I had always wanted to do via ferrata, but somehow never quite got round to it. We were always busy rope climbing or simply hiking to opt for a via ferrata. For those who are unaware, via ferrata’s are a long and spiralling system of iron walkways that spread across the northern mountainous regions of Italy, Austria, Germany & Switzerland and were used during the war time to help move goods and people across the borders under the relative covers of the craggy tops.
It was early September though and the perfect conditions, the baking August had passed and there wasn’t yet oodles of rain or freezing temperatures. I had rounded up a few friends who had wanted to do a via ferrata for a long time too, luckily one with a car to get us there. Upon a good spot of research, we found an ideal ‘moderate’ (note moderate as I will come back to that later!) via ferrata route starting in Riva Del Garda, which was not too far away from Milan. The majority of via ferrata’s in Italy seem to be in the Dolomites, which is a bit of a stretch for a day trip.
The guidance we found on the Garda tourism and via ferrata dedicated sites suggested that whilst this was not the easiest, it also was not the most difficult. It had around a 5km total distance, with 1200m of total ascent. This wasn’t inconsiderable but the presence of the ladders should make the meters of ascent a little less arduous.
We set off from the base of the hike right in the town, after a few traffic delays, seemingly caused by the last burst of summer tourism in that region of Italy. The path zig-zagged up the hill, ascending continuously without many deviations. There was a small castle with a view point on the way, where various suspiciously glamorous and non sweaty individuals seemed to have their cameras out. Continuing the ascent to a fork in the path, we dejectedly realised that there was indeed a funicular that could’ve aided us with the initial, rather sweaty, climb up.
Upon reaching a refuge, the path continued weaving up to a helipad where the via ferrata chains started. We donned our harnesses, clips and helmets, albeit feeling a little unnecessary for a walkway which wasn’t too dissimilar to the ones we had just completed. We all had two clips, with the crucial part of the technique being that one must always be on the metal.
Soon enough we had reached the first ladder, which seemed to be around 50m, broken up by a platform and a further longer 70m ladder. Bar a few broken rungs, the infrastructure seemed relatively sturdy, but not a look-down moment unless you had a strong stomach!
The views from the ladders were stunning; the lake stretched out one way whilst the town of Riva del Garda punctuated the area between the water and the undulating valley.
Continuing onwards we approached our longest ladder yet. There were some small periods of ‘overhang’ which made both the gear manoeuvre a little tricker as well as the arm ache!
A few false summits and short bursts of hiking took us to the last ladders, which pointed to the top of the peak, where an Italian flag marked our highest point. At the summit was a visitors book, to note down all those who had made it. Some messages were more casual and celebratory, others in a more relieved tone. We were greeted by an Italian couple, who kindly offered us squares of chocolate as a reward, which was very well received!
The descent then wound down the other side of the peak, eventually meeting up with the initial path that we had taken. Hard on the knees and a little mindnumblingly long, it took us around 1.5 hours to reach the solace of the bustling town again.
Overall? The views were stunning, the hike pretty well sign posted and the challenge formidable. It was not for the faint hearted, and it certainly took longer than the 5 hour suggested period on the website, in fact it took us around 9 hours with virtually no stops. I would certainly be keen to mix up hikes with the added complexity and interest of a via ferrata section in future.
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