The Via Ferrata in WV – Part 2
May 30, 2008, 3:28 am
Filed under: Outdoor Adventure

This is part 2, obviously. If you want to read part 1 first, then scroll down.

Ok, Last time, Amy was hanging off a 400 foot drop off in WV..

Despite all of this, it was the most spectacular outdoor experience that I’ve ever had. I’ve never seen anything so breathtaking (other than having an eel in my face off the coast of Florida, but that’s another post).

At one point, the via wraps around the side of a narrow cliff, and the climber ends up eye-to-eye with the dramatic cliff-face of the neighboring mountain. The wind cut across that corner and whipped my clothes against me. This only served to make me hold on tighter and wish I could also grip the rungs with my feet, too. I moved around the precarious bend.

I took in the sight. I took in a deep breath.

Adam called from around the corner, “Where did you go?”

I called back, “I’m around the corner. Get the camera ready!”

“Why?”

“Remember that cliff we saw driving up? You’re about to be face-to-face with it!”

I kept moving. Beyond this corner the bridge came into view. It’s a bridge constructed of nothing more than very-widely spaced two-by-fours and some cables. The climbers are still clipped in, and there are cable “railings” strung along the length of it.

By the time the bridge was in view, I had managed to get my rope octopus mostly under control and I was feeling more confident in my own abilities. I could see people crossing it, and I started to appreciate the beauty of what we were doing.

As most people who meditate know, it’s possible to have an intensive spiritual experience during sitting meditation. It’s a moment of clarity that is usually achieved after long and intensive sit or a series of long, intensive sits.

It’s the kind of experience that most people frustratingly can only describe as “indescribable.” It’s what happens when the ego, sense-of-self and attachment to time drop away. You lose all of what makes you mortal and touch the thing that makes you divine.

When looking out from my position on the rock, I wondered to myself, “What would happen if I applied a meditative mind to this?” What happened was that I dropped immediately into that moment of clarity. The entirety of the universe rushed into my head and I suddenly understood it.

Because I had this experience before, I knew that my understanding was temporary, and I was completely content to move onto the next thing, when it happened.

The next thing was my eagerness to get to the bridge.

I’m sure the bridge was the safest part of the entire course, but that didn’t stop it from being the scariest part, too. It’s merely balancing on a board, one at a time, which would be nothing to anyone, if it were only a few inches above the ground. Because it was 150 feet off the ground, with a strong cross breeze causing it to sway, it became very scary.

I had to drag my own ropes along with me because I am almost too short for my harness to reach the safety cable above. I could have also clipped to the railing, but by the time I reached the end (the part where the cable was the highest), it was too late.

After the climb, I was emotionally drained and sensory overloaded. Climbing is not only physically challenging, but it requires a lot of thought and problem solving. I felt like I had just completed the SAT’s and my life had depended on the outcome.

This would have been fine, except that I was then expected to launch into a 2-night backpacking trip with 18 other people.  Which you get to read about in the next post.

Here’s a slideshow of pictures we took on our trip to the via ferrata.

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The Via Ferrata in WV – Part 1
May 28, 2008, 2:14 am
Filed under: Outdoor Adventure

I might have to drop out of skydiving next weekend.

I wasn’t expecting to be scared on the via ferrata and I was completely terrified.

I had forgotten that I am afraid of heights; this is a detail that I always forget until I’m staring into a deep gorge of some kind. Besides, wouldn’t any reasonable person feel some fear if she were hanging off the side of a cliff?

It wasn’t just a little bit of fear. It was intensive, heart-pounding, adrenaline flowing terror. I’m not a thrill-seeker. That’s not the reason I get myself into these things. I’m more of an explorer and skill acquirer, but definitely not a thrill seeker. I won’t even change my brand of moisturizer out of fear of the possible consequences.

Not being a thrill seeker wasn’t my only obstacle here. I’m also not a climber. I’ve been to the rock gym three times in my life, and each time, I’ve had to learn to trust the harness. During the whole duration of the via ferrata, I had no confidence that it would save me if I fell.

I’m pretty sure this is not uncommon. If you stopped a bunch of random individuals on the street and asked each one if he would trust his life to a couple of strips a cloth, I bet you’d have a whole lot of people in the resounding “NO!” category.

This means, if you’re about to climb, test the harness. Do this by clipping it somewhere stable and allowing yourself to hang from it before you start ascending. It’ll save you a lot of heartache (or even a more serious heart-condition).

I climbed the via ferrata like someone who truly believed her life was in danger (because I truly believed it). In some places, I only got myself through by pretending that I was only a few inches off the ground and remembering the soldiers that had climbed other via ferrata’s.

The European via ferratas were originally created to move soldiers over mountains. This means that regardless of desire or skill-level, some people had been forced to climb these things out of duty.

The harness decided that merely not helping me wasn’t enough. It went a step further to actually hinder me. Not only was I doing a difficult and frightening climb, but I was doing it with a rope octopus attacking me. It wrapped around my legs, it hung up on things, it draaaagggeed along the steel cable, and caught itself in places that I couldn’t reach without seriously compromising my comfort level.

My last obstacle was my height. I am 5’2 1/2″ and it seems that the via ferrata was designed by someone about a foot taller than me. The rungs and holds were ridiculously far apart. Many times, I only had my fingertips or tip-toes to support me.

In some cases, I had to jump a bit to get to the next hold. In most cases, I just had to some extra climbing.

More than a few times, I looked at the puzzle of the climb and said, “I can’t figure out how to get past this.” It took me a few extra minutes to find a way, but I always found one. I even found that my smaller stature and flexibility became an advantage on occasion.

This post is getting very long, so I am breaking it up.  Next post: The Via Ferrata; More than Terror and Rope Octopi.