What is a Via Ferrata Anyway?
What is a Via Ferrata anyway? That's the question I had when I first read about it while planning my travel adventure in the Norwegian countryside. There were photos of people climbing up iron rod ladders sticking out from the mountainside and traversing across suspension bridges overlooking the majestic fjords. It looked easier than mountain climbing but more challenging than your average hike.
Via Ferrata can be translated into English as "iron path" or pathway made of iron, hence the iron rod ladders. It first got its start in the Italian Alps in the 1930s and spread throughout Europe from there. They are very common in Europe today, especially the picturesque mountain regions of Italy, Switzerland and Norway. You will find some in the United States in places like Colorado, California and Utah, but they aren't as prevalent here just yet.
When I decided to take my adventure on a via ferrata, I didn't know exactly what I was getting into. My travel itinerary for Norway was going to put me close to Loen, which has one of the most popular via ferratas in the country. It is known for the 120-meter-long suspension bridge(the longest in Europe) that overlooks the Nordfjord. And the difficulty of the via ferrata is medium. With a guide, it seems like this wouldn't be too much of a challenging adventure to conquer. At least that is what I thought.
A guide isn't required to do the Loen Via Ferrata or most other via ferratas. However, if you aren't experienced in traversing them or if you don't know the area well, I would highly recommend going with a guide. Since the Loen Via Ferrata in Norway is very popular, there are many tour groups with guides that will bring you on this adventure.
I met my tour group in the town of Loen where I was able to rent the proper equipment which included a helmet and harness. I already had good hiking shoes along with a travel backpack with water and snacks. The tour guide went over some instructions before we started and then led us to the trailhead.
There was about a 2-kilometer path to travel up before we got to the start of the via ferrata itself. And this path wasn't flat either, it was fairly steep in some parts. After adventuring around Norway for the past week I had already gotten tired from this walk. So I would not recommend doing a via ferrata after you've been hiking the few days before unless you're in very good shape.
When we reached the starting point of the via ferrata, it wasn't quite what I had expected. There was just a wire rope attached to the mountainside that I hooked onto in order to climb up the mountain. I was expecting more of the ladders that I could put my feet onto, and not rely on my shoes. I had been wall climbing before but this was quite a bit more challenging. I had to rely on my arm strength to hold onto the rope and pull myself up putting one hand in front of the other. While also unlatching and latching the carabiners at each post that held the rope to the rock.
Some of the portions going up were not very steep, while others were almost straight up and down. There are parts of the Loen via ferrata that do have iron bars to help you climb but there aren't very many. Luckily there are places where you could take any easier route and a more difficult route to get to the same end point. I generally took the easier route, but to my surprise, most of the people in my tour group did not. Although, I should not have been that shocked since most of them were local Norwegians and were very fit.
To get to the longest via ferrata bridge in Europe, you have to travel almost to the top of it. And honestly, as difficult as parts of the adventure up the mountain are, it is well worth it to get the views out over the fjord. The bridge was also a good stopping point to grab a snack as only a certain number of people in the travel group could go across the bridge at a time.
The little break gave me the energy I needed to finish the climb to the top of the via ferrata. But that wasn't before crossing one additional, smaller suspension bridge that gave similar breathtaking views as the first. By the time I got to the end of this adventure, it was 6 hours from when we had started, I was exhausted and had scraped my knee at one point along the way. But it had been a rewarding experience to push myself through.
The Loen Via Ferrata is great in that there is a skylift to get you back down from the top of the mountain. You don't have to try to traverse back down the mountain, as is the case for some via ferratas. A perk of going with a tour is that the price of the skylift down was included.
When I first finished the Leon Via Ferrata, I didn't think I'd ever at another one to my travel planning. However, after reading others online talk about how it was a more difficult via ferrata, I think it is an adventure I'd try again. It really is an amazing experience. And one that I do recommend. Just know what you are getting into before your go.
Have any questions about the Loen Via Ferrata in Norway? Or about other via ferrata adventures in Europe? Let me know in the comments.