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Via Ferratas Of The French Alps

25th Sep 2017

Via Ferratas are perhaps one of the oldest forms of adrenaline-based mountain activity. However they weren't originally designed with pleasure in use. Originating in the Italian Dolomites they were built in wartime to allow troops quick passage through difficult terrain. Whilst some of the originals still exist, there is now an industry dedicated to their building and maintenance, taking things to far more extreme levels. This Cicerone guide is a very handy reference to finding them in the French Alps. All told, there are 66 routes listed, but I suspect that there have been more built since it was published in 2014. There are certainly more outside of the Alps region. They can be found either by visiting the tourist information centres in likely looking towns (basically anywhere with rock walls nearby) or online.
The guide has been compiled by Richard Miller who clearly holds Via Ferratas close to his heart. There are a whopping 43 pages of introduction, detailing everything from safety, equipment and when to go. If you're not familiar with the process of 'doing' a Via Ferrata, or are planning to go yourself without calling at a tourist info centre first, then do take the time to read this section.
The guide is split into 6 regions ( Geneva & Northern Alps, Chambery, Tarentaise, Maurienne, Grenoble and Briancon. We centred our attention this summer in and around Briancon, which has 15 routes detailed. Each section has its own map, with dots indicating the location of the start. Each individual route then has its own section which includes an introduction, summary, description, map and photos. Essentially most of the information that you need is there - the grade / difficulty, time taken, altitude etc, and once you have located your route, the guide is great. However there is one key piece of information that was not always present, and when it was, tended to be hidden within the description rather than included as part of the summary - the aspect. During August in southern France aspect can be key, with north facing cliffs being cool enough to enjoy. Although it's usually possible to ascertain the aspect by examining the maps, it would have been useful to have the information more readily available. My only other gripe is with photos. Via Ferratas are exceptionally photogenic, but the guide does little to inspire on that front. Aside from that, priced at £17.95 it's a bargain given the number o hours of enjoyment that could be had by doing all of the routes in the book.

More info on the Cicerone website.