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Published: June 12th 2011
Ruth on the Via Ferrata
Looking very relaxed above a long drop!
Via Ferrata means Iron Way
in Latin and usually consists of fixed steel lines stretched across mountains and hammered into the rock at regular points. Typically these lines are build into steep or exposed sections rock, making it much easier for people to traverse the mountain. You simply have to tie yourself in to the fixed lines, and then scramble across and up the mountain, knowing that if you lose your grip you are safely held in.
The best known Via Ferrata are in the Dolomites in Italy. Many of these were built in WW2 by Italian soldiers as a quick means of navigating through the mountains, though in more recent times they have been used for adventure sports. Every year they attract huge numbers of people keen to try it out or to experience the mountains in a different way.
In 2009, England's first Via Ferrata opened in the Lake District. Though much smaller than the long Via Ferrata in Italy, the Via Ferrata in the Lake District has been an immediate success. For a long time Ruth and I have been planning to go to Italy to do the Via Ferrata so when we heard it was
The difficult section
I was at the back so had to watch everyone else cross the scary bit first!
in Lakeland we had to try it!
The Via Ferrata is on Fleetwith Pike, a mountain in the heart of Lakeland, above the Honister Pass and overlooking Buttermere. The Via Ferrata starts from the Honister visitor centre, which lies at the top of the Honister Pass. We almost missed the start of our session as we had cycled from Keswick and had seriously underestimated how difficult it would be to climb the Honister Pass on a bike. We ended up walking most of it!
The first half hour was taken up with meeting our guides and group, doing a safety demonstration, and trying on and becoming familiar with the various pieces of equipment needed. It's compulsory to go with a guide and to do the safety instruction, but your own safety during the Via Ferrata is for the most part in your own hands.
We took a bus from the pass up to the start of the Via Ferrata. Far below us we could see cars and people on the Honister pass - it looked a long way down!
The first section was fairly straightforward, but it wasn't long before our first scramble, when it quickly
Climbing Honister Pass
Ruth on the long and tough Honister Pass climb
became clear that this wasn't a complete beginners course. We fast became familiar with securing and unsecuring ourselves to the rope with the karabiners, and even found time to take in the fantastic views all around us. There was also the chance to see some of the old mines on Fleetwick Pike and to learn a little of the history of mining in the area via the information boards which we passed on the way.
We along with the other 10 in our group made our way around the course until we reached the real tester where everyone slowed down! We had to cross a very exposed section with a 1000 foot drop and after that we had to climb a steep ladder to reach safety. I was last to go which was almost the worst place as you could hear every one else screams but not see them as we were queued up behind a corner.
This was the scariest and most difficult section by far but we made it through in one piece and even had time to pause for a few photos (taken by the guide) on the way. The rest of the course was
easy by comparison and it wasn't long until we reached the top.
It took us about an hour to reach the top but after an hour of concentrating so hard we were all very tired. This is not the type of sport where you can switch off for even a minute!
We made our way to the top of Honister Crag where we paused for a group photo. Most of the group returned to the start from here, but as the summit of Fleetwith Pike was so close, Ruth and I decided to continue on and add another Wainwright to our list. The summit is a great spot and it was well worth the detour for the fine views over Buttermere.
The Via Ferrata is not popular with everyone, especially with people who don't like to see any type of intrusion on the Lake District mountains. I believe the National Trust and various environmental groups have been opposed to it. I can understand this opposition, and I certainly wouldn't like to see the same thing on every Lake District fell, but as it's only one mountain affected, and as that mountain has been used for mining for
Long way down
The Honister pass in the distance from Fleetwith Pike
over 100 years - an activity that has caused far more damage to the mountain - I think I'm probably in favour of the Via Ferrata.
If you like fell-walking or scrambling and have a good head for heights then you'll probably enjoy Via Ferrata.
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