Mountaineering or mountain climbing is the sport, hobby or profession of hiking, skiing, and climbing mountains. While mountaineering began as attempts to reach the highest point of unclimbed big mountains it has branched into specializations that address different aspects of the mountain and consists of three areas: rock-craft, snow-craft and skiing, depending on whether the route chosen is over rock, snow or ice. All require experience, athletic ability, and technical knowledge to maintain safety.
Mountaineering is often called Alpinism, especially in European languages, which implies climbing with difficulty such high mountains as the Alps. A mountaineer with such great skill is called Alpinist. The word alpinism was born in the 19th century to refer to climbing for the purpose of enjoying climbing itself as a sport or recreation, distinct from merely climbing while hunting or as a religious pilgrimage that had been done generally at that time.
The UIAA or Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme is the world governing body in mountaineering and climbing, addressing issues like access, medical, mountain protection, safety, youth and ice climbing.
A via ferrata (Italian for "iron road", plural vie ferrate or in English via ferratas ) is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other locations. The essence of a modern via ferrata is a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically (every 3 to 10 metres (9.8 to 33 ft)) fixed to the rock. Using a via ferrata kit the climber can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any fall. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps and even ladders and bridges are often provided. Thus via ferrata allow otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing or need for climbing equipment (e.g. ropes). They enable the relatively inexperienced a means of enjoying the dramatic positions and accessing difficult peaks normally the preserve of the serious mountaineer; although, as there is a need for some equipment, a good head for heights and basic technique, via ferrata can be seen as a distinct step up from ordinary mountain walking. Conversely, the modest equipment requirements, ability to do them solo, and potential to cover a lot of ground, mean that via ferrata can also appeal to more experienced climbers.
Via ferrata can vary in length from short routes taking less than an hour, to long, demanding alpine routes covering significant distance and altitude (1,000 metres (3,300 ft) or more of ascent), and taking eight or more hours to complete. In certain areas, such as the Brenta Dolomites, it is possible to link via ferrata together, staying overnight in mountain refuges, and so undertake extensive multi-day climbing tours at high altitude. In difficulty, via ferrata can range from routes that are little more than paths, albeit in dramatic and exposed situations, to very steep and strenuous routes, overhanging in parts, demanding the strength--if not the technique--of serious rock climbing. Generally, via ferrata are done in ascent, although it is possible to descend them.