We’ve recently added a new activity to our family repertoire. I say ‘family’, but Nina’s already firmly declared she won’t be taking part. A Canyon Swing in New Zealand 10 years ago left her with wobbly knees and a lasting aversion to heights!
It’s easy to spend time with T on the bikes but Iz isn’t as excited about them. I wanted to know if there was another activity she’d like us to do together. “Via Ferrata!” was the reply.
We’ve spent a bit of time at climbing walls in the UK and both kids like nothing more than a good scramble.
Via Ferrata literally means ‘iron road’. It’s like a mixture between rock climbing, hiking and a high ropes course. Cables, rungs, pegs, steps, ladders and bolts have been fixed in place so you can clip on and experience the exposure and exhilaration of being on a rock face without having to become a fully fledged and equipped rock climber.
I got a bunch of reasonably priced kit from ‘trusty’ Decathlon in Cluses and on the next fine day, Iz and I headed off to the Elephant head at St Jean D’Aulps for a lap of one of the starter circuits. She was super excited. Not just to be doing the climb but also for having a few hours of undivided attention.
Via Ferrata Beginner Route – Elephant Head, St Jean D’Aulps.
Below the main red and black routes at Elephant Head there are a couple of easier options on the right hand side of the face above the village of Bas-Thex.
We kitted up, checked each others’ harnesses and set off up the rungs. Iz had a bit of a stutter at the first challenging point which requires more of a rock scramble and a dog-leg to the next rung on the right but after that, we were off.
It was great fun and Iz made excellent progress round the circuit. There were a couple more challenging (for us) bits that got the heart racing. Half an hour or so later, we unclipped our tails at the last bolt and scrambled back down the path for snacks and drinks. Phew!
We all went back a few days later as Iz was ready to go again and T enthusiastically wants to do anything and everything that’s on offer. I thought he might be a bit young for it (he’s 7) and warned him he might not be physically tall enough to do it just yet. We gave him a little ‘taster’ going up and down the shallower pitched descent side before moving over to the steeper, main start point.
I figured that he’d reach the first challenging dogleg that had caused Iz to pause and climb back down. After a couple of minutes of hesitation and me saying, “never mind, It won’t be long until you’re big enough,” he suddenly made a committed and audacious attempt for the next rung!.. And he made it! I was just beneath him, at the ready, but this move now meant it was easier to go on than to turn back and off he went! I had a little mental worry as I tried to picture what was ahead in my mind before getting a grip and cracking on.
In fairness, he is a bit small and I had to ‘assist’ in some places where his reach wasn’t quite long enough but we made it and he did very well.
Iz’s turn next and with the extra confidence of experience, she bossed it! After two laps, I was feeling it! Great workout.
Having done a bit of research, I think the next stop for Iz and me is Bellevaux. We’ve heard the route is reasonably low level and goes up alongside a waterfall. There’s even a zipline at the end if you’ve got your own trolleys. We haven’t. (Add to cart! Hehe…).
It’s a great activity and it’s free! Once you’ve got your kit and a little know how, you’re good to go on the many routes around and about the area.
Via Ferrata Equipment
At the very least you will need:
Climbing harness (suitable, correctly sized and in good condition) – Climbing harnesses on Amazon.
Helmets – Climbing helmets on Amazon.
Via Ferrata lanyards (These should be via ferrata specific as they have built-in ‘fall arrest’ to reduce the impact of a fall) – Via Ferrata lanyards on Amazon.
Or you can get a full kit like this one:
Via Ferrata courses and instruction in the area.
A little know how is essential. In and around Morzine and Les Gets, there are a number of courses and guiding outfits during the summer months. Tourist offices are a good start point.
Via Ferrata routes in France
Choose your route! The following website has details about Via Ferrata routes in France as well as map locations, difficulty grades, route information, reviews and useful local information. It’s in French though, so have Google Translate at the ready!
Local tourist offices should have more information on the routes and there are usually notice boards at the locations themselves.
Check the weather
Finally, check the weather! You definitely don’t want to find yourself clinging onto what is effectively a lightning conductor on the side of a rock face in the middle of a thunderstorm! Rain and cold won’t be pleasant either, so check the weather before making plans.
Next stop for us… Bellevaux! Have fun and stay safe!