Via Ferrata translates literally as “iron path”. They originated in the Dolomites, but have spread widely in the last few years. They enable those with a head for heights to climb some impressive cliff faces without great technical difficulty whilst being at all times attached to a safety cable.
The often sparse natural rock holds are supplemented by iron hoops and steps fixed into the rock. It becomes almost like climbing a ladder. For safety, you clip into the safety cable with cows’ tails attached to a special shock absorbing device called a “zyper” which is attached to a climbing harness.
It is important that the correct gear is used (available for hire in local climbing shops) and that it is used correctly. Helmets are essential due to the loose nature of some of the rock. It is also important to carry a safety rope and first aid kit as well as some water and food.
This is an activity for which you should consider taking a guide unless you are experienced. We can organise guides and equipment. Ensure that you are clipped into the safety cable at all times as this will limit the length of a fall. The “zypers” are designed to provide some elasticity in the event of a fall, but do not rely on it!
Do make sure that you wear walking boots as even the descents can be quite tricky! Make sure as well that the weather is settled; you don’t want to be stuck out on a via ferrata in an electrical storm or in heavy rain.
Below are different itineraries, of which the first is a good introduction.
L’Argentière – L’Horloge
Access is from the car park at Le Collets climbing site. This is 5 minutes away from the Argentière Gite on the crag on the top of which is the Argentière clock tower which dominates the skyline. The area is even floodlit at night.
The via ferrata is short, taking less than an hour and climbing some 50 metres. It is specifically designed for beginners and children of 8 and over. The first part is particularly easy, enabling one to get use to using the equipment in a methodical and safe manner. There is a “get out” path, half-way up, for those who decide that via ferratas are not for them, but also a good place to take pictures! The second half is more committing and has quite a good overhanging section. Once you reach the top, just by the Clock Tower, you have a lovely view over L’Argentière and a nice walk down back to the climbing site.
Le sentier de La Combe – Puy St Vincent
Access is off the road on the right between Puy St Vincent 1400 and 1600. It is signposted
Also a good first trip using via ferrata gear. It can also be combined with the Narreyoux bike ride. A good trip for a hot afternoon. This route follows the Narreyoux beck up its descent through a wooded combe. It contains ladders and monkey bridges as well as short sections of more classic via ferrata. A fun trip to get wet and especially good with confident children.
Access is 5 minutes drive from the Argentière Gite and the Vallouise Gite.
It is off the road from Les Vigneaux to Briançon, just as you leave the village of Les Vigneaux. It is 15 minutes from the Briançon Gite.
It is an excellent via ferrata for those who are starting out. It can be quite exposed in places, but half way up you have the choice of whether to continue with the easy route or try something more sporting. You will know when you get there which way you want to go! It takes 2-3 hours and is an excellent via ferrata to do in the cool of the early evening. You have lovely views over the Vallouise valley and up towards the Ecrins.
Tournoux – Col du Pousterle
Access is a 10-minute walk from the Col du Pousterle towards Put St Vincent. The Col du Pousterle is up a dirt track accessible from either the Fournel valley or from Puy St Vincent 1400 (above Les Vigneaux). From one side the Col you get fantastic views of the Ecrins and the Glacier Blanc and from the other side the Fournel valley. The Col is a fantastic place to have a picnic and to start a number of walks and bike rides and is worth the drive even if you do not wish to partake in the adventurous activities on offer
The track leads through a wooded area with massive blocks of rock. In the winter we cross country ski in this area quite a lot, and we call it “valley of death” because it is so cold and covered with big blocks. In the summer make sure you are up there on a warm day.
The route is not in our view the best via ferrata, but it is an excellent trip to do in the late afternoon and to follow with a mountain bike ride down either the Vallouise side to Les Vigneaux or the Fournel side to L’Argentière. You should not find it difficult to find one of your group to do the ferry for you as it is worth driving from L’Argentière up the Fournel and over the Pousterle to Puy St Vincent 1400 just for the views.
Durance George – L’Argentière
Access is a few minutes from L’Argentière. Take the road towards Vallouise out of L’Argentière and turn right as you reach the top of the hill looking towards the hydro pipe which crosses the Durance. It is signposted from here
As with the white water section of the Durance of the same name, it is regarded as the test piece of the region. This via ferrata has 5 bridges which cross the gorge at varying dizzy heights. Not for the sufferers of vertigo! It starts off quite strenuous with an overhanging section, and has some quite exposed sections. If you cope with the first section, you should not find that it gets more difficult!
However, there is plenty of adrenaline and the route allows a view of the exit rapid of the Class 4-5 river below! Truly awesome! One interesting little bridge crosses the “overflow pipe” for the hydro pipe. Beware this blows its top more often than you might expect. We have photos of water half way down the fall just as we were finishing the trip.
Briançon – Croix de Toulouse
This via ferrata scales the obvious peak above the old town of Briançon and is very accessible from the Briançon Gite and the road out off Briançon towards Montgenèvre.
It is a 4-hour trip climbing of 670m and offers excellent views of the city, the fortifications and the Durance valley, as well as the Briançon Gite!
L’Aiguillette du Lauzet – above Monetier
Access is on the right from the road form Monetier to Col du Lautaret at Le Lauzet, some 7km above Monetier. This is a longer trip, taking the most of a whole day. It takes in an Alpine summit at 2 600m in beautiful high mountain surroundings. With luck you may also see marmots, eagles, ibex and chamois.