Via ferrata is the Italian for “iron road”. It is a climbing route where the ascension is made via small metal steps, rungs and ladders. Gorges can be spanned by cable “monkey” bridges. The idea is to let relatively inexperienced mountaineers climb routes, either as a sport in itself or to link sections of the mountain that would otherwise be inaccessible. Climbers where helmets (for rock or equipment fall), climbing harnesses and use a special via ferrata device to attach themselves to safety cables or to the equipment itself. This device usually consists of a Y shaped rope with two rapid-lock karibener and optionally a third karibener for clipping directly to ladders, rungs for resting.
Via ferratas seem safer than climbing with ropes but the amount you fall depends on the gaps between fixed points on the safety wires and you risk hitting via ferrata equipment during the fall.
Via ferrata Jacques Reclavier
The Via ferrata Jacques Reclavier is an almost confidential route on the Saleve mountain behind Geneva. It is reached from the Pommier car park via the Convers path. There are many ways to experience this route, walking, snowshoeing, mountain biking (on the descent) or even skiing. I’d seen the sign to the via Ferrata and had long been tempted. From around 900 meters you traverse to the north, using the safety wires as you feel the need. There are a couple of airy traverses and don’t hesitate to admire the rock formations. Don’t hesitate to put your helmet on from the get go too, as the chamois that patrol the cliffs can knock rocks onto your head.
After about 20 minutes or 500 meters of traverse you reach the crux. Around 75 meters of vertical. There are good holds although you are reminded that they are just glued into the rock as some wobble underfoot. The start is fairly steep but not too hard. You then cross a gap with two logs embedded into the rocks which rock precariously.
What follows is a 25 meter vertical climb with the woods some 150 meters below. Don’t look down unless you like heights. Just before existing onto the upper slopes there is a short section of slight overhang.
From here climb through the woods to rejoin the Convers path and a 20 minute walk back to the carpark.
The route is named after Jacques Reclavier who died in February 1997 in a mountaineering accident. It is maintained by his friends from Carrouge. Avoid the route when it is wet or icy and during the February - May period when Falcons are nesting on the cliffs.