In Telluride, atop a hiking trail for the Bridal Veil Falls, sits something called a Via Ferrata.
Ever heard of one?
'Via Ferrata' translates to ‘iron road’ in Italian.
I hadn’t either, to be honest, until I turned a certain years old this month and decided I wanted to do something exciting to celebrate. (hint: I'm neither 21 nor 40)
My husband, who has a history of jumping out of airplanes in the military, told me he'd found just the thing. (that should have been my first warning, but they say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason...)
I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of heights perse - but I never thought I’d be walking along a 300-foot mountainside dropoff with a climbing harness and some special carabiners.
Okay, maybe I'm a bit afraid of heights.
And I most certainly am not a rock climber.
My hands get sweaty every time I think about it. They’re a little clammy right now, even though I’ve got two feet firmly on solid ground as I write this.
It’s just you.
A rock wall face.
For me, there was also some extremely nervous breathing.
I spent the days before we embarked on the adventure frantically googling "via ferrata telluride" (thanks, Google, by the way, for making one of the suggested searches, "via ferrara death." NOT HELPFUL.)
I watched just about every YouTube video out there on the hike/climb. I became progressively more nervous and sweaty and clammy.
My husband asked me if I wanted to continue. If I really wanted to do this.
Once we are up on the rock face, he told me, there's no turning back. You have to be sure you want to do it.
I stopped watching YouTube videos and tried not to think about dangling 300+ feet off a mountainside by my harness, awaiting rescue.
I can do this. I can do this.
Telluride’s Via Ferrata is one of just a dozen of its kind in the world. Even fewer are in America.
That feeling once you get across - is hard to explain.
It’s where can’t becomes can - and scared becomes - "I did it."
To me, Telluride’s Via Ferrata represents all the best things about Colorado: its natural beauty, a love for adventure, kind people helping each other out (we met the nicest couple who made the whole experience so much less scary for me), and letting ‘I can't,' be conquered by "I did it."
So, what is a Via Ferrata and how did they come to be?
A History of Vie Ferrate
The first Via Ferrata was constructed before the 19th century in the German Alps.
These iron roads became more popular in World War I as a way to ferry troops across difficult mountain passes in Europe, especially the Dolomites in Italy and Switzerland.
Iron and wooden rungs were attached into mountainsides to ease travel along the most difficult passes of mountains. Footholds were carved and ropes attached.
The equipment in the rock face makes difficult areas climbable for even relatively inexperienced rock climbers.
In some places they are known as "Klettersteig," for the specific carabiners required to traverse them.
Many of these early 20th century iron roads have been restored in the past 70 years. Today, steel cable has replaced rope and iron has replaced wood.
Still to this day, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy play host to the most Vie Ferrate.
Many modern vie have been built in the past decades, in places such as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Wyoming. As their popularity slowly increases, more places are building modern Vie Ferrate in theme and adventure parks.
Read more history here.
The 'Krogerata' of Telluride
My experience on the 'Krogerata' as it is known locally, was incredible.
It was built by a local man, Chuck Kroger, between 2006-2007.
Yes, a man climbed up the sheer rock face with a drill and steel cable and bolts, and created the 'iron way' that has become a secret adventure for climbers (and thrillists) across the world. Sadly, he passed away from cancer in 2007.
You're basically hiking along extremely narrow pathways for half of the Telluride route, and then attached by your carabiners to the steel cables the rest of the way.
There are parts of the path where you aren't cabled in (typically the less dangerous passes, although they still require caution and attentiveness to navigate safely by foot).
The pathway begins off a switchback just past Bridal Veil Falls.
Depending on how fast or slow you take it, the "main event" greets you about 30 - 40 minutes into the adventure.
You'll know it because a bench sits just before it - with a plaque dedicated to Kroger that reads, "Goodbye dear friend, Father of this Via Ferrata. You shared generously with us the art of engaged living, taught us the rewards of discovery, design, and grit. We humbly pay you back now by grabbing these irons, and by hiking your clean miners’ trails—joyfully and with wonder!”
You'll also realize why it's called The Main Event about one step onto the sheer rock face: your footholds are gone and it's just you, your harness, and the metal rungs carefully drilled in by Mr. Kroger.
If you can make it through this, you'll pretty much feel like you can conquer anything (but don't let your guard down, there are still a few tricky sections to navigate after this!)
Conquering the 'Krogerata' safely
Like I said, we had a great, safe experience on Telluride's Via Ferrata. But, we did our research before going.
You can hire guides from many local companies, although we did not.
We purchased climbing harnesses ahead of time and had experts show us how to properly fasten, tighten, and wear them.
We bought specialized Via Ferrata carabiners called "Easy Riders." They have some play in them as opposed to regular climbing rope.
We wore helmets and gloves. We double and triple checked all our gear before we began. We packed water sunscreen, a light snack, and layers (you're very exposed and vulnerable to any impending weather - which is why this is a summer or autumn-only adventure).
We treaded lightly and carefully.
Undoubtedly, someone reading this will be upset 9NEWS has posted about the Krogerata in Telluride and will blame us for its destruction. I do not believe in this mindset of not sharing beauty and experiences with others.
For those who are very short - like five-feet-tall- may have serious difficulty reaching and stretching to some of the rungs.
We are all in this together.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it: respect the pristine beauty on which you climb. Stay on the marked trail, be kind and respectful to those you meet along the way. Don't litter or do anything else your mother wouldn't want you to do.
Also, another word of caution: while the Via is public land, and you don't need a permit, the area is surrounded by some private property.
You will likely walk through some of it if you choose not to go out and back (and instead walk down the hill towards the hiking trail/4WD roadway at the end of the Via.
If you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle (jeep, pickup truck, etc), you can drive up to the somewhat hidden trail that begins the Via Ferrata. Park courteously so as not to block the roadway.
Otherwise, you'll have to park at the bottom (near the mine - which itself is private property BTW) and hike up the roadway for a bit until you reach the trail.
Oh, and this is definitely not something you should bring your dog on. Just don't.
Know of another awesome Colorado adventure we should try? Email me!