Via Ferrata Sets
Why do I need a via ferrata set?
A brief excursion into the background of safety theory makes it clear why a good via ferrata set can save your life in the event of a fall. When you are climbing, there is usually quite a lot of rope between the person falling and the companion who is able to gently break the fall, in a similar way to bungee jumping. In specialist jargon: a small fall factor means a low impact force. In contrast, in a via ferrata tour, only the short length of rope in the via ferrata set is available to brake you and the braking distance is almost too short as if you were traveling into a wall. Only the dynamic function of the via ferrata set is able to reduce the generated energy to an acceptable level.
Mountaineering ropes stretch slightly when subject to load and therefore absorb energy. The shorter the available rope length and the greater the height of the fall (= the more energy is involved), the more difficult this task becomes. The severity of a fall is measured in terms of the fall factor: the height of the fall divided by the length of the rope section that absorbs the fall. For example, if a rock climbing enthusiast suffers a fall of 5 meters after a climbing distance of 20 meters then the fall factor is 5/20 = 0.25 – nothing to worry about. Falls of a factor of 1 or more are referred to as "hard". A via ferrata se( possesses only a 1-meter long brake rope: Considering the same 5-meter fall, the fall factor is now 5/1 = 5 – and the stress on the carabiner and the body is twenty times as great as for the rock climber.
The impact force is the maximum force to which the body and fixing points are subjected during a fall. It corresponds to the jerk which you feel on braking. It grows with larger fall factors and can be reduced by dynamic braking. To avoid injuries to the spinal column and discs and the the fracturing of the carabiners, the standard for via ferrata sets limits the maximum impact force to 6 kN. This corresponds approximately to the drag force that a weight of 600 kilograms would impose on the body. Therefore, even using a via ferrata set that complies with standards, forces may occur which make falls somewhat unattractive – quite apart from the danger of colliding with the rock face.
On a via ferrata tour, you can still see occasional individuals who secure themselves with a simple climbing rope, cable or even ordinary rope sling. If they were aware of the dangers of this type of static fixing then they would happily invest in a dynamic via ferrata set.
Static braking effect
If you fall with a fixed rope then the rope has to stretch to absorb the entire energy. Because of the shortness of the rope section during via ferrata tours and the potentially large fall heights (high fall factor), enormous force peaks may occur (impact force) – as if you were braking through a concrete floor. Braking becomes even harder if ordinary rope or cable material is used statically since these materials do not stretch and generate even greater impact forces. This is a fatal hazard!
Dynamic braking effect
In the case of a dynamic via ferrata brake, it does not matter whether you use rope or cable material. This is because, in this case, the energy is absorbed by friction as the safety rope is pulled through the brake. If the shape of the brake and the employed rope material are optimally harmonized then the fall is braked gently as if through a trampoline or air cushion. The correct sizing of these components is tested by the standard and the measured impact force may not exceed the value of 6 kN.
Reliable safety, always where required and never in the way – a via ferrata set must fulfill many tasks when one considers the variety of situations and requirements with which it is confronted during a tour.
When the user is moving along the via ferrata, the safety set must always be easy to use but must also permit freedom of movement and never get in the way. Easy-to-use carabiners, compact brake rope packing and clear design features help achieve this goal.
When resting during difficult passages or to take photographs, you can suspend yourself directly in the via ferrata set or in the buckle, thus keeping you agreeably close to the fixing.
Due to the height differences and protruding fixing points, falls should always be avoided during via ferrata tours. When planning a tour, bear in mind: when choosing via ferrata routes, make sure that the level of difficulty is well within your capabilities. Under all circumstances, you should avoid pushing yourself to the limit on a via ferrata tour, since although a via ferrata set will stop you from falling for long distances, a fall in a correctly functioning via ferrata set always involves a high risk of injury. Mammut therefore recommends additional belaying by a partner with a climbing rope for inexperienced adults. Children must also always be secured with a rope from above.
Positioning the via ferrata set
Use only standardised and undamaged hip-chest belt combinations, combination harnesses or hip belts. Never use a chest strap on its own.Connect your via ferrata set to your belt, as shown in figures 1-3, using a girth hitch knot. Guide the tie-in loops through the tie-in point and then thread the complete via ferrata set through the tie-in loops. When using a hip belt, it is essential to note that the via ferrata set must only be fixed to the tie-in loop of the belt using a girth hitch knot. Under no circumstances should you attach the set to your hip belt as shown in figures 4-6.When using a via ferrata set with a rope brake design, make sure that the free end of your via ferrata set (the end without a carabiner) hangs loosely by attaching it, for example, to a gear loop on your belt.
Via ferrata tours
When using a via ferrata set, both carabiners should always be engaged. One exception is when swapping to an intermediate fixing point or, for example, guide bars. First hook a carabiner in the new section as also shown in figure 1, only then should you repeat the procedure with the second carabiner. Make sure that at least one carabiner is engaged at all times. Once the first carabiner has been swapped, the second must be engaged again in the guide cable. Under no circumstances must it be attached to your belt.
Taking a rest during a via ferrata tour
When taking a rest during strenuous sections or to take photographs, you can hang directly from the Via Ferrata set; alternatively, use the rest loop provided (see fig. 1), which offers a comfortably shorter link to your chosen securing point. Once the set’s rest carabiner is no longer in use, on no account hang it from your harness (see figs. 4-5). Instead, it can be allowed to hang free (see fig. 2), or it should be clipped onto the Via Ferrata set (see fig. 3).
Durability - when to replace
Even though via ferrata sets are one of the most robust items of your equipment: they still have to be replaced.
After a genuine fall, they must always be replaced. It is extremely dangerous to rethread the brake rope or cable since the exact alignment can become unbalanced. In the absence of any stress due to falls which (hopefully) practically never occurs, via ferrata sets have a relatively long lifetime since the wear and tear at the short rope segments is considerably less than that of climbing ropes, the whole length of which is dragged over the rock face.However, you should still try to avoid situations which may result in damage and examine the via ferrata set, like the rest of your equipment, for damage at regular intervals. You should pay special attention to the stitched seams and the areas subject to stress (around the brake, carabiner loops, tie-in loops). If in doubt: replace the set too early rather than too late since ultimately your life depends on it. The table below provides you with information about when the via ferrata set needs to be replaced for safety reasons; in addition, it must be replaced immediately if any of the following criteria apply:
- after a serious fall (mechanical damage due to heat resulting from friction)
- if the webbing or the seam pattern is damaged (e.g. roughening or furring of the webbing)
- if the profile of the stitched seams is damaged (dubious rigidity)
- in the case of irreversible, high levels of dirt (for example due to grease, bitumen oil etc.)
- after contact with acids, for example due to a car batteryafter high levels of thermal stress (melt points or traces of melting due to contact or friction heat identifiable)
The following table provides guidelines concerning the period of use of the via ferrata set:
|Frequency of User||Approximate Life Span|
|Never used||10 years maximum|
|Rarely used: twice per year||up to 7 years|
|Occasionally used: once per month||up to 5 years|
|Regularly used: several times per month||up to 3 years|
|Frequently used: each week||up to 1 year|
|Constantly used: almost daily||less than 1/2 year|
When using the Tec Step via ferrata set without a safety rope, the permitted weight of the user is between 50 and 100 kg. However, the use of a safety rope allows the via ferrata set to be used by lighter or heavier individuals.
Having the proper equipment and using it correctly are essential for safety. However, the most important thing is the brain: planning, tactics, risk management are the key issues that make any mountain tour safe and successful. The advice below is intended to help you achieve this.
Company in the mountains can increase your enjoyment and safety, but may also be a source of danger. Remember that two heads are better than one and check one another's equipment: Is the harness on and locked properly? Is the via ferrata set attached correctly? Are the carabiners accessible and working properly? Helmet on? Let's go! However, you should also try to be open and honest: How do I feel? How do you feel? Are we fit enough? Healthy all over? Does anything hurt? Fear of steep drops? Do we have to go up there? If you can talk to your companion about your personal weaknesses and fears, then the more likely you are to come to honest, rational decisions – whether it's an encouraging "come on, you can do this" or a relaxed "let's take the easier route".
Care and consideration
Lots of people on a via ferrata tour and the possibility of climbing close together create special dangers. A fall during the climb can travel surprisingly far down: As far as the next intermediate fixing point since the reserve brake rope and the legs go down further than the tie-in point. The old rule: "Only one person at a time between the fixing points" must therefore be observed: At least three meters distance from the fixing. If the people behind are climbing too close to you, point out this danger.Avoiding loosening rocks yourself should be just as self-evident as repeatedly looking out for rock falls above. And care and consideration are also essential when overtaking: hectic pushing and shoving are dangerous and create anxiety.
Taking children on via ferrata tours
Children love playful rock tours; that is why you must pay special attention to them to avoid their exuberance leading to an accident. First principle: Only take children on routes that are child's play for you yourself. That way, you can concentrate on their safety. The difficulties they create depend on their climbing experience(e.g. from the gym), size (e.g. distance between rungs) and condition. Technically talented children can use their own via ferrata sets; however, it still makes sense to use a short rope for additional safety.It is extremely advisable for them to use a via ferrata set while simultaneously being directly attached by a short length of rope since a mistake may cause a child to become completely detached.
Safety for professionals
Advanced safety techniques may be of particular value with weaker companions (children, beginners) or if showers have made the going more difficult. The standard is to ensure safety with short rope lengths (15-30 m) over and beyond extremely steep sections. To ensure the safety of climbers coming after you, it is necessary to take a safety device (HMS carabiner). Of course, it is important to learn learn and practice its correct operation. In the case of diagonal climbs and traverses, express loops in the intermediate fixing points may help prevent climbers behind you from swinging and falling long distances.In many of the more challenging modern climbs, the only safety available for traverses over slippery rock sections is the guide cable. In such situations, the via ferrata set may be suspended briefly.
By selecting the right tour, suitable for your level of expertise, and planning it directly then you have already avoided the main reason for mountain accidents. Conversely: If the tour is too difficult or too long for your ability, companions or the conditions then danger is present.
When planning a tour, ask yourself the following questions: How difficult is the climb? How long will it take (with the ascent and descent)? Is there an opportunity to break off or choose a different direction with alternative destinations? What are the conditions like (damp, packed old snow fields)? How reliable is the weather? What sort of form am I in? And my companions? Draw up a realistic schedule with checkpoints for conditions and adherence to timing and be prepared to turn back if the schedule cannot be observed.
We will now look at some serious misapplications of Mammut via ferrata sets. This misapplications must be avoided at all costs. However, since it is not possible to list all errors, this information can never replace your own knowledge, training, experience and personal responsibility.
The following applies to all via ferrata sets:
- Only use the via ferrata set in combination with a hip/chest harness combination that complies with standards and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
- When you are climbing, both carabiners should never be disengaged at the same time.
- The set's strap and rope components must never be knotted.
- The set must not be used again after being subject to a fall. Via ferrata sets are non-reusable systems and must be replaced following a fall.
- The carabiners may only be engaged in the via ferrata's safety rope. For example, the carabiners must not be engaged in the climbing harness.
The following applies to Y systems and energy absorbers:
The position of the webbing brake must not be changed, it must not be stowed anywhere (e.g. in your trouser pocket).
The following additionally applies to Y systems equipped with brake ropes:
- The loose end of the brake rope must be fixed close to the tie-in point and must not be packed other than as described in the manufacturer's information.