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Via ferrata: expectations vs. reality

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What is via ferrata, you ask? It’s an up-and-coming outdoor climbing adventure. Imagine a long, reinforced steel cable secured to the mountainside, iron rungs, two carabiners, helmets, harnesses, some breathtaking views, a willing climber, and voila – you’ve got via ferrata. 

Expectation: I can’t do that! I don’t know the first thing about climbing!

Reality: You don’t have to know anything about rock climbing to do via ferrata. In fact, it was designed to allow beginners to experience nature in a way that was once only accessible to seasoned climbers. If you can climb a ladder and hike two miles, you can do via ferrata like a pro.

Though the history of the sport can be traced back to World War I when soldiers were traversing the European mountainside, the popularity of via ferrata in the United States began to take off less than a decade ago. Even today, only a select few sites are in operation, and Greater Zion is home to two of them. 

As such, we feel a responsibility to clear the air of some common misconceptions so you can live your best life on the edge. Welcome to expectations vs. reality: via ferrata edition.

Expectation: Via ferrata is an extreme sport.

Reality: Via ferrata is accessible for all skill levels.

We understand the confusion here. Dangling from a mountainside does meet most people’s definition of extreme. However, past participants include everyone from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds – not your typical extreme athletes. If they can do it, you can do it. 

The most physically strenuous part of via ferrata is actually the less dangly part: hiking with your two feet on the ground. When transitioning between pathways, you’ll encounter some brief, fairly steep treks that add up to about two miles. Aside from that, the only other strain you will encounter is exclusively psychological.

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Expectation: Via ferrata is scary.

Reality: Via ferrata is only scary if you are (deeply) afraid of heights.

A fear of heights is not uncommon, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The important part is being self-aware and understanding how much that fear affects you. Ask yourself: ‘to what extent does this fear dictate my actions?’ and note that via ferrata is one of the safest possible environments for you to face a fear of heights. That’s thanks to the abundant safety equipment and knowledgeable guides, who are experts at coaching folks through stressful experiences. 

Part of what makes via ferrata so thrilling is the unique bird’s eye view. Given that, you will be very high up the side of a mountain – we are talking several stories here. Luckily, the top-of-the-line equipment and your guides ensure that you are never unsecured at such heights, which brings us to our next point.

Expectation: Via ferrata is risky.

Reality: You would have to try really, really hard to get injured doing via ferrata.

Before you embark on your via ferrata journey, your guide will give you a tutorial (with demonstrations) about how to traverse the route safely and deck you out with every piece of safety equipment you need to stay clipped in and secure.

Key components of your safety equipment are the carabiners attached to your harness. A single carabiner easily sustains the weight of one heavy human – you get two, so make that double the security. It is almost physically impossible to fall off the cable in the unlikely event that you take a tumble. 

Staying secured as you move along the via ferrata route only requires a simple pattern: unclip, clip, unclip, clip. Doing so at the designated transition points ensures that you are clipped to the metal cable at all times and leaves absolutely no room for any unsecured movement. 

In case you need any more security, we would note that the via ferrata guides have a variety of relevant medical backgrounds in nursing, firefighting and military service. The adventure companies in Greater Zion prefer guides with medical backgrounds and appropriate medical certifications. In short, they’re great folks to have around in the event of any emergency. But we’re not anticipating any.

No matter your expectations going in, via ferrata is a sure way to pump your reality with adrenaline and unforgettable memories. Experience Greater Zion from a whole new perspective, and climb to new heights of adventure in the Land of Exhilaration.