Via Ferrata – Telluride Colorado
The alarm went off at 5:20 AM Saturday morning, time to get going. Brecka, the dogs and I had made the five-hour drive from our home in Colorado Springs to our friends place in Ouray the night before, leaving right after work and getting into town around ten at night. After catching up over a couple of beers we tried to sleep for a few hours before attempting our first hike with class five sections. Needless to say, Brecka and I were both very excited for the hike but also a little nervous.
The drive from Ouray to the trail-head just outside of town in Telluride took about an hour, so by the time we were parked and ready to start there was enough light in the sky to make headlamps unnecessary. We decided we were going to do the loop counterclockwise, this way we would hit the main event pretty early on in the hike. So we parked at the lower trail-head and started walking up the road. The hike up the road to just past the base of Bridal Veil Falls was a great warm up and we ended up declining two separate offers for rides to the trail. With the fall colors coming out, the hike up the road was too beautiful to miss and we found ourselves stopping to admire the view at each switchback. Just a few hundred feet up the road past the falls the trail for the Via Ferrata begins. It starts with an old deteriorating wooden bridge, where you take a sharp right immediately after. The trail is pretty faint at the start and I could see how it would be easy to walk right past, but just a few seconds after the turn it becomes very defined and remains that way for the rest of the hike.
It is important to note that this hike requires protection. Brecka and I each had a helmet, a climbing harness, two nylon slings and two locking carabiners. We attached one end of the nylon slings to our harness and the other end of the sling to the carabiner and as we moved along the cables we had both of the carabiners locked in place. Periodically, the cable is bolted to the rock face and at these points we would have to move the carabiner from one side of the bolt to the other, always making sure we were attached to the cable by one carabiner. This way we always had at least one line attaching us to the wall and protecting us from a serious and at certain points, potentially fatal fall.
The trail runs right along the cliff side. The direction we went we had the cliff to our right and a dramatic drop off to our left. The first little bit of the trail is a good introduction to using the cables and iron bars as it offers some exposure and a couple of spots where we were happy to have the extra protection of being clipped to the cable. Cable protection is not set up for the entire route, just the most technical and exposed sections, so we spent the first few minutes getting used to the process of clipping on and off of the cable as we went around the spots where the cable is posted to the cliff and getting used to the exposure. It wasn’t long before we reached the bench bolted to the cliff, this bench signifies the beginning of the “Main Event”. It is a good place to take a few pictures, catch your breath and sign in to the trail registry attached to the bench.
The “Main Event” is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating, frightening and beautiful things I have ever done. The whole “Main Event” might last about five minutes but in that time, you are truly exposed with nothing to hang onto but iron bars that are bolted into the cliff face. You really have to trust that the bars will hold you and remember to keep yourself connected to the cable that runs along this section. Just a few feet into the “Main Event”, myself in the lead and Brecka following just a couple paces behind we had a little bit of an issue. With both of us hanging off the side of the cliff, nothing under us but an iron bar and about 500 vertical feet of fresh Colorado air one of Brecka’s locking carabiners had closed so tight that she was unable to get it to open using just one hand. I quickly returned to her and helped her open the carabiner so she could continue on. Although this minor issue only delayed us maybe one minute, it felt like ten and it really solidified what we already knew, there was very little room for error today. Our adrenaline was pumping the rest of the time we were on this section and we both had a real sense of equal parts pride and relief once we had finished and were back on solid ground. Add in the incredible views we were seeing and you can imagine that the moments after finishing the “Main Event” were some of the best I have ever experienced while hiking.
The rest of the Via Feratta trail was fun and challenging, and although it doesn’t offer any sections with the same level of exposure as the “Main Event” there were still plenty of areas where we had to rely on the iron and the cable to keep us safe. My favorite section of the whole day came a little later on in the hike and it had us clipped in and relying on iron bars for handholds while using natural features of the wall for foot holds. This section ended with a climb up and over a bolder from which you get a view into town and all of the mountains that surround it.
We spent the rest of the morning slowly working our way through the trail, stopping often to just take in the views and comment on how lucky we were to get to be in that exact spot at that exact moment. Even taking our time, it wasn’t long before we realized that we had seen the last of the cables and that all that was left was the hike out. With the fall colors all around us we made our way down the trail, back to the road and then a few short minutes later we were back at the car. We had successfully hiked the Via Feratta! Our next stop was a beer and a burger in Telluride to celebrate.