It was good to visit the northern part of the Haute Savoie north of the Arve valley.
The via ferrata ?La Via des Saix de Miolene? is located above the village of Chapelle d’Abondance not far from the ski resort of Chatel in the Portes du Soleil area and about 30km south of Lake Geneva.
The via ferrata is in the three sections of increasing difficulty; so ideal for those unsure of their abilities. The first section is called ?Le Cabri? (the name for a young ibex). An ?escape? route marks the end of this section. ?Le Chamois? follows on with an exposed traverse known as the ?Coucou? and a short steep section known as ?la Para Nera?. The final section has a superb steep wall to culminate the outing entitled ?Le Bouquetin? that leads to an exit and a descent path.
The next day it was off to Samoens and the entrance to the Tines gorges before the village of Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval. A short walk up through a beech forest brought us to the via ferrata. The route starts with ?La vire de l’Ours? (the bear’s ledge) that makes a gentle rising traverse across the cliff. A short steep ?wall? followed and then an exposed descent to the 15m long ?L’Oulzes? bridge. Later a ladder took us over steep ground before a final traverse and steep wall took us to the exit.
The via ferrata ?La Roche a Agathe? has a reputation for being one of the hardest via ferrata in France; that is if you take the final overhanging wall known as ?L’Ermite? (the hermit). Today one of the young lads was up for the challenge and after completing the lower section we made ready for the roof. In addition to the standard via ferrata shock absorbing system we also roped up to give me the possibility of giving a ?helping hand? with the rope. This finish is the scene of occasional rescues and has also sadly seen a few fatalities, so not to be undertaken lightly. The first metres are gently the wrong side of vertical; enough to dissuade those without the ?arms? for what is to come. The rock now bulges out further with an intial small overlap to challenge your commitment. And it keeps coming as the next few metres keep your arms working hard before it eases. Yes!
What makes a via ferrata hard is the unclipping and reclipping of the two lanyards as you need to ?hang? from one arm whilst moving the two lanyards to the next section of cable. Typically on these hard sections the sections are very short meaning more ?hanging around?. You can of course use a short ?cows tail? attached to the harness and clip in and rest but for the purist ? The other factors involved in the difficulty will be the duration and amount of these ?physical? sections and of course the ?exposure?. How comfortable you are with large amounts of air beneath your feet?
It was interesting to look at my client’s Cicerone Guidebook and possibly the only via ferrata guidebook for France written in English. I wasn’t overly impressed. He has created his own grading system rather than adopting the one used in France. The French grading system for via ferrata is based on the French alpine climbing grades which although incomparable use a well-known terminology.