harness.
Ferrata Set for via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

These components work together to provide security and flexibility for individuals navigating via Ferrata.

How does the energy absorber of a Ferrata lanyard work?

The core element of a Ferrata lanyard is the shock absorber. It lengthens the braking distance and thus reduces the forces during a fall. The most common construction of shock absorbers is a progressive-tear energy absorber, which consists of two webbings specially sewn together to allow progressive tearing in case of a fall.

WARNING !

Many tests have shown that in case of a fall, the lack of a proper braking device can result in the breaking of the carabiners and, in some cases, the breaking of the rope segment. Have a look at this video – it is in German, but the pictures speak for themselves 🙂
It is not that uncommon to see people climbingng a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites using normal rock climbing slings with a couple of carabiners attached and/or quickdraws to protect them in the event of a fall. Such jerry-rigged setups will not save someone if they fall off a Ferrata because they will not be able to take the fall factors involved. Do not copy these people!


CARABINERS

Before making a purchase, pay close attention to details, such as the carabiner used in the Ferrata lanyard. Ensure that the set you choose provides a carabiner with handling that suits your preferences.

The locking system mustn’t be of screw-lock variety. A good example of carabiners to use is the Tango, produced by KONG, and Horai, produced by CAMP.

The Horai stands out as an exceptionally robust Ferrata carabiner, boasting an ergonomic design for enhanced grip and improved handling. With a generous gate opening, unique inner geometry, and keylock nose, it simplifies the process of clipping and unclipping from cables and anchors.

Via ferrata carabiners
Tango and Horai carabiners

As for the Kong Tango, its wide opening allows for the attachment of even large-diameter cables. The ergonomic shape, the optimal grip, and the opening system allow you to attach and release the carabiner with just one hand.

For both the Tango and Horai, the user-friendly locking mechanism ensures ease of use and optimal safety — the gate opens by squeezing the back lever and gate together simultaneously.


FERRATA GLOVES

Via Ferrata gloves prove to be an invaluable accessory, particularly in recent times in the Dolomites. The transition from old metal cables to thicker ones, while enhancing grip, has introduced a new challenge. The increased thickness, though providing better traction, also brings about a coarser surface that has the potential to cause blisters on the hands.

In the pursuit of a seamless and enjoyable Ferrata experience in the Dolomites, I emphasize the importance of including a pair of gloves in your Ferrata gear. Even a minor injury, if left unattended, can escalate into a significant impediment, rendering the climb arduous and perilous. To preemptively mitigate this concern, I strongly advocate for the use of Ferrata gloves. These gloves not only ensure a secure grip on the Ferrata cable but also act as a protective barrier, shielding your hands from both injury and the biting cold, enhancing both safety and comfort during your ascent.

At the shops, you can find two types of via ferrata gloves: half-finger or full-finger.

While most vendors recommend half-finger gloves, I personally prefer and always use the full-finger ones.

Click on the images to buy online (Amazon) a pair of Ferrata gloves!

Half-finger gloves for via ferrata in the Dolomites.
Gloves for via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

Disclaimer: Guide Dolomiti participates in the Amazon Affiliate Program and receives a small percentage on purchases made through the links on the site. Affiliation with Amazon does not increase the price of the product, but it is a form of support for the site. It allows me to improve the content and quality of the site day by day.


FERRATA SHOES

The pivotal element of your mountain attire undoubtedly resides in your choice of footwear. Exercise caution and steer clear of venturing into the mountains with sneakers; instead, I highly recommend opting for approach shoes.

When considering approach shoes, meticulous attention to details such as the fit, binding, and robustness of the sole’s edge becomes crucial.

Look for a profile featuring a ‘Climbing Zone’ at the toe, ensuring optimal sensitivity and friction on vertical walls—qualities essential for tackling challenging terrains like a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

My steadfast sponsor, Scarpa, stands out as a brand synonymous with excellence. They provide me with not only top-notch approach shoes but also climbing shoes and ski boots. In a single word: exceptional!

I have a profound admiration for SCARPA boots, appreciating their high level of safety and durability. The continuous stream of technical innovations ensures that their products are well-suited for every path, especially vital when undertaking ventures like a Ferrata in the Dolomites. Trust in SCARPA—where innovation meets reliability.


HEADLAMP, ICE AXE and CRAMPONS

Speaking of Via Ferrata equipment, it’s worth noting that ice axe and crampons can sometimes be useful. This holds particularly true at the onset of the season when snow persists on the highest peaks and the northern slopes of the mountains. What might be an uncomplicated trail can swiftly transform into a challenging and hazardous terrain when snow or ice is present. Carrying appropriate equipment becomes paramount in such scenarios, potentially serving as a lifesaver.

Moreover, when venturing into the captivating Ferrata routes in the Dolomites, being equipped with an ice axe and crampons becomes especially crucial. The Dolomites, known for their breathtaking but challenging rock faces, can present unexpected icy conditions, demanding preparedness to ensure a safe and enjoyable ascent.

Building upon the essentials, a headlamp evolves into a crucial companion for those enthusiastic about delving into the labyrinthine tunnels meticulously excavated by the military during WWI.

As these subterranean passages intricately weave through the heart of the Dolomites, providing an unparalleled historical perspective, a dependable headlamp transcends its practical role, transforming into a portal that opens the door to a captivating journey through time.


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.


More useful information about Via Ferrata in the Dolomites