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Fear of Heights? Climb These Mountains

A WWI-era invention of rope and ladder courses makes mountains climbing easier on six continents.

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This climber in the Italian Dolomites is on a via ferrata equipped with fixed cables, ladders, and footholds that make the ascent safer and less arduous.

This story appears in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

When a system of cables, steps, and ladders was built in the Dolomites to help World War I troops traverse the mountains, it was called a via ferrata (iron road). Today such assisted routes exist on six continents and let less seasoned adventurers visit “terrain once reserved for rock climbers and mountaineers,” says veteran alpine guide Markus Beck.

Pediatric ER nurse Heidi Farrington, 53, took a via ferrata in West Virginia three years ago, in part to shake a fear of heights. Tethered to lines anchored in rock, she could enjoy some of the challenges and scenic heights of rock climbing, “but in such a way that I felt pretty darn safe.” Thrilled with the outing, Farrington began climbing more and later took a trip to the Dolomites.

Her mountain guide there, Alberto De Giuli, calls via ferrata “a perfect approach to the vertical world. It’s not an adventure park–style journey—it’s real adventure. You use the cable to help you climb, but your feet are on the rock.”


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