What are via ferratas and equipped mountain routes?
A via ferrata is a route on a mountain face equipped with steel cables, ladders, and other fixed anchors. These steel attachments into the cliff wall of a mountain allow for even inexperienced climbers to make their way onto ledges, vertical walls, and mountain peaks. Special equipment is used to ensure that climbers will be attached to a cable at all times.
In general, they are considered to be safer than rock climbing, but via ferratas can be very dangerous, as the fatalities of this Summer have shown.
Via ferratas and equipped mountain routes have been a peculiarity of the Alps since the beginning of the 20th century where they were built mainly for military purposes.
In the Dolomites alone there are about 150 of them, some have a recognised historical or scenic value, most were created for tourism or sporting purposes. In recent decades, equipped mountain routes have conquered all the Alps, which count more than 1000 of them: ‘French-style’ ferratas are mainly built for recreational purposes, generously equipped with cables, foot and handholds etc. and, whenever possible, a suspension bridge for extreme fun.
Via ferratas attract many inexperienced people, as a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Safety https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31877836/ shows: “Most emergencies were caused by blockage due to exhaustion and/or misjudgement of the climber’s own abilities.
Why ‘no more new via ferratas’
Very often, via ferratas lead to diffuse anthropisation impacts, and sometimes even dangerous overcrowding, in particularly vulnerable areas for both fauna and flora, without even measuring the environmental impact they can have before they are built.
Equipping mountains with cableways, high altitude roads, via ferratas and whatever else is tantamount to taming an environment that derives its meaning precisely from being non-domesticated. The forced and unnatural anthropisation of these areas suffocates their vocation: it does not turn mountains into docile slaves. It kills them.
This is why we support in every respect the campaign launched by our chapter Mountain Wilderness Italy ‘No more scrap metal, no more new via ferratas’ https://www.mountainwilderness.it/etica-e-cultura/basta-ferraglia-basta-nuove-ferrate/ with the aim of shaking public opinion, raising awareness and stimulate reflection.