Our First Via Ferrata, Taking the Iron Road in Telluride

We were in Boulder during the wettest May in 20 years and I was getting restless. I wanted to go south, as far as it takes to get out of the miserable weather. I sat with our old school road atlas, trying to figure out where to go.

‘Telluride’, a city in Colorado’s Southwest corner caught my eye. I knew I’d heard of this place before.

I swiped through my iPhone’s photo album and found a picture I took of a magazine spread a few weeks ago. It was a striking photo of a person traversing a cliff wall using a set of iron rungs. Yellow aspen trees and a waterfall formed the background. It was a striking image.

The location? Telluride, Colorado.

Italian for ‘Iron Road’, Via Ferratas is a way of scaling a mountain side using cables, iron steps, and other aid devices. Mostly popular in the Alps, I wasn’t aware that its existence here in the US. Not until I saw the picture.

I’d always been curious about this particular way of climbing a mountain. I remember taking the photo, taking note of the spectacular setting and filing it under my mental list of ‘Things to do soon’.

So now here was my chance! I checked the weather forecast for Telluride, Colorado. Cloudy. But at least there was no rain in the forecast.

I felt like it was meant to be. One of the joys of being in an open ended roadtrip is that when a destination calls out, there’s nothing that prevents us from answering it. I declared our next destination to Jack. We’re going to Telluride and we’re going to do this via Ferrata.

On the road towards the parking lot
On the road towards the parking lot with Bridal Veil Fall on the right of the picture
Bridal Veil Fall on the approach to the starting point of the via ferrata
Bridal Veil Fall on the approach to the starting point of the via ferrata

The starting point of the via ferrata can be seen from outside Telluride. There’s a switchbacky road climbing the far mountain side that forms the box canyon that Telluride is in, left of the 365 foot Bridal Veil Fall.

If you have a car that can handle the rough road, you can drive to a small, but noticeable parking lot at the end of the 2nd switchback past the fall. Unfortunately, there’s no way our otherwise capable Sprinter can handle the rutted dirt road.

We left our campground shortly after dawn to avoid hiking in the sun and in 45 minutes, we reached the parking lot. From the parking lot, a short scramble up takes us to the actual approach trail of the via ferrata.

The approach trail to the Via Ferrata
The approach trail to the Via Ferrata
Looking upon the town of Telluride from the approach trail
Looking upon the town of Telluride from the approach trail
Looking back towards our starting point. The switchbacks and the Bridal Veil Fall.
Looking back towards our starting point. The switchbacks and the Bridal Veil Fall.

The approach trail is a skinny foot path with vertical rock wall bordering one side and a screaming drop-off plunges from the other. Some sections were loose and a slip here would have big consequences.

We passed a couple of small waterfalls. A rock fell from one of them and landed a few metres from where I was standing. I quickened my pace.

Looking back on the experience, the scariest part of the via ferrata was actually this approach trail. When we finally got to the ‘Kroger’s Bench’ ledge from which the ‘main event’ starts it was a relief.

Finally the fun starts!

And what serious fun it was.

The view from the Via Ferrata in Telluride
The view from the Via Ferrata in Telluride
The main event section of the Via Ferrata
The main event section of the Via Ferrata

The exposure!
The exposure!

Tellurida via ferrata
One step at a time. Feel free to ignore our setup, the proper Via Ferrata gear is described in the grey info box at the end of the post.

I thought this was the funnest thing I’d done in a long time. Having hundreds of feet of sheer drop underneath my feet was exhilarating. But unlike technical rock climbing, I get all of this exposure while safely tethered to a cable on the wall.

SO. MUCH. FUN.

I think at one point I just started laughing. Too much adrenaline and fun makes me giddy sometimes.

I can’t wait to get on more of these Via Ferratas. Now that I’ve gotten my US citizenship (yay!), traveling to Europe is a breeze. Maybe it’s time to do a roadtrip in the Alps?

P.S. On that note, we have an awesome roadtrip planned for the coming Fall (hint: it’s a jump and a skip across the pond). In the meantime, check out my other roadtrip adventures here: US Southwest with strangers, medieval villages in France, and the townships of Quebec.

Via Ferrata in Telluride

To do a via ferrata you need a harness and a way to attach yourself to the safety cable. It needs to be redundant (2 points clipped to the cable) and energy absorbent (as not to shock the system if you do fall). The local outdoor stores carry these via ferrata specific equipments. (It looks like this.)

We ended up using our existing climbing equipment – 2 nylon cordelettes with multiple knots tied along their lengths became our safety tether.

During springtime, a guide we met on the lunch ledge warned us that we should try to return before noon. The sun warming the top of the cliff above us would thaw the snow and set loose rocks upon the trail.

Cost: Free.

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5 Replies to “Our First Via Ferrata, Taking the Iron Road in Telluride”

  1. This looks incredible… I’ve just found your blog while surfing for things to do near Denver (although this is not as close to Denver as I’d hoped)… I’m not a climber at all but this looks so breathtaking, I’d love to just drive the roads and see the Bridal Veil Falls in person. Great pics you guys take too.

  2. Shhh…. don’t tell people about this awesome place :), hoping to head there before the end of summer.

    I am no where near the climbers y’all two are or not at all, but I thought tying knots in cordelettes weakens their strength?

    I plan to use a harness, couple carabiners, and couple 18mm nylon runners. I don’t think this will give me any absorbent shock system but they are short enough I think to where the shock wouldn’t be that bad; is my logic flawed?

    1. You know, since it’s mostly a traverse you won’t necessarily have a ‘fall’ per se. More like a swing if you know what I mean. So you won’t need to worry about > 5 ft fall but still you’ll need it of a certain length so you can climb up and down certain areas (1-2 ft fall risk?) Tying knots does weaken the strength of a rope but it’s a compromise we took between having some shock absorbency and less strength in the (still very strong) runner. The best option is to use short ropes – old climbing ropes if you have any.

      This was our first via ferrata too so I feel like a blind leading a blind 🙂 – but you seem to be aware of the risks and familiar with climbing gear so I’d say go with what you think will work best for your party knowing their climbing ability.

      And have fun! It’s such a gorgeous area.

    2. Ha… I got burned out and took a break. Writing and van living and working was too much work (who knew?! :)) Glad to hear you liked to Via Ferrata.

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