What is the Via Souterrata?
A Via Souterrata is, as its name suggests, an underground via feratta. Just as via ferratas were invented to get troops across steep cliff faces quickly and efficiently before it became a sport in its own right, via souterratas make the otherwise inaccessible cave environment accessible to all!
The Via Souterrata (underground path, or underground way in Italian) in the Southern French Alps is only the second of its kind in Europe and was built in 2017.
The particular site for the via souterrata was chosen because it has a bit of everything for a great all round experience. It offers a good variety of features including an 8 meter well at the beginning, some interesting geological formations, a couple of "low passages" where people need to crawl (but not more than a meter long), a "monkey bridge" (one cable for the feet, one for the hands) and a small suspension bridge. It takes about 2 hours. Cavers get to discover everything that makes the world of caving in a safe and easy environment. It is a great way to discover and will let you want more!
Where is it?
Our Via Souterrata is situated in the Dévoluy massif, which has one of the greatest numbers of undiscovered cavities and caves not only in France but also in Europe – comprising 600 caves and cavities, and a well that is just under a kilometre deep! This mysterious, unexplored, underground world was the perfect choice for this unique activity!
What also makes this activity really special is its proximity to the resort of Super-Dévoluy, which means that it is only a 15' walk to join the entrance well. And it operates in the winter too! Our guides offer the activity in the winter, with the approach walk done using snowshoes. Since the temperatures are stable at about 10°C in most caves, it is both cool in the summer when temperatures are blazing hot outside and relatively mild in the winter when it is freezing outside.
How was it created?
The idea for the Via Souterrata came in 2009 when our Undiscovered Mountains caving guides were exploring part of the underground system using traditional caving techniques. They started to imagine how putting in cables and more permanent hand holds and ladders could make the experience not only more accessible to all, but also more interesting for cavers.
The environmental consequences of drilling into rock that has remained untouched by humans for hundreds of thousands of years and the obvious safety considerations of building a via souterrata meant that the project had its ups and downs and supporters as well as opponents. It took 7 years to materialise, with much support from Jean-Marie Bernard, the mayor of St Etienne-en-Dévoluy, who always thought the idea was brilliant. Now it is a regular feature on our multi activity holidays in both summer and winter and provides access to an unknown world of beauty for all!