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.
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 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.
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.