2015 Summer Journal

Telluride’s Hidden Hike – The Via Ferrata

When Alyssa and I arrived in Telluride last weekend, we got right to work crossing items off our outdoor bucket list. One of those items was the Telluride Via Ferrata.

Via Ferrata is Italian for “iron road.” In the climbing world, it means a protected route that uses iron rungs and steel cables to help secure climbers along the way. These routes are traditionally found in Italy and Austria. The route in Telluride is the only one of its kind in the US as far as I know. Construction on the route was started as a somewhat secret project in 2006 by Chuck Kroger, a local climber, trail builder, and advocate for wilderness access. When cancer took him the following year, Kroger’s friends finished what he had started and Telluride’s Via Ferrata (known locally as the Krogerata) was born.

As soon as we heard about this route, we knew that it was something right up our alley. When planning out our time in Telluride we decided that we would make it our number one priority.

There was a decent amount of information about the route online, but truly the best resource were the folks at the Jagged Edge on the main street in town. In my research, I learned that it is highly discouraged to use any kind of static line to attach yourself to the anchors and cables on the route. Static daisy chains are very popular (and safe) for use in regular rock climbing to secure yourself an anchor, but are not designed to handle the forces of a fall greater than a few inches.

On this route, the worst case scenario would be a fall of up to 15 or 20 feet. Dynamic lines stretch to absorb some of the impact, which makes them much safer. Some companies like Black Diamond make safety gear especially for use on Via Ferrata routes, but the guy at the shop suggested using a couple of lengths of dynamic climbing rope + locking carabiners instead. We paid $40 for the rope rather than $180 for two of the Black Diamond Iron Cruisers, which turned out to be a pretty good decision.

After getting our gear, we grabbed a bite to eat in town and headed up the canyon towards the base of the route with the bus. We were lucky enough to find a convenient pull out with a couple of other campers that had plenty of room to back the bus in to.

Alyssa doing some early morning charging up the road towards the route.

Alyssa doing some early morning charging up the road towards the route.

The next morning we woke up early, made some coffee and oatmeal, took Hilde out for a stretch and hit the trail. We hiked about 2 miles up the road past Bridal Veil Falls and enjoyed some spectacular views as the sun started to come up over the canyon that cradles the town of Telluride. At the switchback after the falls, we cut off the road towards an unmarked climber’s trail that led us to the start of the route.

Alyssa looking for the trail that leads toward the start of the route. I thought it was on the next switchback, but she turned out to be right.

Alyssa looking for the trail that leads toward the start of the route. I thought it was on the next switchback, but she turned out to be right.

Once we knew we were in the right place we pulled on our harnesses, strapped on our helmets, double checked each other for safety, and headed on to the Via Ferrata.

Gearing up before the route. Notice that we have dynamic line with auto-locking carabiners and, of course, helmets!

Gearing up before the route. We have dynamic line set up for two simultaneous connections to the cables with auto-locking carabiners and, of course, helmets!

The route is about a mile and a half. The first half mile is a hiking trail with some pretty heavy exposure. I found that this was a perfect primer for what was to come. We enjoyed the views of the sun creeping into the canyon as we walked and got accustomed to the exposure.

Getting used to the exposure and enjoying those spectacular views over the canyon.

Getting used to the exposure and enjoying those spectacular views over the canyon. You can just make out the bus in the big dirt pull out near the holding ponds at the mine.

At about the half mile mark, we made it to a small ledge with a bench built into the wall, a logbook to sign, and a plaque in honor of Chuck Kroger. This was a perfect opportunity for us to bust out Alyssa’s thermos that she had wisely thought to fill with hot coffee before we left.

Probably the best coffee spot that we have ever stopped to enjoy!

Probably the best coffee spot that we have ever stopped to enjoy!

Check out those mountains! Man, this part of Colorado is amazing!

Check out those mountains! It's hard to imagine that this is only a couple of miles from town and we were the only ones out there!

Check out those mountains! It’s hard to imagine that this is only a couple of miles from town and we were the only ones out there!

After taking a moment to soak it all in, we repacked everything, double checked each other’s gear a second time, and moved into the heart of the Via Ferrata. Right after this ledge was where the real fun started, what the guy at the shop called “the main event.” We clipped into the cables and stepped out onto the iron rungs bolted into the wall. After a couple of moves, I took a look around and felt a sudden rush as I realized just how exposed I was out there. There were not a lot of features on the rock, a 100 foot or more drop to the ground, and we were relying completely and what was basically some bent rebar bolted into the rock.

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Alyssa working through one of the more technical sections on the route.

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This part of the route continued for some time with sections of high exposure on the metal rungs that would transition into hiking trail and then back into rungs again. As Alyssa and I both became a little more comfortable with the heights, we started to have a lot more fun. We were having such a blast out there moving along the cliff edges that it was a bit of a disappointment for us when the route started to slope downwards and mellow out onto the hiking trail leading to the descent. We marveled at some of the old mining remnants in the canyon before we descended the mile back down to the bus.

Overall, the route took us about 3 hours to complete. The logbook at the ledge showed that there had been about 100 people on the route the day before, so going early was key for us. We didn’t see anyone else out there until we got back to the bus – where the parking lot was packed!

Next time you’re in Telluride, definitely consider getting on the Via Ferrata. If you’re not 100% comfortable with your climbing skills, route finding, and general climbing safety I would strongly suggest doing some research on a guided trip through the route.

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  • Very cool, thanks for sharing. Chuck Kroger also finished the Hardrock 100, which runs through Telluride. He went on to captain the Virginius Pass Aid Station at Hardrock, which is called “Kroger’s Canteen”, the coolest ultra running aid station in the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5e7pr2Z6ZU