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Mammoth Via Ferrata: Climbing Made Simple

14th August 2018 | OTS Staff

News Regions: California

Resorts in this article: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

Via Ferrata routes allow climbers to more safely traverse the mountain using steel safety cables, metal rungs, steps and bridges that are permanently fixed to the rock.

Via Ferrata routes allow climbers to more safely traverse the mountain using steel safety cables, metal rungs, steps and bridges that are permanently fixed to the rock.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

It's a three-hour tour. But not that kind. Mammoth Mountain recently debuted its Via Ferrata climbing experience, located mid-mountain on the rugged cliffs below the Caldera Overlook near McCoy Station. Found in Europe all over the Alps and Dolomites, Via Ferrata routes are just starting to appear in mountain towns across North America, gaining global appeal as a fun and accessible, multi-generational outdoor experience. 

Being so common in Europe, the European Union has pretty stringent standards for setting a Via Ferrata, according to Finlay Torrance, the director of base operations at Mammoth and the guy who headed up the Via Ferrata build. In carefully constructing its Via Ferrata to said EU standards, Mammoth consulted with Adventure Partners LLC, a company that's set the routes for a number of Via Ferratas and were invaluable in helping bring this latest one to life. 

Found in Europe all over the Alps and Dolomites, Via Ferrata routes are just starting to appear in mountain towns across North America.  - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Found in Europe all over the Alps and Dolomites, Via Ferrata routes are just starting to appear in mountain towns across North America.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)
 

Via Fe-whata, you say? We caught up with Torrance to get a better idea of what would-be VF climbers can expect. 

Q: Let's back up; what is a Via Ferrata?

A: Via Ferrata is Italian for “Iron Road.” Basically, Via Ferrata routes allow climbers to more safely traverse the mountain using steel safety cables, metal rungs, steps and bridges that are permanently fixed to the rock. Think of it as rock climbing made simple: you’re still out in the elements and on the mountain, but we take away any guesswork as far as safety with the fixed cables and special harnesses and smooth out some of the technical climbing challenges with fixed rungs and steps.

Having spent a fair amount of time on the routes during the construction process, I can tell you that it’s a ton of fun. It’s a great introduction into rock climbing; as challenging as you want to make it but without all the headaches, gear, lessons, etc.

Mammoth Via Ferrata climbers are outfitted with a harness, helmet and some special shoes to help grip the rock better.  - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Mammoth Via Ferrata climbers are outfitted with a harness, helmet and some special shoes to help grip the rock better.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)
 

Q: What kind of rock climbing ability/fitness is required to participate in Via Ferrata? 

A: We have six routes, three beginner, two intermediate and one advanced. There’s also a Suspension Bridge that traverses the rock face about 3/4-way up that allows climbers to transfer from the first half of one route to the second half of another. I mention that because there’s truly a route for just about every fitness level. If you can climb a ladder a couple of times, you can get going on the Via Ferrata at Mammoth.

Via Ferrata views at Mammoth.  - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Via Ferrata views at Mammoth.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

The added difficulty on the more advanced routes comes from fewer man-made features. On the more difficult routes, you’re having to use more of the natural features to make your way up the mountain. Those require some additional fitness and technique. 

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Q: What’s the Via Ferrata experience like? 

A: At Mammoth, all our climbs are guided. You’ll start with some safety instruction and a gear fitting. Climbers are outfitted with a harness, helmet and some special shoes to help grip the rock better. You’ll take the gondola about halfway up the mountain where the routes are fixed. Some additional instruction is provided, and off you go. In total, it’s a three-hour tour (cue the music, Gilligan), during which most climbers will complete three routes. Climbers with more experience and fitness can get a few additional routes in.

Being out on the rock with a fun challenge in front of you, surrounded by these incredible mountains and some of the logistical and safety concerns taken care of, it's exactly what you want in an outdoor experience. It also has a multi-generational appeal, which is a huge part of the growth in Via Ferratas and why we were interested in bringing this to Mammoth. It can be hard to get the whole family to agree on anything much less how to spend a day outside. This is something that everyone can get behind. Grandma's smile might be just as big as your teenager's. 

Mammoth's Via Ferrata is a guided climbing experience for all levels.  - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Mammoth's Via Ferrata is a guided climbing experience for all levels.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Q: How should you dress for Via Ferrata? 

A: In the mountains, as you know, the weather can be highly variable, so you’ll want to keep an eye on the forecast and dress appropriately. In general, a breathable top and pants that allow for good range of motion are your best bet. You’ll be spending a couple hours on the rock—shorts are allowed, but you may get a few minor scratches that are easily avoidable with pants. 

No climbing experience and a minimal fitness level are required to participate in Mammoth's Via Ferrata.  - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

No climbing experience and a minimal fitness level are required to participate in Mammoth's Via Ferrata.

Copyright: Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

Gallery

Via Ferrata steel safety cables, metal rungs, steps and bridges are permanently fixed to the rock - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)
Mammoth's Via Ferrata guide - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)
Via Ferrata views - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)
Mammoth Via Ferrata - © Peter Morning (Mammoth Mountain)

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