Leukerbad Via Ferrata
Photograph by Olivier Maire
Best for: Hikers who have tried a via ferrata before, bring the right equipment (and possibly a guide), and want to summit a peak on a via ferrata
Distance: 3,280 feet of elevation gain
Italy’s Dolomites are the spiritual home of via ferrata, or iron roads, systems of vertiginous metal ladders, cables, and sometimes rock-climbing terrain that hikers can ascend while clipped into a safety wire. Many of these trails on cliff faces were originally created for use by Italian military forces during World War I. While many of the best via ferrata in Europe are still in the Dolomites, Switzerland’s Leukerbad Via Ferrata is impressive. The route scales the massive face of the 9,648-foot Daubenhorn, lording over the sleepy resort town of Leukerbad, and is the longest via ferrata in Switzerland. It has all the feel of a technical aid climb, though hikers without climbing experience can pull it off.
The climb consists of a 1.28-mile hike along cliffs to the start of the via ferrata. Then things go vertical on what is known as the “small” via ferrata—two hours of ascending along the wires and exposed rock climaxing in a sheer, three-ladder climb up 250 vertical feet. Here the route takes a breather at the Obere Gemsfreiheit Point at 6,562 feet. (This is also a turnaround point for hikers who have had enough or just want a shorter route.) The “big” via ferrata continues for just over three hours to the summit from here, with exposed rock scrambling, climbing on metal rungs, and ascending full ladders. The whole trip takes eight hours, but feels like a lifetime suspended above the green meadows and rooftops of the toy town in the valley far below.
Thrill Factor: Big exposure, but it’s perfectly safe if you know what you are doing. Don’t even think about this hike if you have a fear of heights. It would be smart to start on a shorter, easier via ferrata first. Leukerbad is rated ED, or Extrêmement Difficile, on the French via ferrata rating system and K5-K6 in the German system (K1 is easiest; K5 signifies very difficult).
Take It Easy: If hanging off ladders while clipped to a thin metal wire is not your thing, simply make the 8.2-mile hike up to alpine Gemmi Pass, where the via ferrata begins, and over into Bernese Oberland using cable cars to get to and from your starting and ending points.
courtesy of: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure