Learning the ropes

7 June 2018

Looking up the Fürenwand from the bottom can give you a funny feeling in your tummy –excitement or apprehension, or both. While some people can’t wait to bound up the via ferrata like young goats, others are petrified at the thought. Those who’d like to give it a try but feel a little nervous should register for one of the free Rock & Safety Days climbing courses.

The mountains are shrouded in fog on the first day of the Rock & Safety Days course. The climbers on the Brunnistöckli via ferrata can only see the next rung or peg ahead; the view down into the valley is denied them. “But perhaps it’s not such a bad thing I can’t see how far down everything is,” jokes one woman who is trying to overcome a slight feeling of vertigo. 

With the goal of going it alone
Eight people are taking part in this edition of the three-day Rock & Safety Days course, which Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus offers free of charge to holders of a Guest Card. The participants are accompanied by an experienced mountain guide and receive mental training, too.

The Fürenwand is the highpoint
Simone Hug (27) from Hinwil has already climbed several via ferratas, but always in the company of experienced colleagues. She wanted to be able to master a via ferrata by herself so took the spontaneous decision to register for a Rock & Safety Days course. The oldest participant this time is Kurt Hägi, aged 66. “I often come to Engelberg,” he says, “and I have climbed every via ferrata apart from the one on the Fürenwand, which I have always marvelled at but never dared climb.” The group is a mix of men and women of all ages from 20 to 66, of beginners and more advanced climbers, but the goal of every participant is to be able to climb the Fürenwand on the third and final day of the course. The Fürenwand is a climbers’ classic. Steep and exposed, it is graded K4 to K5 for difficulty (K1 = easy; K6 = extremely difficult) and has 756 metres of ascent. Not everyone is up to tackling this awe-inspiring route. 

Let’s begin with the Brunnistöckli
But the three-day course starts gently – on the Brunnistöckli. This via ferrata is graded K2 and there are many opportunities to take a break. “The Brunnistöckli is ideal for learning to climb,” says mountain guide Daniel Perret of Prime Mountain Sports. “It isn’t too difficult, there are several bridges, and it lets participants have the experience of ascending a peak.” Despite the damp weather, all the participants manage the climb up the Brunnistöckli.

Set your mind to it
The next thing on the agenda for the five remaining climbers is a mental training session with Claudia Müller, who coaches skiing aces of the future at Sportmittelschule Engelberg. Now, in the evening of day 2, it’s her job to mentally prepare the five participants for the Fürenwand. “You can really look forward to tomorrow,” she says. “The view across Engelberg is sensational.” But sweet promises alone aren’t enough. Claudia also takes the participants through a range of different mental exercises. It becomes clear what an important role the mind plays in all our activities – be it climbing or any everyday task. If someone approaches the via ferrata with a mind full of doubt, they won’t get far. 

Made it!
Next day, the mental training seems to have had the desired effect. The five climbers successfully tackle the Fürenwand – this time in glorious sunshine. On this final day, the mountain guide selects Kurt Hägi, as the most experienced climber, to go first: “I still felt some trepidation, but with each metre I climbed I felt more and more certain I could do it – even as the bottom got further and further away.” Only the final section with its vertical ladder caused him to falter a little. “But I made it! It was a beautiful feeling.” Kurt will always have fond memories of the first time he climbed the Fürenwand, which surely won’t be his last. 

Goal achieved!
Simone Hug also felt great throughout the course and especially during the highlight on the final day. “I had no problems on the way up. For one thing I completely trusted the guide, and for another I felt capable of completing the climb.” Her participation in the course was an unforgettable experience, and it had a practical application, too: just four days after completing the course Simone independently took on a via ferrata for the very first time. And that is precisely the goal of the Rock & Safety Days!

Rock & Safety Days
Via ferrata Engelberg
Via ferrata brochure


Written by: Andrea Hurschler
Photos: Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus