EPIC VIA FERRATA AT FÜRENALP IN ENGELBERG, SWITZERLAND
Hiking in Switzerland is an incredible experience with some of the most amazing mountain views and summits in the world. However, you can take it to the next level and actually get off the hiking trail and climb directly up the mountain face on a ladder. It’s called Via Ferrata and you are clipped into a wire so it’s totally safe but also an adrenaline rush as you scale hundreds of meters up the rock face. The Via Ferrata in Fürenalp, Engelberg is known as one of the best routes in the country. It’s challenging but such an adventure!
In this blog post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about doing the Via Ferrata in Fürenalp, how to get there and what gear you need!
Hike Distance: The total hike distance was 6.54 kilometers, which includes the 1km walk from the shop/ticket office to the start of the Via Ferrata. Not sure how accurate that was considering the ups and downs but that is how my Garmin watch recorded the day.
Hike Duration: Our total time from the shop to the wall to the summit was 4 hours and 12 minutes. Our total moving time was 2 hours and 17 minutes. We let a lot of other climbers pass us and went very slowly as always to take photos and just sit around and enjoy the views. It’s not the kind of activity to rush. It could be easily done from top to bottom in under two hours. You do need to catch the cable car down at the top or hike down, which adds a little extra time also.
Hike Difficulty: This route is rated K4 difficulty. I haven’t done too many Via Ferrata’s but I was told this is one of the more challenging ones out there. It was actually my first time ever and was a pretty simple concept of clicking in and out so don’t worry if you have little to no experience. We climbed 773 meters of an incline in total and a lot of it was ladders and metal pegs out of the wall. If you have any fears of heights don’t do this. If you aren’t in good shape… don’t do this. If you like adventure and want a challenge then go for it. There were several families doing it and a young boy so it’s nothing crazy but definitely not for everyone.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the day was 773m from the shop to Fürenalp. The hike starts in at the ticket-shop/Fürenalp cable car office and finished at an altitude of 1811m.
WHAT IS A VIA FERRATA
For those who don’t know what a Via Ferrata is, it’s basically a series of ladders, steps, and rock climbing that leads you up a wall. You are wearing a harness and clip into a strong wire at the start of the Via Ferrata. From that point, you are always clipped in with at least one clip. Ever 10 steps or so, you reach a new section of wire and you unclip one Caribiner clip from the old section and attach it to the new section. Once it is firmly secured, you unclip the second clip from the old section and also add it to the new section so you now have two Carabiner clips in the new section and you move another ten steps. I created a little vlog-style video and posted it below so you can understand what that explanation actually looks like visually.
You can actually buy your own Via Ferrata gear for pretty cheap on sites like Amazon and then you don’t need to rent it at each Via Ferrata course. They usually cost about $20-40 USD to rent per day and can be bought for about $200 for a full kit such as this Petzl Via Ferrata Kit.
HOW TO GET TO THE FÜRENALP VIA FERRATA
If you are staying in Engelberg, there is a free shuttle bus that takes you all the way to the starting point for this adventure. Take the Engelberg Bahnhof, which leaves from just near the train station (about a 200m walk). Just put it in Fürenalp on your Google Maps and select the ‘public transit’ option and it will take you to the nearest stop for the free shuttle.
The Via Ferrata starts at the Fürenalp Cable Car office and costs $20 return trip. You will only need one way as you are taking the Via Ferrata up. One-way costs $14 although if you have the Swiss Half-Card you will receive a half-price on your tickets. I bought mine when I arrived in Switzerland and it has saved me over a thousand dollars. If you want to hike down after the Via Ferrata, there is obviously no need to buy a ticket at all.
The cable car office is also where you will rent the gear for the Via Ferrata, which includes a harness, helmet and carabiner set. The rent for the equipment is $25 and you don’t need a guide.
FÜRENALP VIA FERRATA MAP
On the below map you can see the route we took from Fürenalp Cable Car office to the wall and then up the wall to Fürenalp summit. Although… you really can’t get lost otherwise you won’t be attached to the wire! I’ve attached our GPX route so you can see where we went. You can download it here for use on your Garmin, smartwatch or another app.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE VIA FERRATA AT FÜRENALP, ENGELBERG
Our journey began in Engelberg Town where we walked from our accommodation to the bus stop. At the time we didn’t know it was a free bus/shuttle but when we went to pay the driver said, ‘No thanks’ and on we hopped. Fürenalp is the last stop on the bus and most people will be heading off into the park for hiking and other activities.
When we got off the bus, we still needed to walk another few hundred meters further down the road to reach the cable car/ticketing office. Here you can rent the Via Ferrata gear for $25 or pay your cable car tickets. If you only want to ride down from the top, you can either pay before or when you get back down. It’s just an honesty system as it is not a manned station at the top. We caught the cable car down from the top and paid when we returned.
Once we had our gear, we headed off further down the paved road into the park. It was about a 1-kilometer walk through the valley and then we found the sign that led us through the forest to the base of the wall where the Via Ferrata began. It was all signed and is very easy to follow and find your jump-off point.
At the base of the Via Ferrata, we were a bit nervous. We had never done a Via Ferrata and had actually watched one on Youtube the night before to see how it worked. A family went before us and it looked simple enough! For those who don’t know what a Via Ferrata is, it’s basically a series of ladders, steps, and rock climbing that leads you up a wall. You are wearing a harness and clip into a strong wire at the start of the Via Ferrata. From that point, you are always clipped in with at least one clip. Ever 10 steps or so, you reach a new section of wire and you unclip one Caribiner clip from the old section and attach it to the new section. Once it is firmly secured, you unclip the second clip from the old section and also add it to the new section so you now have two Carabiner clips in the new section and you move another ten steps. I created a little vlog-style video and posted it below so you can understand what that explanation actually looks like visually.
Once you are hooked in you can’t really overtake anyone unless you find a ledge and let them pass over the top of you. We actually fully unclipped at one point and stood on a big ledge and let some people pass through us. That probably isn’t advised as you are then at risk of falling but there are a number of spots along this route that aren’t on the side of the wall and you are walking on firm ground so you can take off your bag, let people pass or have a drink.
Okay… so off we went. Learning the ropes and the clips turned out to be pretty easy. The route begins with more rock-climbing than ladders and it wasn’t too challenging although it still felt pretty physical and like moderate rock-climbing. We did seem to be heading up in a pretty vertical manner so it was still quite tiring as you are literally just climbing ladders, steps or vertical rocks for a few hours.
The route had a mixture of rock-climbing, ladders, and pegs that had been inserted into the wall. They all felt very secure and it seemed to be quite well maintained… which is handy! Josh and I are in quite good physical shape and we didn’t find it incredibly easy. Neither of us has huge issues with a fear of heights but it still challenged us physically and mentally so if you aren’t up for an adventure then this isn’t just your average activity.
As you can see in the video I posted above, there are quite a few sections where you walk sideways along with pegs, almost like little steps across the wall. This part was epic with views across the valley and a huge drop below. You got to feel as if you were a crazy rock-climber without the danger!
The final part of the route was probably the most challenging. A 50-meter long hanging vertical ladders lead you to the final summit. It shakes a little bit and would make quite a few people physically sick just looking at it. For us, it was a thrill but by this point we were a good 600-meters or so above the valley, holding on to a shaking, rope ladder that was hanging a couple of meters away from the rock wall! I took some photos with the drone of other climbers on this section after we had finished.
Once you reach the top there is a small pond to cool your feet and take in the view. We sat here for a while just grabbing some sun, had a drink and sat our feet in the water trying not to annoy the tadpoles!
Just another 100-meters up the hill from this little pond is the restaurant. We were up there on a sunny Sunday, which meant half of Engelberg was up at the restaurant enjoying a coffee and a chat. It was a great vibe and a real buzz to be up there. We had a zucchini soup (highly recommended) and a coffee while sitting out in the sun. The views are top-notch and it’s an awesome way to end the day. You can also fill your bottle here with fresh, cold water for free.
BEST WAYS TO GET AROUND WITH TRANSPORT IN SWITZERLAND
In Switzerland, the most popular form of transport is the train (and sometimes bus). It always arrives on time, is comfortable, efficient and covers almost all parts of the country. It’s damn good and one of the best public transport systems in the world. But it’s not cheap. A one-way ticket for a 1.5-hour journey can quickly rise to 70 USD. The best option is to buy a 3-day, 8-day or 15-day pass with the Swiss Travel System Pass, which gives you unlimited train rides during that period. It will pay itself off very quickly and makes the train (and bus) travel very convenient without requiring you to buy a ticket each time. I used this myself and used the trains and buses for almost my whole time in Switzerland. To head to the page where you can book your Swiss Travel Pass online you can click HERE and select how many days you would like to purchase the pass for.
The other option (Which I also purchased) was the Swiss Half-Fare Card, which gives you half-price tickets on all transport including buses and trains. This ticket lasts for a month and is much cheaper than the full pass obviously but will pay itself off in a matter of a few days as we quickly found out! To visit the page where you can book your Swiss Half-Fare Card you can click HERE and select the date you want it to start.
The other option is renting a car. After our first few expensive train tickets, we started to think this might be the better option and to our surprise, the train can often be far more expensive than renting a car in Switzerland. For example one day we went from Zurich to hike Mount Pilatus and back to Zurich and our total train tickets for four people was $300 USD. The car rental per day was $90 USD. If you are in a group of two (definitely three) or more, I highly suggest renting a car if you are covering a lot of ground as it will give you scheduling freedom and likely be cheaper as we found.