Mürren to Gimmelwald Via Ferrata (Klettersteig) – June 21, 2012

While researching our stay in Interlaken, Switzerland we had seen that there was a Via Ferrata (Klettersteig in German) between Mürren and Gimmelwald. Not really knowing what a Via Ferrata was we looked it up, essentially it’s a cable, ladders and steps run between two points on a mountain that makes difficult terrain accessible. An intermediate step between alpine hiking and free climbing. We knew the Mürren Via Ferrata was fairly unique in that it ran downhill instead of uphill and our research showed it to be a “K3” difficulty rating (whatever that meant) and that that it involved “a bit” of nerve racking climbing over a 600m drop to the valley below. It sounded like fun. Heading into Mürren around 10:30 on the Thursday morning we hired the compulsory gear (helmet/harness with two special via ferrata caribiners from Murren Intersport – CF25 each – half the price of another we had looked up) and set about our first challenge, finding the entrance. After about 10 minutes of walking around wearing our climbing harnesses a local asked if we were lost, “Yes” we replied, “You look it!” he said, and directed us to where we need to be which as it turns out was behind the tennis courts, right across from the hire place, follow the “Klettersteig” signs or just look lost and someone will point the way.

Via Ferrata start

At the entrance the sign said in one part to have gloves and in another part there was no mention of gloves. Gloves hadn’t been mentioned and we vaguely thought about going back for some but consulted the brochure which showed people without gloves so in the end we decided we’d be OK without them.

the unassuming start

We walked through a tunnel (Kate nearly tripping at both the beginning and the end where there were unexpected and unnecessary steps).  We ended up in a lovely field and looked pretty cool in our climbing gear. Enjoying the view and the beautiful weather we thought isn’t this lovely and started our leisurely stroll down the mountain, harnesses attached to the cable, only stopping to clip and unclip between cable sections.

Kate in her climbing gear Simon in his climbing gear

Quickly it got a bit more serious….

Simon via ferrata-ing

And then so serious that we don’t have a single picture of how serious it was – we wish we had a helmet camera. Luckily someone already did it for us, the You Tube video below taken by someone with a helmet cam and brave enough to also get their camera out shows the scariest section…

So that was the hard section over with – or so we thought. Next up was a bridge. Well, they say bridge, but really it is just three bits of wire. Because we went by ourselves not with a guide we couldn’t avoid it by going on the zipline (which looks just as scary but avoids quite a lot of climbing). Here’s Kate on the “bridge” holding on as tight as she can.

bridge or so they said

No part of this was easy. Even when you weren’t perched 600m above ground you were still having to check almost every step before you took it. Then came some ladders. Kate breathed a sigh of relief – “ladders I can do that”. But these ladders went on for ever and were at different angles including overhanging.


Next was another wire bridge but just a short one. Although this time we couldn’t balance our arms on the top wires and had to use only our hands to balance.

The last bridge was an 80m suspension bridge. We’d been looking forward to it because it was near the end and there was more than one wire to stand on but once we got to it we weren’t that sure it was better. It was massive. At the start of the bridge you are balanced on a metal peg and step over thin air onto the edge of the bridge which wobbles. You have to clip from the wall onto the bridge while wobbling and then start walking, slowly. At the beginning you have only the wire you are clipped to and use that to “balance” as best you can. You try not to look down because that shows just how much you are wobbling and also the terrible drop below but you have to look because otherwise you might step straight off! In the middle it is quite pleasant – two “handrails” (by this stage you think a piece of wire is a handrail) and you can step one foot in front of the other instead of shuffling (yes that was something to be happy about!). Soon though it is back to the single line to hold on to but the end comes quickly and you know that is the final difficult thing before the end (you can see a cable car stop from here). The tiny dot in the distance in the photo is Kate starting to cross.

suspension bridge

And here’s the video proof…

Rest assured though that between the “scary” bits there are plenty of more relaxed sections that are more like a challenging bush walk than a mountain climb and include gorgeous views of the mountains and valley, there are also waterfalls (one that we were grateful to be able to reach from the trail to refill our pitiful 250ml drink bottle), creeks and an interesting perspective on some of the cable cars that run up and down the mountain in this area and a short while after crossing the suspension bridge, three and a half hours after leaving Mürren, the cable ends and you climb up, emerging unheralded in Gimmelwald and make a beeline for the nearest hotel for a well deserved beer or two.

beers at the end of the via ferrata

And then you look at your hands and regret not going back for gloves before starting (taking the wedding and engagement rings off was definitely a good idea though).

very sore and dirty hands

But you are also very grateful for the experience, had a lot of fun along the way and really feel a sense of having accomplished something quite difficult.

A quick 10 minute cable car ride back to Mürren (and a brief stop for another beer while getting our last glimpse of the view) and we were happy to be safely on the train back towards Interlaken and a good night’s sleep.

the train ride home

We are writing this three days later, Kate’s hands are slowly healing and she can almost walk again without the need for swear words. We anticipate a full recovery 🙂

We would definitely recommend this Via Ferrata as an introduction to the sport, when you go take some gloves (probably a good set of fingerless gloves would work well for operating the harness and holding the wire securely), some proper shoes, good weather and enough water. We will remember this for a long time to come!