Our guide helped all the other women get into their climbing gear to prepare for the via ferrata in Sant Feliu de Guixols “I understand you are the spare,” he said in heavily accented English as he pulled the climbing harness straps tight around my legs.
I offered an uneasy chuckle at his joke. I mean, I was the oldest and probably least fit among the six of us, but the spare? As in, “If we lose you along the way, it’s ok, because we’ll still have five left.” I had done some climbing years ago, but I was a little nervous about my abilities, and this wasn’t helping. Maybe I misunderstood.
Albert Gironès, a local adventure enthusiast and creator of the trail we are about to embark upon, accompanied our small group of travel bloggers on what was for most of us our first attempt at a via ferrata.
For those who don’t know: a via ferrata (from the Italian for “iron path”) – or via ferrada in Catalan – is a protected climbing route with safety cables that allows novice climbers to traverse cliffs or mountains in relative safety.
To master the path, you will need a climbing harness with three carabiners with which to clip onto the safety cables, and a helmet – not to protect you from falling on your head, but to protect you from rocks falling on your head from above. To illustrate this, Gironès tossed a stray boulder into the water below us with a hollow splunk.The path begins with a sharp descent onto the cliffs from above, and then quickly you venture out onto the cliffs directly above the water. As soon as you grab the first handhold, you realize that you probably should have been doing some sort of upper body strength training prior to this. At some points you can’t exactly see where the next hand or foothold might be and you have to sort of feel your way blindly. A seagull, who had made a nest just above the safety cable, guarded her baby rather ferociously when we tried to slide by her. When one member of our group ran into some trouble, our guide quickly made his way to her, clipped her carabiner to the handhold so she could hang freely, and after letting her catch her breath and rest for a minute, talked her through the next few steps until she was confident enough to proceed on her own.
I had done some rock climbing when I was younger, and I knew that paralysis that comes when you just don’t think you have it in you to finish the course. I once held up my team for a good 30 minutes as I tried to scale a wall just a few inches taller than my comfort zone. With encouragement, cheering, bribery and coercion from the rest of the group, I finally did it.On this trail, my first nemesis was the wooden plank bridge about 20 feet above the water. I was frankly scared to death to cross it, even though I would remain clipped into the safety cable the entire way across. I remembered the Chain Walk my family and I had bested in Scotland, without a safety cable, where in order to even get to the walk, I had to walk across a narrow wall with a steep drop on either side. If I could do that (following 6 children under 13 who ran across with no safety equipment and no qualms), I can do this, I thought to myself. I took a deep breath of that fresh sea air, looked down at the plank a few feet in front of me, and put one foot in front of the other. I tried not to think, and I don’t think I actually breathed as I crossed. But once I made it across that one, I practically pranced across the next one. I was unstoppable. With every step and shimmy across the next cliff face, I felt stronger and sassier, and I went faster and faster along the trail, unhooking my carabiners and switching them to the next section as I went, so they could slip behind me as my safety net. As I waited at the end of the path for the others to catch up, savoring my victory in the imaginary race I had run in my head, I realized that what Gironès – the very kind, extremely supportive advocate for outdoor adventure for all – had actually said at the beginning was not that I was the spare, but that I was the expert, since he had heard I had done some climbing before. I’m sure I’m not an expert, but I did feel some satisfaction that I had mastered this trail with a group of women at least 15 years younger than me. The Via Ferrada de la Cala del Moli is free and open to the public.
Equipment rentals are available at Parc Aventura in Sant Feliu de Guixols. You can also book a guide to go with you on the trail – highly recommended if you’re a beginner, if only to learn the safety essentials.
Best for ages 10 and up, and not for the faint of heart.
Many thanks to Albert Girones, Iconna – Costa Brava Tourism Board images archive, and Adrian Ann from Adrian’s Travel Tales for the use of their photographs.This trip was sponsored by the tourist boards of Costa Brava and Sant Feliu de Guixols, but my opinions are always 100% my own.