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Via Ferrata (or “klettersteig” in German-speaking nations) is a relatively young pursuit here in North America. But in Europe, its history dates back over a century. While the first via ferrata routes were built to access popular mountain summits more easily, most protected routes in the Alps were a result of military construction.
During World War I, the armies of Austria-Hungary, Italy and France manned mountain positions in the areas of the Dolomites and the French-Swiss Alps. Military engineers built ladder routes, underground tunnels and hanging bridges to increase the efficiency of troop movements over mountainous terrain.