Via Ferrata, climbing assisted by steps and rungs and protected by cables is becoming more popular in the US
I’ve been on rock climbing trips to Europe several times and each time we would plan on doing some Via Ferrata routes, extremely popular and usually completely free. Villages, local climbing clubs and in one case the modern Italian Military put up the routes, which originally started in WWI to secretively transport troops and the injured. I’ve always had a great time on them.
Unfortunately no one in the US is going to invest in putting up a Via Ferrata (meaning “Iron Path”) route and then take on the resulting liability unless climbers pay to use the route. So that is exactly what is happening – the ski resorts are making this investment and then you have to pay and use a guided service to climb on the route.
Which is fine, I’m very happy the ski resorts and their partners are stepping up. The big question I had was, are these real climbing routes or is it a little bit of Disneyland there at the ski resorts? So Betsy and I were thrilled to be invited (at no charge) on the Tahoe Via route at Squaw Valley. I was also thrilled that the guide was Dave Nettle, a climbing legend. He was a lot of fun and obviously very capable.
I was pleasantly surprised that the climbing is authentic and real. Of course they need to have some easy stuff but some of the stuff is dead vertical rock and you have to physically climb up the metal rungs. Many Via Ferrata courses have a bridge of some sort for additional excitement and photo ops and this one had two. Bottom line is that Tahoe Via is the real thing.
For family fun it can’t be beat – though I acknowledge not everyone in the family may be thrilled with it. The route starts out pretty easy and the guide is careful to evaluate everyone’s ability and level of comfort and then there is a bail-off point a short ways up.
For more details on how Via Ferrata works:
Via Ferrata is a mountaineering experience utilizing a steel cable which runs along the route and is fixed to the rock every 3–30 ft. Using a Via Ferrata kit consisting of a harness and lanyard, climbers can secure themselves to the cable with heavy-duty carabiners, thus limiting the chance of falling. In fact, Tahoe Via uses an extra-special system with a carabiner that is impossible to detach from the cable. You kind of have to see it to understand it. The cable protects a fall while additional climbing aids such as iron rungs, pegs and bridge provide assisted climbing and excitement.
Thanks to the Thau family (and Tahoe Via) for allowing us to tag along and for me to get photos. It should be noted that Brandon Thau is also a climbing legend with a plethora of routes in the Sierra with his name as first ascensionist!