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Eight things that wire rope artists should pay attention to in Ötztal

Eight things that wire rope artists should pay attention to in Ötztal


Be clear about what you are doing

Although it is called "via ferrata", you should not expect a comfortable climb. Very often there is no classic footpath - through vertical rock faces or over airy ridges. Namely on the steel cables, on iron clamps, on ladders (all fixed to the rock) or over shaky rope bridges.


Be realistic about yourself

No matter whether in love or on iron paths: it's crucial to find the right (partner and route). The scenic Ötztal via ferratas offer a wide selection from easy to difficult, from easy on the nerves to very exposed, from the valley floor to the high mountains. Which one suits you best? That strongly depends on your skills (strength, endurance, surefootedness, courage).

Via ferrata books and online tour portals can help you make the accurate assessment. And honesty. Because overestimating yourself makes the via ferrata a passion path. Or even a dead end if you can't get any further because your muscles or psyche are on strike. Such "blockades" cause the majority of mountain rescue operations on via ferratas.


Plan carefully

Gather as much information as possible about the planned via ferrata: duration, difficulty level, popularity (and thus traffic jams at key points), etc.

In addition, the tour must also fit the weather. Who wants to hold the lightning conductor – i.e. the steel rope – in their hands during a thunderstorm? Or slide over wet rock after rain - so slippery as if it had been soaped? There's a simple remedy for bad weather: wait until it gets better. And in the meantime, look for something else that is fun too. Ötztal offers myriad alternatives.

Also calculate enough time reserves! Again and again, athletes are "surprised" by darkness on via ferratas. The reason for this is often that the route and the level of performance or fitness were not so well matched (see tip no. 2). And therefore, also the time schedule is out of reach.


Take the right equipment with you

On the via ferrata you must bring the following equipment:

  • Climbing helmet
  • Climbing harness
  • Modern, certified via ferrata set (incl. special via ferrata carabiners and fall absorber straps) - not "homemade"!
  • Mobile phone
  • First aid kit & bivouac sack
  • Map and topo (a detailed sketch of the route from books or the internet)
  • Enough to eat and drink

Also helpful are:

  • “Rest sling” made of a runner and carabiner – for rest and photo breaks
  • Via ferrata gloves – protect against blisters and injuries from frayed wire ropes
  • Special via ferrata shoes - offer more grip on the rock than sneakers (too soft) or sturdy mountaineering boots (too bulky)

Above all, you should be able to handle the equipment correctly. Fatal accidents have already occurred because the via ferrata set was incorrectly tied to the climbing harness. You can avoid such mistakes caused by carelessness by taking a quick look at your partner and check his equipment before you start climbing.


Always use two carabiners

You always clip both (!) carabiners of the via ferrata set into the steel rope, even in supposedly easy places. This way you have a backup in case one carabiner breaks in a fall. This happens rarely, but it does. Where the steel rope is firmly anchored in the rock, you attach one carabiner after the other. Never both at the same time, otherwise you would not be secured for a short moment!


Never provoke a fall, approach your limits slowly

Falls on via ferrata tours are to be avoided at all costs because they can cause severe injuries. When you fall down, much energy acts on you, despite the shock absorber on the via ferrata set. This is different from classic climbing, where a stretchable rope often brakes the fall much more gently. Additionally, if the worst comes to the worst, you usually shred along the rock. It is rougher than a cat's tongue - and leaves corresponding marks on your facade.

Therefore, the following applies: start with easy climbs, approach climbing techniques slowly, never push your performance to the limit. And for the first vertical steps, it is best to enlist the service of a certified mountain guide.


Save energy

Climbing is all about footwork. It's not called "mountain/rock climbing" for nothing. Therefore, climb up evenly and fluidly "out of your legs", with the body's center of gravity (pelvis) close to the rock. If you pull yourself up by your arms instead, you will soon find yourself with pumped-up biceps. It also saves energy if you hold on to the steel rope with stretched arms instead of bent arms. Even if you have to lean your upper body out of the wall to do so – which requires a bit of courage.


Keep enough distance

One of the most common mistakes on the via ferrata: getting too close to others. If you keep too little distance to the person in front of you, he or she may land directly on top of you in the event of a fall. There should always be only one person between two anchors. However, this recommended distance is often difficult to maintain. Because many via ferrata climbers see it – similar to some car drivers - as an invitation to overtake.

Uwe Grinzinger

Author: Uwe Grinzinger

The passionate mountain photographer, journalist and hiking guide instructor loves to be out and about in the quiet spots of the Alps. Therefore, he has enough to discover within Ötztal and surroundings. www.agentur-bergwerk.at

This article was first published in June 2023.