Cicerone author Richard Miller tells us about how to came to write the guidebook to Via Ferratas of the French Alps and what he loves about the area. Like so many Cicerone authors, frustrated by the lack of information available on an area, he soon found out that the only way have all the information needed to plan a trip was to write the book himself.
In 2004 I visited the Dolomites, with a copy of the Cicerone guidebook to the via ferratas in hand. I had a brilliant trip and found the activity to be an ideal balance of walking and climbing.
On subsequent trips, I tried a few of the routes in the French Alps on my return journey, but the lack of a thorough, up-to-date, source of information on French via ferratas made visiting them needlessly complex and time-consuming to research.
So the plan to produce a book to the best via ferratas of the French Alps was hatched. Plus, writing the book gave me the perfect excuse for exploring the wide variety of landscapes, flora and wildlife that exist in the area.
The sheer beauty and variety of the French Alps are compelling reasons to visit and explore some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. Much visited for winter sports and mountaineering (and a favourite destination for skiers) the region also offers great opportunities for summer mountaineering activity, hill walking and now via ferratas. Experienced users of via ferratas, looking for a new region to explore, will find plenty of inspiration in this book. Alternatively, if you are planning a holiday in the area and want to try your hand at something different, the easier routes described here will provide a sound introduction to this increasingly popular activity.
Modern via ferratas originate in the Italian Dolomites and were first created in the late 19th century to assist early tourists with mountaineering ascents by replacing ropes with fixed cables and metal rungs. The system was then adopted in World War I to allow the conduct of warfare from the mountaintops by Italian and Austrian troops. In more recent times they have been rediscovered by Italian mountaineering enthusiasts and, in the late 1980s, the first routes were constructed in France.
The via ferratas of the Italian Dolomites can be quite different from the French routes. The former tend to be fixed mountaineering paths, most similar to summer mountaineering routes, whereas the latter are more likely to be sports routes, closer to scrambling or rock climbing. French via ferratas often seek out the steepest and most vertigo-inducing terrain, requiring a reasonable level of fitness and a decent head for heights.
While some of these routes may challenge even experienced rock climbers the majority should be within the reach of any strong hillwalker. The quality of the fixed protection found on the routes, in the form of cables, rungs and other more exotic elements, is normally very high. This standard is maintained by regular checks carried out under the direction of the local authority and ensures that, if properly used, you should have a safe and enjoyable excursion.