Via Ferrata, Southern Italy, June 2024

This might have been a "be careful what you wish for, you might get it" thing.

But it was fun to do.

I went to southern Italy to go on a Via Ferrata (or Klettersteig). (Which is, essentially, a rope course, but on a mountain. And more permanent. And much harder.)

The idea of "trying to do a Via Ferrata" goes back at least to 2019 for me.

Back then, I wanted to stay in a 'lodge' in Peru. Bolted to a cliff wall.

I wrote a lot about that on this page. So I won't go into details here.

The main thing is that there are two ways to get to the 'rooms'. There is a walking path, which almost leads up to them. (There is a short traverse over to the 'dining room' and later to your 'sleeping quarters'. But except for that, it's uphill walking.)

And there is another route.

You can also get to the place by going up a Via Ferrata.

This is what everybody else did. I took the hiking path instead.

Which was sensible.

I hadn't done a Via Ferrata before. And this was essentially a 300 meter long ladder. There were some traverses and a short cable bridge. But most of it was straight up. (Although the numbers seem intentionally vague. Given my GPS readings, it seems like the ascent is 'only' 200 meters and the 300 meters refers to the length of the Via Ferrata. Their web site also states that you "climb a 300 mt rock face". And this is also interestingly worded, as that's not necessarily the same as climbing 300 mt up a rock face.)

In any case, even 200 meters is a long way up. I admit that it doesn't get any less by walking a trail, but at least I had done that before. Also, I was there for the accommodation, not the activity. And the whole thing is at an altitude of 2900 meters and I had only arrived on the previous day. I had no idea how I would cope with that altitude. It was also my birthday. And so on...

I had lots of good reasons/excuses not to do the Via Ferrata. (And that was a good decision. I was pretty much out of breath by walking up there). Oddly, I was wearing the same t-shirt I wore on the Via Ferrata in Italy.)

Since then there was always the thought "That did look interesting. Maybe I should try it sometimes under better conditions".

I gave it a first try in 2022, when I was in northern Italy. There I hired a guide and went up a section of the "Heini-Holzer-Klettersteig".

On that trip, I already knew that I wouldn't be able to do the whole Via Ferrata. The "Heini-Holzer-Klettersteig" covers an altitude difference of about 700 meters (of which 500 meters are on the Via Ferrata and another 200 meters up regular paths). While it's technically easy, it is also exhausting. And the weather wasn't good either,

However, that trip was planned as a trial run. (And 'planned' is stretching it. I got the idea to ask whether there was a Via Ferrata nearby on the previous evening.) But I managed to learn a few things. I could deal with difficulties up to 'B/C', but probably not a full 'C'. Standing close to a sheer drop didn't bother me much, as long as I was clipped into a safety cable somewhere. Going uphill is hard work (but I knew that already). It's good to be off the mountain (or at least in the lift gondola) when it starts to rain.

Knowing that, it was time to try a Via Ferrata for real.

When I was in Cannes, three weeks before this trip, I drove to Roubion (about 80 km north of the French Riviera). There's an easy Via Ferrata there (one clockwise turn around a big hole in the rockface and then over a rope bridge back to the hiking path, with less than 50 meters uphill).

It seemed ideal, but neither was the Via Ferrata open, nor the tourist office (which rents out climbing gear).

There's also a Via Ferrata at La Colmiane (where I went ziplining), but that hadn't opened for the season either. (And wasn't a beginner friendly Via Ferrata anyway.)

However, during a social event in Cannes (well, technically, Mandelieu-la-Napoule, but Cannes sounds more glamorous) I mentioned that. And Amedeo, a guy from Lecce in southern Italy, said something along the lines of "Funny that you mention that. I'll be heading with a couple of friends for two easy Via Ferratas in three weeks. So if you happen to be in southern Italy on the first weekend of June, why not join in?"

Oddly enough, I had seen the Via Ferrata(s) he was talking about.

In 2021, I had visited Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, two mountain villages with ziplines connecting them. You can ride one zipline from Castelmezzano to Pietrapertosa. Walk up a bit from the finishing point. And then take another zipline back to Castelmezzano.

And, ziplining from Pietrapertosa to Castelmezzano, I did see the start of the Via Ferrata(s) from above.

A path leads to a small, hanging bridge, crossing a small river in the valley between the two villages. From there, you can cross the hanging bridge and go to the Via Ferrata Salemm, which ends at Castelmezzano. Or you stay on the other side of the small river and go up the Via Ferrata Marcirosa, leading up to Pietrapertosa.

While I didn't really see the Via Ferrata(s) themselves from the zipline, the little bridge was easy to spot. (Lower edge of the image, slightly right of the centre.).

The area had looked inviting.

While Via Ferratas in the Alps tend to go up serious mountains, these rocks were going mostly in a horizontal line, so I assumed there would be more 'sideways' than 'up'.

So it was a perfect opportunity to go on a Via Ferrata.

After the event in Cannes, I went to my hotel room and booked flights.

I would be going to a Via Ferrata I (sort of) had seen before. I would be with people I know (not on a guided tour or, never a good idea, alone). It could be hot, but on the first weekend of June, probably bearable.


After everything was booked, I looked up things in more detail.

Both Via Ferratas there are similar. One is 862 meters, with a climb of 276 meters, the other is 992 meters with a climb of 215 meters for the actual Via Ferrata. Looking at the whole length of the path from the starting point at an old stone bridge to reaching the village at the end, they were 1778 meters with a 331-meter climb and 1731 meters and 249 meters. Both have the same difficulty (moderate) and, importantly, both consisted of three individual sections, with a foot path providing an alternate route after each section. In case of problems, I would not have to make it to the end of the Via Ferrata, but could leave there.

Which, ultimately, was a good thing.

I enjoyed the Via Ferrata a lot, but I was exhausted after two-thirds of it and was glad that I could stop at that point.

The starting point was at Castelmezzano.

Castelmezzano at day

I had flown to Bari, rented a car and driven to Castelmezzano.

Checked in at the hotel, went to dinner to meet the other Via Ferrata climbers and had a (reasonably) early night.

Castelmezzano at night

The weather next day was perfect. (So I can't blame the weather for not going all the way to the end of the Via Ferrata.)

It wasn't as hot as suspected three weeks earlier. And there also wasn't the rain that the weather forecast had predicted three days earlier. A warm and pleasant summer day.

We met at a square in Castelmezzano and got our rental climbing gear. Then walked down into the valley to the river separating Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa and put our gear on.

Ready to go

And we were on our way.

Everyone else had done the Via Ferrata Salemm already, so we were heading for the Via Ferrata Marcirosa.

The first part was still 'walkable'.

It was a steep uphill walk, along the side of a cliff. But it was still a regular path. However, the safety cable was appreciated. Not so much for safety, but as support to stay upright.

Walking section Walking section

Soon we moved from the path at the side of the rocks (still in the shades of the trees) to the exposed rockface. And from 'steep uphill walk' to the iron 'staples' that give the Via Ferrata its name.

The real Via Ferrata starts

We went a fair bit up, using those 'staples'.

That Via Ferrata is well equipped with those. Lots of wide footrests, often, on sections going straight up, specifically put a bit left and right for easier climbing.

Looking down at the starting section On to a short traverse

(I'm not quite sure about this, but I remember the 'staples' at the "Heini-Holzer-Klettersteig" as less convenient, their location often more guided by the shape of the rock than by ease of climbing.)

On this Via Ferrata there were enough 'staples' that you could stand on both feet almost everywhere.

A few short sections had small metal 'rings' (on which you can only put one foot at a time) or no artificial footholds at all. And these were mostly of the "want to experience what it would be like to be a real climber?" type. There was one section, where there was a bit of an overhang. The rockface extends for half a meter below you. And then there's nothing else except for a sheer drop to the ground about 50 meters below. And that is the place where there is no 'staple' at all.

The only place to put your foot on is a rock edge protruding about a centimeter from the wall.

It's all safe, of course. (At least as safe as it can be made.) There's still the safety cable to clip into. And there are closely packed 'staples' to serve as handholds. And it's only one single step that needs to be made. (Around the corner is the next proper metal rung.) But that one step takes more mental effort than the rest of the Via Ferrata. And I'm sure that's intentional. (It's not like they couldn't have put a 'staple' into the rock there, if they wanted to.)

A little while later, we reached 'The Boulder'.

No, the Via Ferrata didn't suddenly turn into a bouldering course.

However, there was a large boulder wedged between two rocky spires.

The Via Ferrata went over that.

This is, essentially, where the second section started.

For a couple of meters, you leave the rock and walk on a small footpath. Then you go a couple of meters up, using the next bit of Via Ferrata on your left. Walk over the boulder. And continue on the next bit of Via Ferrata on the right side.

360 degree boulder picture

Which is a good photo opportunity (I thought...)

Especially since I brought a 360° camera and a long 'selfie stick'.

For a couple of reasons, that turned out to be a bad idea.

First of all, I hadn't used the proper camera settings.

It was set to "overexpose by one f-stop", which is sometimes useful indoors, but on a bright, sunny day outside (where there's a risk of overexposure anyway), this meant that only the bits in the shadows looked ok. (As the 360° images above and below demonstrate.)

So the pictures weren't that good in any case.

Standing on the boulder 360 degree view

Not really worth carrying the 360° camera with me for that.

The main issue, however, was that I wasn't carrying it with me for long after that.

After crossing the boulder, I had attached the 'selfie stick' to my harness. But the 360° camera is more like a regular camera than like an action camera. So it wasn't clipped to the end of the stick, but attached with a regular camera mount. Which means it takes only two or three turns of the camera on the screw to become loose. And lost.

I hadn't even noticed it, but Amedeo mentioned that something black had fallen and bounced down the rockface. A quick check revealed that, yes, that had been the 360° camera.

At least the good thing was that he had seen it fall, so we had a rough idea of where and when it had been lost. And as the boulder was the entrance to the second section of the Via Ferrata, it was reasonably easy to get back to the ground.

Amedeo went back to have a quick look, but didn't find the camera.

(As we were still a large group, it seemed wrong to have everyone wait or ask them to search for the camera. So I had given up on the camera and I assumed that it was now lost for good. However, after the end of the trip, when heading back to Castelmezzano, Amedeo and another guy were willing to go up the first part of the Via Ferrata a second time and have another look for the camera. Or at least whatever parts were scattered all over the ground. Surprisingly, they not only managed to find the camera, but it turned out that it was still functional. A couple of small scratches on one of the lenses. And the cover had come partly loose. But otherwise, the camera had survived the fall unexpectedly well. It was kind of the inverse scenario that I expected when they went to look for the camera. I had assumed the camera would be unusable. But I wanted to have the SD card with the images from the boulder. If those pictures would cost me a camera, I wanted at least to see those pictures. But, as seen above, the pictures were the things that were damaged beyond repair, while the camera was ok.)

At least I now had to carry 250 grams less.

From the boulder, there was a short traverse around one of the rock spires, leading to a rope bridge (well, wire bridge).

Wire bridge as part of Via Ferrata

I had assumed that it would be wobblier and more instable, but it was stable and easy to cross.

From there, we got further up along the rock.

Via Ferrata traverse Via Ferrata traverse

Climbing along the Via Ferrata was still fun. But I was getting exhausted.

Something I had been told (and believed for a bit) was that a nice feature of the Via Ferrata Marcirosa was that most of the upward climbing is at the beginning. So you do the hard bit first. And later it levels out a bit and gets easier.

However, the altitude profile doesn't really support that...

Altitude profile

By the time we were 200 meters higher than the starting point, my legs were starting to get tired and I was out of breath.

So I increasingly stopped for a moment and tried to take a bit of a break. (With slightly bemused and somewhat concerned looks from everyone else. As everyone else was much fitter than I was...)

Via Ferrata rest

And it's difficult to rest on a Via Ferrata. The previous picture makes it look as if I had a bit of a lie-down.

Actually, I was standing there, leaning against the wall.

Via Ferrata rest

It might not be clear from the picture, but I was still enjoying the Via Ferrata. But by then, I was enjoying it in a seriously exhausted way.

There was still a bit of Via Ferrata to go.

The Via Ferrata then started winding around various rock features, so it was difficult to tell how much distance there was left to cover.

Heading uphill the Via Ferrata Amedeo not taking this bit seriously

A short time later we arrived at another wire bridge.

Shorter than the first one. And closer to the rockface. Not as exposed as the first one. Closer to the ground as well.

Second wire bridge Second wire bridge

And, finally, around the corner from that bridge, we were back on solid ground.

There was one more section of the Via Ferrata to go, but I decided to stop at that point.

I had a bit of a proper lying-down rest. And then took the footpath do cover the last uphill bit to Pietrapertosa.

After a pleasant and long lunch break in Pietrapertosa, I was feeling a lot less exhausted again.

We still had to get back to Castelmezzano, though.

One easy way would have been to use the zipline again, although that might have been a problem with all the stuff I was carrying.

And there still was the search for my camera to be done.

I knew that I wouldn't be able to do the first part of the Via Ferrata, up to the place where I dropped the camera, again. But I had been hoping (as it is near to an exit route), that it would be possible to find a regular foot path leading to that area.

However, we kept following "The seven stone path" instead.

That is the main path between Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano.

There is a story from that area about some witches in the hills. And along the path are seven carved stones as an art installation (some of them with sound effects), each carved with keywords relating to elements of this story and witchcraft.

"The seven stone path" was nice, wide and easy to walk as a path. It still meant going down all the way to the small river in the valley (320 meters below Pietrapertosa - a nice downhill walk) and then, unfortunately, up again to Castelmezzano. And while that is 'only' 110 meters above the river, I was (even after a rest and some good food) struggling to walk up there. It's less than a kilometer walking distance and it still took me almost an hour. Walking upwards is really not something I am good at.

But on the way we made a short detour to the start of the Via Ferrata again. I didn't go any farther, but fortunately others did and retrieved the camera.

It was already getting late when I arrived back in Castelmezzano. So I was eager to get into the rented car and drive back to Bari to catch a flight back home the next day.

So, what do I know about Via Ferratas now?

On thing that I kept wondering about was the other Via Ferrata, the Via Ferrata Salemm.

What if we hadn't turned right towards the Via Ferrata Marcirosa, but left instead?

While both are similar, the differences might have been relevant.

Mainly, the Via Ferrata Salemm covers a bit less altitude - 215 meters instead of 276 meters.

While that isn't that much of a difference, I did leave the Via Ferrata Marcirosa after I had covered an altitude difference of 230 meters. Still about 50 meters short of what I would have needed to get to the end of it. But (barely) enough to go all the way to the end of the Via Ferrata Salemm.

At least, possibly.

The Via Ferrata Salemm supposedly has more technically demanding parts. So it is possible that there might have been parts that were beyond my skills. Or that standing on small ledges and limited footholds might have turned out to be more exhausting than the wide foot rests I had on the Via Ferrata Marcirosa.

While there's always the chance that it might have been different, there's about an equal chance that the end result would have been the same.

Although the one real advantage would have been that the Via Ferrata ends in Castelmezzano, eliminating the need to walk all the way down and up again to get to the other side of the valley.

But while it took me a while, I managed to walk back to Castelmezzano from Pietrapertosa, so there's no point in grumbling.

However, the next vacation will be somewhere that's mostly flat.

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