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Photo by Dossier P&M.
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Photo by Oriol Clavera.
Congost de Mont-rebei.
The beauty of Catalunya lies not only in the form of its Mediterranean landscape and climate, but in the many ways in which it is possible to enjoy it. Many mountainous regions lie within easy reach of the city, where those who are up for a physical test and those who like to live life on the edge (literally), might consider taking on a new challenge: the via ferrata.
A via ferrata (ferrada in Spanish) is something of a hybrid between a hiking trail and a climbing route, which doesn’t require any technical climbing knowledge. The name refers to a path of climbing trails marked by handles and cables, which assist hikers along their route. The word ferrata comes from the Latin for iron, therefore via ferrata literally means the ‘iron way’ in reference to the iron handles that line the paths and are used as a means of both climbing and traversing steep cliff faces.
In Italian, the term via ferrata originates from via attrezzata, meaning fully-equipped road. The first via ferrata was built in northern Italy as a military trail used to help fighters traverse the Dolomites quickly and safely during World War I. Because of the risk associated with extreme temperatures, avalanches and falls, the alpine military units created protection on the mountains in the form of bridge-like structures made from steel cables, iron rungs which create vertical ladders, and stemples, wooden stairs built into the side of the mountain. The original military routes were later converted to trails for hiking and sports, which became a popular activity in Italy and has slowly spread throughout Europe.
Although guided trips and tour operators are ubiquitous on the Italian trails, the industry hasn’t really taken off in Spain yet. There are a couple of companies operating in Andalusia and Valencia, but none in Catalunya. That said, there are a number of ways you can familiarise yourself with the trails before venturing out into the unknown. One of the best online resources is Deandar (deandar.com/ferratas/en/Catalunya), which provides a list of the trails found in Catalunya, as well as extensive information on each one, including maps, photos, path conditions and level of difficulty ratings. According to the site, most via ferrata are divided into several sections, often of different difficulty ratings, with two or more escapes built into it, in the event that hikers prefer to do only part of the trail.
Via ferrata can be enjoyed by both novices and experienced climbers, and Catalunya is blessed with a network of unique trails. However, choosing a route that meets your particular physical and psychological capabilities is essential. Although it could be considered a kind of climbing route for the less bold, the physical demand can be equally intense. There are several different rating scales, with the Hüsler scale being the most commonly used in Spain. It grades trails from K1 (easiest) to K6 (most difficult) based on four factors: force, psychology, resistance and experience. Another scale, the FPRET, adds quality of the terrain to that list. It is important to understand these scales and to plan accordingly before setting off on unknown trails. Be prepared, or you could be left clinging on for dear life: a climbing harness and a via ferrata kit (including a lanyard and appropriate carabiners to fit the steel cables) are required gear on the trails, while helmets are also recommended.
There are several areas within Catalunya where you can experience the region’s diverse landscapes. One of the more interesting routes is the Via Ferrata Tossal de les Venes found in Montblanc, just north of Tarragona. It has two cabled bridges and the first underground route created in Spain. Rated at a K3/K4 level, it takes climbers on a one to two hour route through some beautiful scenery and several impressive caves.
An easier K2 route can be found tucked along the rocky coastline of the Costa Brava, where you experience the breathtaking scenery of this much-loved region (all the more rugged and beautiful out of season). The Via Ferrata Cala del Molí is found in the region of Sant Feliu de Guixols near Platja de Sant Pol. Here, hikers can traverse steep cliffs above the crystalline Mediterranean.
For novices, one of the easiest introductions to the via ferrata experience is the K1-rated Congost de Mont-rebei. Although there are several K1 trails throughout Catalunya, this one, located just north of Lleida, is particularly spectacular. Inhabiting the narrow gorge of Mont-rebei, this unusual via ferrata runs 50 metres above the Noguera Ribagorzana river. The ease of the trail is obvious from its sturdy cable bridges and the wide flat paths that run along the gorge. While it is considered suitable for children and dogs, parents will have to decide if the trail is appropriate for their individual comfort level. The area is also excellent for bird watching.
So, are you up for the challenge? Now that the heat has finally subsided, the via ferrata offers the chance to take a leap outside your comfort zone and experience nature in a new way. With some good research and preparation, you can off-road at ease and you won’t be left hanging.