Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Iron Way

What do you do on the rest day of a white water kayaking trip to the French Alps? Visit a Via Ferrata of course. Via ferrata literally means 'way of iron' in Italian. It provides a great opportunity for tourists to visit the abode of the rock climber without the need to learn complicated belaying techniques. The way is made easier by iron rungs set into the rock and wires which, with the aid of a climbing harness and karabiners stop the careless climber falling too far.

At the start of the Via Ferrata, Chateau Queyras gorge

Our intrepid gang had gathered in the car park at the head of the famous Chateau Queyras gorge. In order to hire our equipment we climbed the steep road to the Chateau Ville Vielle with its spectacular castle perched high on a rock.In a small shop come cafe we collected our climbing equipment. In France the onus is on the individual to look after oneself. No disclaimers, no instructors so safety was down to us. It seemed that virtually anyone could just turn up, collect equipment, leave a credit card as security and enjoy the Via Ferrata with no fear of litigation should an accident happen. All very French and very refreshing!

After retracing our steps and some exploring we found the start of the Via Ferrata: a line of iron rungs snaking away across a virtical limestone rock face and out of sight into the shade of the gorge.This gorge was only a few metres wide yet with a thunderous roar swallowed the whole river Guil! I moved gingerly at first clipping and unclipping my two karabiners. If I did fall would the wire stop me crashing into the Guil to be washed away and drowned in the grade 5 stoppers below? Gradually thoughts of impending catastrophe were replaced be a feeling of awe. The sheer thrill of climbing into such a fantastic gorge replaced my thoughts of falling and I started to relax and enjoy myself. As I was 'tail end Charlie'I could watch the whole group spread out before me across the rock having a great time taking pictures of each other hanging out over sheer drops and crossing suspension bridges.

After taking us almost to the bottom  of the gorge where we were cooled by the spray from the Guil the 'iron way' ascended towards the Chateau in the full glair of the afternoon sun. The climb to the Chateau ended with a nice little pitch. This pitch had  few iron rungs so rock climbing skills were needed in order to succeed.

Thanks go to the gang for a great day captured in the following photo story:

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