There are hiking trails, and then there are 'trails' known as via ferrata. By definition, this is a climbing route that's made strictly with iron rungs on which climbers are meant to stand. The route can involve steel cables or ladder-like steps, and climbers are always clipped in with special climbing gear. The footholds are permanently adhered or chiseled into the rock but this doesn't make the trail any less foreboding.
They can be found around the world but one does exist in the U.S. in Telluride, Colorado. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted but it's also not for anyone who considers themselves to be novice rock climbers... here's why.
The Skill Involved In Climbing The Telluride Via Ferrata
Climbing the Telluride Via Ferrata does take an experience level that surpasses that of most novice climbers. Climbers are suspended at 500 feet on a sheer rock face with nothing but a straight drop all the way down, so it's also not for those who have a fear of heights. Since the wall on the east and south-facing walls of the mountain are exposed, they do require some technical merit to navigate.
- Fact: Via ferratas were originally used in Italy, before being adopted in the Alps, and were eventually incorporated into other mountainous regions around the world. In Italian, via ferrata means 'iron road.'
In most cases, a via ferrata ascends vertically up or down a mountain. In the case of the Telluride Via Ferrata, the route ascends horizontally which makes it only slightly easier from a technical standpoint. Those climbing the route will be clipped in with carabineers for safety reasons and stability. No one is permitted to climb the route without them; people have died after falling from these heights without them, so don't even consider it.
What People Don't Realize
What many people don't initially realize about climbing on a route such as this is that every muscle is involved in doing so. Experienced rock climbers are familiar with the muscle fatigue that comes with the territory and the Telluride Via Ferrata requires all of the same muscle groups and tactics in order to climb. Climbers will be using their upper bodies to pull and push themselves around the rock face, while also using their lower bodies to steady themselves and - literally - step and bends in the rock. It's because of this reason that the carabineers are absolutely necessary - it's nearly impossible to navigate such a free-standing rock face without them. Occasionally, some steps will require a leap of faith in order to continue on the route.
It's recommended that climbers always go with an experienced guide or climber, at least for their first time climbing Telluride Via Ferrata. Scrambling around the trickier parts of the rock face can be a challenge, and it always helps to have a second hand.
What To Know Before Climbing
This is not an ordinary hike or climb which means there are specifics that adventurous spirits must know before committing to the route.
Climbers will need typical climbing equipment for this route, including a harness, helmet, and a specialized Via Ferrata harness attachment. Climbers will be harnessed via carabineer which is where the special harness comes in, as it attaches to the clips along the route. Climbers are also advised to wear regular hiking boots with good traction, according to Out There Colorado, rather than climbing shoes.
Where To Start
There is an unspoken starting point, and that's at the end of the route that sits at a higher altitude. Climbers can find this by hiking up Black Bear Pass just past Bridal Veil Falls. Since the route is so narrow and does put climbers within pretty close quarters of one another, this is the best way to avoid traffic jams and keep everyone safe. The trail does go two ways, so don't be tricked by its versatility.
Be Prepared For The Long Haul
Once a climber sets out on the Telluride Via Ferrata, there's really no going back. Once a person is clipped in, there will be more climbers to follow along with climbers in front. Due to this, climbers should always be prepared. to be on the route for a minimum of two hours. In the event that there's an emergency, it's very much a challenge to go back the way one has come, and any rescues are length due to the precarious nature in which the via ferrata is perched. Climbers should be confident and certain they want to finish the route before committing.