It is no secret that mountaineering is a great way of keeping yourself flexible and in good condition. It is a great total body workout and tremendous for instilling concentration, discipline and determination. The downside is that, well….it involves mountaineering!

It’s a pursuit that is simply not to everybody’s liking for one reason or another. Of course I’m biased and have been doing it most of my life. I’ve been lucky to enjoy some amazing climbs around the world and would love to think everybody might follow my lead and experience the same things.

However I know this isn’t going to happen.

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But for those of you who fancy this kind of outdoor adventure but not the full mountaineering experience there is an ideal answer – Via Ferrata.

For just half a day out, you could scale a cliff, feel like you’ve conquered the world, soak up dazzling views on the summit and still be back in time for tea or a beer.

You might need to travel a bit first but Via Ferrata is available in a number of European countries including: Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and also the UK.

There are also routes in Canada and USA. If you happen to be travelling anyway or are looking for a new activity based holiday I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

A Via Ferrata trail is like rock climbing but it doesn’t require anywhere near the same amount of experience, technique or skill. And best of all there’s not the same fuss and bother with equipment. All you really need to bring with you is a harness and a head for heights.

Via Ferrata or Iron Road as it translates, originates from the Dolomite mountain range in Northern Italy.

In the First World War the army needed to devise a way to scale cliffs quickly so they set up a series of vertical trails against the rock by bolting in ladders, chains and bars so that their men could move quietly and efficiently through awkward terrain without the necessity of skills and training.

Thankfully we can now benefit from this same glorious and exciting ease of movement around rock faces without the risk of being picked off by enemy fire!

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Although having said that, it is each man for himself. You are responsible for your own safety and continually clipping yourself to the safety wire assures this. Any foolish bravado, absent mindedness or lack of respect for mortality could mean you have a rapid descent and a very sudden stop.

Which reminds me of an instructor many years ago who told me as I leant right back over a sheer drop and prepared to abseil several hundred feet.

“Just remember, this is the second most dangerous way of getting down a mountain”. “What’s the first?” I said before I could help myself. “Falling” came the answer. It certainly focused the mind and eliminated any chance of a James Bond style bouncing descent.

The whole experience replaces a gym workout nicely with a mix of cardio, strength, flexibility and elation when it all ends!

Usually a Via Ferrata outing requires a hike to get to it, an uphill trek that certainly gets the heart up to an aerobic pace and can grind on for about 40 minutes. Then once you’ve kitted up, fastened your harness and have untangled the ropes you’re off!

The next hour or so will be grabbing a hold of what you can to gain more height so the upper body and forearms get a workout. Depending on the severity of the ascent you may find your legs doing wide angled lunges now and again too!

Whatever the muscle action the focus is on staying on and climbing up – delicately too – so as not to cause a mini rock fall on those below.

Few things beat the simple reward of making a summit by your own power. The views can be magnificent and therapeutic too. Any stresses, strains and concerns seem to evaporate in the face of a stunning panorama.

No camera can capture that. In one turn of the head from my latest via ferrata there was Mont Blanc, Lake Geneva, The Matterhorn and the Eiger all waiting to be admired.

There are five grades of Via Ferratas (1 being the easiest) so if clasping a piece of skinny iron on an overhang isn’t for you, there are other progressive options that entail more walking and scrambling.

There is a good choice scattered around the European continent and rest of the world. Those of you in the UK might like to try Honister in The Lake District – have a look at http://www.honister-slate-mine.co.uk/via_ferrata.asp.

So if you’ve ever fancied flexing your gym honed muscles in the outdoors this is perfect for you.

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