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Nerves of steel and keep your hair on

Safely strapped to a metal cable, you run high above ravines and along precarious suspension bridges. You slow down to step cautiously across a tricky part, but you’re soon through it and you take off scrambling and bouldering again, feeling the adrenaline rush. Sound fun? This is a via ferrata, the exciting and spectacular sport that’s taking Europe by storm. This sport requires strength and agility, a head for heights and a little bit of spunkiness. If you’re interested in trying it out, there are 8 great via ferrata routes in the Ötztal. I tested my skills on the Zirbenwald Via Ferrata in Obergurgl and loved it!

Climbing Tour with a guide

Starting out with a guide

I don’t have much experience in via ferratas, and I don’t own a via ferrata kit. So I figured it was probably a good idea to go with a guide. At 9 a.m. I met Alexander Riml at the car park near the Festkogelbahn, where we were able to park our cars for free.

We walked together through the village of Obergurgl towards the entrance of the via ferrata. Alexander asked me about my climbing experience and confirmed my opinion: the first one or two times that you want to try a via ferrata, you should definitely go with a guide. You can hire a private guide or go with a group, and excursions are easily booked through one of the many climbing schools in the Ötztal.

 

Zirbenwald Via Ferrata: Facts and Figures

  • Altitude gain: 100m
  • Rope length: 400m
  • Duration: about 3 hours including descent

Getting past the very first bridge

At the beginning of the Zirbenwald route Alexander fastened my harness, gave me a helmet and went over the via ferrata basics one more time. It had been a year already since the last time I did this, so I appreciated the refresher. He also gave me some handy tips on how to easily open the carabiner. Then it was time to start.

When we came across the first suspension bridge, I had to take a deep breath. I don’t usually have a fear of heights, but it’s easy to suddenly develop it here! It seemed that the rushing water was miles below me. Once we were on the bridge, I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Before I knew it, we had reached the other side. Pretty cool!

Suspension bridge
Enjoing the view
Climbing on a rope
Climbing essentials

A beginner- and familiy-friendly route

Alexander told me that each obstacle in a via ferrata is rated according to its difficulty. “A” obstacles are the easiest and “E” are the most extreme. The Zirbenwald Via Ferrata that we did is rated B/C, with a small portion C/D.

This is a suitable route for athletic beginners and families. Personally, I agreed with the rating. The ups and downs were quite impressive and sometimes a little terrifying, but in terms of effort, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. My favourite part was the bridges, when we had to walk on a very thin rope, holding onto two cables. Feeling the ropes wobble gave me quite the adrenaline rush!

Via ferrata with a view

Stunning view of the glacier

The most impressive part of the Zirbenwald Via Ferrata has to be the views of the surrounding mountains and the glaciers that lie past the valley. I stopped more than once to stop and savour the view.

It was so beautiful! It felt pretty hardcore to be hanging off a steep cliff like this. The very last leg of the route went straight up the cliff face, and we relied partly on manmade holds and partly on the protrusions of the cliff itself. Suddenly, we were at the top! How crazy is that?! Alexander cheered and we gave each other a high five. This had been an awesome journey and we had had a blast! Before going back down, we took a few minutes to have a drink and enjoy the view of the distant glaciers.

 

I’m hooked!

After finishing the leisurely descent on a normal hiking trail, I was totally convinced: I want to do this more often! I’m going to buy my own via ferrata kit and brave the route all by myself next time. Alexander reassured me that I had the basics down pat, so I should have no problem as long as I prepare properly and pick an appropriate route. Time to tackle the other 7 Ötztal routes…

Miranda Muller

Guest author: Miranda Muller

Miranda Muller is Editor-in-chief at Snowplaza and the alps are her second home.
Skiing, snowboarding, hiking or mountain biking – she loves it all.
For a period of time Miranda lived in Trentino and worked as a ski instructor in the alps.