Among the equipment that is used to walk the via ferratas, you can sometimes see catches, lanyards, ring-shaped carabiners or similar equipment. These typical climbing and mountaineering equipment are used to simulate a stop during an aided route. Let's explore together the various solutions with which we could stop on a via ferrata without having to use the wire rope.
The obligatory via ferrata set is composed of 3 essential elements to travel the routes safely:
These 3 elements are necessary to guarantee our safety during the most dangerous events that can occur in via ferrata: a fall or falling rocks.
It is a good idea to also bring a couple of climbing gloves to avoid hand abrasion. Personally, I always carry them with me but I wear them only in the winter months, when I know that there are long downhill stretches (eg Ferrata Tomaselli) or where it is necessary to pull significantly on the cable for progression (eg Ferrata Tabaretta or Via Ferrata Pisetta). In other cases I prefer to have my hands free to have more sensitivity and to be able to use the handholds and climb up without pulling the cable.
As indicated in this article, the harness, the via ferrata kit, the helmet and the gloves are the minimum equipment that every hiker brings with him during the climbs. There is another component of the non-mandatory equipment that can be really useful and in some cases take us away from uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations: a longe to simulate a stop.
Among the various features that differentiate a via ferrata from a climbing route, the fact of not being able to to be lowered if you fail to proceed it is one of the main differences. If I can't climb a pass while climbing, I can generally go down. The maneuver may not be comfortable but generally it is successful. Or let me dig in and go up the passage. Starting a via ferrata means having the awareness that you will have to finish it because it is often more difficult (and dangerous) to descend than to climb.
We have a metal cable that helps us in the progression - some will say. This is correct but if you progress only by pulling the cable you run the serious risk of burn your arms making things worse. Burning your arms can be very deleterious in some climbs where the overhanging sections follow one another and require good resistance to complete the route (eg the Via Ferrata Falconera, the Via Ferrata of Gressoney Guides). In these situations, a longe can help us simulate a break and let us rest our arms.
A different situation in which it can be useful to simulate a stop is the ferrata traffic. Having someone in distress in front of us can slow us down and could force us to stop and wait in non-comfortable positions. It happened to me as I walked along the Ferrata del Monte Penna in the Apennines of Reggio Emilia where a lady was stuck in the overhanging passage and her companion was trying to get her back up with a piece of rope and a hoist.
There are many solutions to simulate a stop during a via ferrata, let's see some of them.
Whoever climbs knows that on some cliffs there are no carabiners or drop rings but welded rings. In these cases you will have to do the maneuver to be lowered. In this case, we often get too close to the rest bolts with a series of links attached to each other and connected to the harness ring. They are generally used 2. The video tutorial below explains the maneuver and indicates how to build a chain of referrals. Having some quickdraws with you (I would recommend 3) you can get rid of the cable, the taps or the brackets of the via ferratas to hang temporarily.
Not having special needs, we recommend economic referrals like these two models:
In my opinion, the main pro of this solution is that we recycle something that, if we climb, we have at our disposal. The main against is that in some situations (eg: overhanging section) in which one is in difficulty, building the chain of referrals can be complicated due to the state of stress and fatigue in which one is at that moment. Finally, referrals are not blockers and if hit accidentally in certain ways could open up. It is a remote situation and the risk, however, is limited as it is linked to the via ferrata kit and heat sink.
A definitely more comfortable solution is to have with you a dyneema cord (see image below), kevlar or dynamic.
There are various lengths available on the market. Often they are already sewn or you could even build from pieces that we will then tie with a double English knot or double knot of the guides (see below video). We connect the lanyard to the harness ring under the via ferrata set with a knot in a choke (or wolf's mouth) and on the opposite end we insert a carabiner, ideally with a ring nut. A recommended solution is to make a boatman's knot around our carabiner so that it remains stationary at one end and does not hang down along the cord.
A necessary clarification: we should always prefer a snap-hook with respect to a normal carabiner because we avoid risks of accidental opening. If you use a normal carabiner, the risk (however remote in this use) remains limited thanks to the via ferrata kit that protects us in the event of a fall.
This solution has the advantage of being ready for use in situations of need. The main disadvantage is that the lanyard has a fixed length and in some situations it will be better to have a rather long lanyard (eg: traverse with the rope at face level as in the Ferrata Tabaretta or Piazzetta). In other situations it might be better to have a shorter string (eg: overhanging ladder with brackets or change as in the Ferrata delle Guide di Gressoney).
If you opt for this solution, we recommend a webbing or a dynamic cord 60 cm long, such as:
There are some adjustable length lanyards on the market that have mitigated the limitations of this solution, for example:
to name two. However, they have the disadvantage that the length must be adjusted precisely in that moment of need and sometimes there is the risk of being unclear at that time.
To overcome the problems of both the chain of quickdraws and the solution with a single carabiner, you can build a lanyard that allows us to have two different rings with different lengths - one longer suitable for traverses or ledges and the other shorter one suitable for brackets in vertical sections. The video tutorial below clearly explains how to run it. That is, from a cord create two rings, offset the one closest to the harness and tie the rings with two boatmen's knots. At this point you can connect them to the harness holder or to the backpack's chest strap.
The main pro of this solution is that you have two lanyards immediately available of the ideal length to simulate a stop both crosswise and on walls with brackets. For this solution we can buy lanyards to be built or pre-sewn. Among the precucites, however of a length of about 120 cm, we suggest:
The Italian company Climbing Technology has produced one Y-webbing which performs very well the function indicated above with cord and two carabiners without the need to have to build the staggered rings and the boatmen around the carabiners.
It is a pre-made webbing with two lanyards of different lengths and an innovative connection system to the harness ring.
Personally I found this solution as the best one for practicality among those available and I use it a couple of years without problems.
Beyond the webbing, two snap-hook carabiners are required. To prevent them from creating problems in the chain, the carabiners must be rather thin and not large (such as those suitable for equipment carriers). For example, we recommend the Camp Orbit Lock or the Camp Oval Lock.
The solutions indicated in the article do not replace the via ferrata set complete with heat sink. The via ferrata set is the device that must save our lives in the event of a fall and which dissipates the energy generated when falling. For further information read the article on Fall Factor in Ferrata. The lanyard or chain of references serves exclusively to help us simulate a stop in a passage where otherwise we should stick to the wire rope and then tire out our arms, as can happen in difficult passages, traffic jams on the way up or simply to take a picture.
Thanks to the Alpine Guide Carlo Alberto Montorsi of WBGuides for the explanatory videos we have inserted.