ESSAY: Family Days on Iron Ways: Taking on a Via Ferrata with kids

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 UKC Articles 31 Jan 2023

Sam Walmsley talks us through the challenges you can expect, both psychical and emotional, when taking on a Via Ferrata with young children.

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 Stairclimber 31 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

It seems to me that just like your epics in your younger days, you managed to "get away with it". Only you will know if you "should" have put your family in this position, but I think in some Alpine areas the police would hold you much more than morally responsible should a disaster occur.

In reply to Stairclimber:

Have you done any via ferratas in Europe? The ones I've done is various regions of France and one in Sardinia have all seemed to be popular with families and in many cases marketed in very family friendly ways. A couple i've been to have hired equipment on site and seem to be of the "if the parent is happy, then we are happy for kids to do the route" school of thought. Of course that doesn't resolve you of any responsibility, but I suspect short of outright negligence, which can happen in any part of life, the authorities would view accidents as accidents.

When my kids were smaller and I was worried that they might be nervous and were below the activation weight for the via ferrata kits, I short roped them and belayed them as Kev suggests in the article. It's very easy to do for any moderately experienced UK climber.

 Stairclimber 31 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Yes, I've done many Via Ferattas and they certainly demand more respect than treating them as a fun family day out. The article does clearly highlight some of the real dangers : children can make big errors both mechanically and judgementally. Allowing young kids out of sight or even allowing for the possibility of a 5 year old being off a rope would appear negligent to me. I appreciate the writer's honesty in relating his trip, but please don't set this up as the normal, acceptable way to introduce young children to an activity that is not a playground activity. 

VFs have been discussed several times on here, mostly regarding the 40kg dynamic release minimum, but recent examples of both accidents and near misses have been related.  The discussions are well worth a read. Falling off a VF is something to avoid and to read that one of the children slipped off while out of sight is of real concern.

 TheGeneralist 31 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

> most importantly two karabiners on slings to secure themselves to fixed wire throughout the route.



In reply to UKC Articles:

Was chatting to a friend last week who's just spent a few months in Spain and done some with his wife and 5yr old. They essentially had one parent go off ahead trailing a rope then belayed the child up to them and repeated the process until done. They knew the child was far too light for shock absorbers. Their thoughts:-

Anything traversey is a huge faff and not particularly safe (pendulums if the child falls).  The wires/handholds and footholds are often too far apart for small kids - they literally had to slide the child across a 2 wire monkey bridge because his feet wouldn't reach the foot wire. It massively increases the time taken. On suitable ones everything was great, but they'd want to know if a route is suitable before doing it in the future.

Post edited at 18:15
 seanhendo123 31 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

The minimum weight with regard to making the use of the lanyards un-safe is confusing me...I was under the impression that fall arrest systems are designed to activate at a specific force and so reduce the maximum force that is applied through the person and gear during the fall. If a child weighing 30kg slips and takes a fall and they don't activate the shock absorption system is that not because their hasn't been a dangerous level of force generated?


In reply to TheGeneralist:

Give her a break, she's 9 and doesn't know the technical terms...

In reply to seanhendo123:

No it's because their body doesn't create sufficient energy to tears the stitching enough. If you think about energy transmitted to your body as a function of time and force, the longer the time period over which your body is decelerated, the lower impact force you will receive. If the sling doesn't rip much, you shorten the time frame inwhich you come to rest thereby increasing force. Its not a case of the slings breaking, more your body breaking. Its the same principle as a crumple zone.

 pencilled in 31 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Well I liked it, thanks for sharing, Sam.

I must admit I thought it would be easier to rope up with the kids but I’ve only ever done a couple of sketchy stretchy VF in the Dolomites for reference. I’m motivated to look elsewhere now, thanks. 

 AdamBrown 01 Feb 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks for sharing! I thought it was a wonderfully charming article, very well written and a pleasure to read. Most importantly it's given me quite a lot to think about regarding my own family Via Ferrata ambitions. 

 ChrisJD 01 Feb 2023
In reply to pencilled-in (and AdamBrown):

I expect you'll find the more modern 'community' installed ones in various parts of France and Austria (the type we've mainly done with our two lads) a very different experience to the Dolomites.  Great fun to be had. 

There are some specifically set up for kids, with shorter reaches etc.

 galpinos 01 Feb 2023
In reply to AdamBrown:

Same here! Quite surprised at some of the replies.....

 Alun 01 Feb 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Nice article, and I enjoyed the three different points of view. Though the final one (from the guide) was the most important one for me.

My wife and I took our 9 year old for her first via ferrata this summer, in Andorra. Two super important points (also mentioned by the guide in the article):

- there are no via ferrata lanyards that support weights of less than 40Kg (at least, I couldn't find any); and

- children cannot be trusted to keep both lanyards on the cables at the same time anyway.

The combination of these two points meant that, for me, carrying a short length of rope and a gri-gri was an absolute must - even though we also used a lanyard, to get her used to the concept of clipping and unclipping. 

I found the gri-gri particularly useful as it meant I could clip it directly to an anchor and downclimb while holding the dead rope to help when my daughter got 'stuck' (which she did, multiple times). It also meant that I was confident that whatever happened, she was on belay pretty much the whole time, so I could relax.

The whole experience was amazing, we had a wonderful day out in the mountains, and felt completely safe. The little one got very scared at one point (her first time feeling a proper sense of exposure) but she overcame her fears and and afterwards felt the pride of having done so. And now we're looking forward to doing it again!

 Alun 01 Feb 2023
In reply to Toerag:

I also concur with this advice - in fact in the future I would probably nip up and down any new via ferrata myself first, to be sure. If I can't get up and down it on my own reasonably quickly, it's probably not suitable for my daughter!

In reply to ChrisJD:

Any recommendation for these more child friendly ones?  We are considering this for future holidays.


 Tricky Dicky 02 Feb 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

 children cannot be trusted to keep both lanyards on the cables at the same time anyway.

Agree with this, especially young children. 

There are so many great 'Go Ape' type courses in Europe (certainly more imaginative than the UK ones) that IMHO are far better suited to young children, that I can't see the point in risking their lives on Via Ferrata.  When they're older and can manage the lanyards, by all means take them, but until then I'd opt for the safer, but great fun options available through places such as Parc Acrobranche.

 ChrisJD 02 Feb 2023
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

More child friendly ones:

In the Ecrins:


And these two for much younger kids:



Near Chambery:

Via ferrata de La Dent du Chat


Stuibenfall waterfall 

For >10 yo  with an amazing position and final exciting final traverse over the top of the waterfall.

Post edited at 15:09
In reply to ChrisJD:

That's great cheers, I'll look at them in more detail.  I skied in Pel Voux and Puy saint Vincent about 15 years ago and I've never met anyone else that's ever gone there!

 ChrisJD 02 Feb 2023
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

Have spent many summer holidays there - one of our favourite summer locations.  Has it all.

In reply to Somerset swede basher:

I live 15 mins for Puy giant Vincent - I have made a free app guide to the Via Ferrata in the area. Its on both android and apple, just search via ferrata ecrins briancon and it will pop up.

or on my site

Post edited at 17:55
 pencilled in 02 Feb 2023
In reply to ChrisJD:

cheers Chris. I think we met in Yosemite about 15-20 years ago. Hope all is well. 

 ChrisJD 02 Feb 2023
In reply to pencilled in:

2006 !  Feels like a lifetime ago!

Are you Nick who did Snake Dyke with TimS.  You and Pete hung out with us at campsite? 

All good here, except I got older, lol.

 pencilled in 03 Feb 2023
In reply to ChrisJD:

Yes that’s me. Tim did the walk-in in his skateboard pumps. 

In reply to UKC Articles:

I think some of the criticism comes form the fact that via ferrata is strange sport, on one hand it is really simple to do skill wise but the consequence are very high. Because of this, some people focus on the skill side. There are certain people who seam to think and tell others that taking kids on a via ferrata is like take them top-roping, Its not. This is what people find concerning.

It is a different level with for more nuances for leading and keeping children safe. Remember a fall even when doing everything right can lead to serious injury and a fall when thing aren’t right can easily be game over. It is probably more akin to scrambling, so next time someone tells you they let their kids do x y & z on a via ferrata just substitute via ferrata for grade 1, 2 or 3 scramble and see if it still sounds a good idea.

This article is probably a good description of what a family goes though on a route. I like the bit form the kid’s point of view, because if you do take kids on a route is should be for their benefit. But it has to be said there have been times when that blood curdling scream from out of sight has ended in tragedy. I know of many cases where it hasn’t gone well and people have been hurt or very luck not to have been hut or worse. Around a hand full of people die each year doing Via Ferrata, plus lot and lots of near misses.

For me the most important factor is not to know your kids, yes it’s helpful and you probably already do, but kids are kids and can react differently or just do dumb things when scared or excited. The most important thing is to know yourself, are you experienced enough to deal with any issues that may arise? Have a think about things that could go wrong and decide if you have the ability to deal with them? Don’t let ego get in the way, just be honest. The way I see it every group that sets out should be competent as a group. So as a leader (that’s what you are) you need to make up any fall short in competence within the group, with kids this can be a lot.

You also need to be honest about what support you are providing. Are you just showing them what to do and then letting them go (even if they are in sight), so in all reality you are relaying 100% on them to do it right. Or are you more supervising them, so having an element of control over the outcome, this could be via a rope or being close enough you can see them clippings (every time) and help if needed and intervene if there is a problem. Or is it somewhere in the middle? I think you also have to be honest to the group about this. I have often come across a family or a group of families on a route (no rope), and they all point to the one climber in the group and say she/he is keeping us safe. When yes that climber can deal with a few issues, but really they have just shown the group how to keep themselves safe, and if they mess that up there probably isn’t a lot said climber can do.

With that in mind thinking about the number of children you can realistic supervise and what happens if they all want you to climb next to them or ones fear triggers another’s. Some times is might better for find a shorter route and do them one at a time?

Use of rope had be discussed on here a few times and it really is the belt and braces way of supervision kids or novices on a via ferrata, it allows that element of control and one more thing in the system to keep them safe. Letting kids especially younger ones be 100% responsible for their safety in the mountains is a massive judgment call and I am not sure many people could live with themselves if they got it wrong. especially when the option of a rope is there and it doesn't really distract from the activity.

Now I don’t want to over hype this, there are lots of families that do via ferrata every year most are fine, and most of the times responsible kids won’t make a mistake. But it does only take one mistake. I like to see families out doing outdoor stuff, the kids get so much from it. But I like it when they are having a great time because of their skill and judgment rather than relying on luck.

 ChrisJD 03 Feb 2023
In reply to ecrinscollective:

I found it easier to manage the risks when they were younger - in some ways it gets more difficult as they enter the young 'teenager' zone 12-15; as clearly we all knew everything at that age.

(I know 12 is not a teenager)

In reply to ChrisJD:

Totally totally agree. It can be hard when they are older as they see the simple side doing a Via Ferrata and not always the risk, plus they want to feel like they are doing them selves. I have seen some people rope there kids up as a team (so you not on the rope) and give them a few quickdraws, show them how to use them and look after each other in a team. That way they feel independent and as though they are doing it as a team. Most kids enjoy leading each other, and you get a bit more of a back up. 

 ChrisJD 03 Feb 2023
In reply to ecrinscollective:

.... and then they will start driving a car in a few years, gulp.

(this scares me more than any via ferrata)

In reply to ChrisJD:

> .... and then they will start driving a car in a few years, gulp.

> (this scares me more than any via ferrata)

:-/ I don't have kids. I only look after other peoples in the mountains, so sorry I have no advice on that one. Big rubber Balloon around the car? Good luck.

 Rick Campbell 04 Feb 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

The most dangerous thing you can do with kids is to let them spend their lives lying on their beds looking at their phones. 

In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks to the author for this article!  Many of us have taken our families on via ferrata.  Id have previously avoided mentioning it as it would, as demonstrated, enrage certain portions of the climbing fraternity.  I think as long as you choose the via ferrata wisely, consider the needs of the kids in an alpine environment and provide appropriate protection  for their age/weight then it can open up a huge range of learning/development situations that would otherwise be totally out of reach for children.  My youngest was 3 when I took him on his first via ferrata.  He loved it. 

 seanhendo123 12 Feb 2023
In reply to beardy mike:

Energy/force….their body doesn’t create enough of it in the fall to rip the stitching hence there isn’t enough energy in the fall. The reason the stitching rips is to reduce the peak force produced as the stitching fails at that limit and then as you said gives more time to decelerate (the kinetic energy of the fall to be dissipated)…..still doesn’t make sense to me about the weight limit, crumple zones, stitching, they’re both designed to dissipate energy away from the person they protect but if you lean against a car it doesn’t crumple, if a lorry drives very slowly up to touch a car then pushes it it won’t crumple, there needs to be a certain amount of energy there before they are required/activate 

In reply to seanhendo123:

Sorry, not sure what you don't understand? How the mechanism works?

 Hovercraft 12 Feb 2023
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

> That's great cheers, I'll look at them in more detail.  I skied in Pel Voux and Puy saint Vincent about 15 years ago and I've never met anyone else that's ever gone there!

I’ve taken family (boys now aged 9&11) to the Ecrins for the last 3 summers, we’re going again this summer and I can highly recommend the area for adventurous family holidays. DM me if you fancy some more info. You could also look at for an intro to the area although their accom is almost certainly fully booked for this summer.

I feel confident and competent enough to keep my kids safe on VFs myself, but I’d highly recommend @ecrinscollective if you want someone with specific experience leading kids on VF and/or local knowledge.  Rob’s run some great climbing days for my kids over the years - top roping and more recently intro to leading sessions. Things that I could have done but the boys engage much better when it’s not their dad doing the teaching!

 ewanjp 12 Feb 2023
In reply to beardy mike:

I think what he's saying is that if you lean against a car it doesn't trigger the crumple zone as the force isn't great enough. In the case of a child on a VF kit the force (mass x acceleration) is insufficient (due to the reduced mass) to trigger the stitching ripping (8kN or whatever) and thus ensuring the force never gets higher than the peak force that triggers the ripping. 

I guess that logic works if the peak force that an adult body can cope with (which presumably informs the strength of of force required to rip the stitching) is the same as what a childs body can cope with. I've no idea if it's more or less, but I would assume it's somewhat less - i.e. if the stiching pops at 8kN as anything above that will injure an adult, a force of 7kN might well mess up a 8 year old.

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