I’m very careful not to list something in my guidebooks that might encourage our travelers to do a physical activity that’s out of their league. My favorite valley in the Swiss Alps has a new outdoor experience called a Via Ferrata, or “way of iron” — and, while locals were saying, “It’s great…no problem,” I decided to check it out personally.
I enlisted my B&B host, Olle, to join me. We hired a local guide, put on harnesses, and set out for what proved to be the highlight of my entire trip — and one of the biggest scares of my life. For the next several nights I awoke clutching my mattress. Here’s how I described it for the upcoming edition of our Switzerland guidebook:
Klettersteig Via Ferrata—Mountaineers and thrill-seekers enjoy a 1.25-mile steel cable essentially running from Mürren to Gimmelwald along the cliff. A Via Ferrata (literally “way of iron”) is a cliffside trail made of metal steps drilled into the cliff with a cable running at shoulder length above it. Mountaineers equipped with helmet, harness, and two carabineers make the three-hour journey always clipped to the cable. While half of the route is easily walked, several hundred yards are literally hanging over a 3,000-foot drop. I did it and, through the most challenging sections, I was too scared to look down or take pictures. Along with ladders and steps drilled right into the cliff, the trip comes with three thrilling canyon crossings — once by zipline (possible with guide only), once on a single high wire (with steadying wires for each hand), and finally over the terrifying hanging bridge (which you can see from the Gimmelwald-Mürren gondola ride, just above Gimmelwald). For a peek at the action, search “Via Ferrata Switzerland Murren” on YouTube. While experienced mountaineers rent gear (25 SF from the Gimmelwald hostel or Mürren’s Intersport) and do it independently, most should hire a licensed mountain guide (95 SF per person including gear and donation to the Via Ferrata, in small groups of 4 to 8, tel. 033-821-6100, www.klettersteig-muerren.ch, firstname.lastname@example.org).