Estes Park and Colorado Via Ferratas
An Outdoor Rock Climbing Adventure
What is a “Via Ferrata”?
It’s an “Iron Path” – a fun outdoor rock climbing adventure that makes mountain climbing accessible and safe for anyone who is adventurous enough to give it a try! No previous rock climbing experience is necessary.
Experience Via Ferrata or the famous mountain climbing in Estes Park – you will love the thrill of mountain rock and the sense of accomplishment! Add it to your bucket list. Now enjoy that thrill here in Estes Park, Colorado with spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park!
Set up and guided by Kent Mountain Adventure Center, the Estes Park Via Ferrata climbs roughly 600 vertical feet and includes a traverse.
“The first half goes across the middle of this giant cliff and it’s really exposed, so that’s more mentally demanding,” said Dustin Dyer, director and co-owner of Kent Mountain Adventure Center. “The second half is more like a knife ridge, with views in all directions.”
Along the way, you’ll see panoramas of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park and the valley below.
You will be in a climbing harness, clipped by carabiners to an anchored steel cable – so the experience is somewhere between scrambbling and technical rock climbing.
If you’ve ever tried a ropes course, you’ll know that it can be physically demanding, so you need good physical fitness. You’ll be exposed to heights. If that idea scares you, better choose to overcome your fear, or pick a different activity.
Via Ferratas typically are set up to use natural rock features, steel rungs, ladders, and handrails to assist your climbing.
A via ferrata equipment set has a lanyard and two carabiners. The lanyard consists of an energy-absorbing system, two arms which connect to the cable with the special, easy to clip carabiners, and a means of connecting to the harness. The energy absorber is there to arrest a serious fall.
Gloves protect your hands on the cables .
A KMAC Guide is required on the Estes Park via ferrata course.
Here are some tips to help you plan for your adventure:
- Dress in layers that you can add or remove as you warm up or cool down. Wear loose-fitting clothing that does not restrict your movement. Most climbers prefer to wear pants that cover their knees.
- Wear Lightweight hiking shoes/boots
- Bring a small Day pack that holds a rain jacket, an extra upper body layer, water, sunglasses & sunscreen, and snacks or lunch to refuel.
- Don’t forget your camera or GoPro.
Within the last three years, several Via Ferratas have been set up in Colorado – the one in Estes Park is the most recent, opened in June 2019.
Colorado Via Ferratas
Once you’ve caught the extreme sports bug, other Colorado Via Ferrata courses you can try are in Idaho Springs on Mount Evans, Buena Vista, Cañon City in the Royal Gorge, Manitou Springs at Cave of the Winds Park, Telluride, and (coming in 2020) Arapahoe Basin.
For an adrenaline combination, visit one that combines rock climbing with ziplines!
Here’s a brief description of each of the other Colorado Via Ferattas:
The course, which you’ll tackle with the help of an AVA Via Ferrata Courses guide, spans a little less than a mile and climbs roughly 300 feet in elevation. It blends a via ferrata route with zip lines, a 70-foot rappel and a 50-foot free fall.
AVA built another hybrid via ferrata/adventure course just outside of Buena Vista that opened in summer 2018. The Granite Via Ferrata starts at 8,700 feet in elevation and gains 220 feet in a little more than a mile.
You’ll take a zip line out to the course, then begin climbing the via ferrata at the base of the Collegiate Peaks.
Next, you’ll free-fall 60 feet before crossing several suspension bridges and high wires. The course ends with a 70-foot rappel down the rock face.
Since the course is built above the Arkansas River, you might catch a glimpse of some whitewater rafting from up above, too.
Choose from three beginner routes and three longer, more advanced routes, climbing between 200 and 500 feet in elevation.
The routes present amazing views of the gorge from the inside, the bridge from below and the Arkansas River from above.
Zipline across the Gorge, or try their bungee-jumping-like skycoaster.
This Cave of the Winds via ferrata also opened in the summer of 2018. You’ll spend roughly two hours with a guide navigating the limestone cliffs and rock walls of Williams Canyon. (Some parts of the route are very exposed, so you’ll definitely feel the extreme sports thrill here.)
After testing your skills on the rock face, a cargo net and a balance beam, you’ll finish the course on a zip line.
A “choose-your-own-adventure” route — you can access it from either the east or the west end (though most people travel east to west), and you can decide whether to make it a loop or an out-and-back.
Built primarily by late Telluride climber Chuck Kroger starting in 2006, the route is often referred to as the “Krogeratta” and offers stunning views of Bridal Veil Falls, the San Juan peaks and the town below.
Though you’re not required to have a guide on this route, it’s really best that you work with a local mountain guiding outfitter, like San Juan Mountain Guides, Peak Mountain Guides, Telluride Mountain Guides, Mountain Trip or San Juan Outdoor Adventures. When you hire a local guide, a portion of your fee is donated to route maintenance and sustainability, coordinated by the Telluride Mountain Club.
When you go with a guiding company, ask what equipment they provide and what you’ll need to bring for yourself. Then pack some water and sunscreen and head out (and be sure to call ahead or reserve online).
Origin of Via Ferrata in Europe
Simple protected paths, with ladders and basic protection aids, have existed in the European Alps for centuries, helping to connect villages to their high alpine pastures.
In World War I, the Italian military used metal ladders and cables to ascend and traverse steep rock and mountain terrain in the Dolomites during mountain fighting against the Austrians. These were considered some of the first “via ferratas”.
With a long tradition of mountain climbing in Europe, Via Ferratas are now an extremely popular sport. There are over 1,000 ferratas in Europe with a majority in Italy and Austria.
They range from high mountain to “sporting” routes nearer the valleys. Some are very challenging with steep sections that require a lot of strength. They have been built beside waterfalls and in canyons. They have their own guidebooks, grading system for difficulty, and followers.
The smaller Brenta Dolomites in Italy contain a dense network of via ferratas connected with a system of mountain huts for an adventure week vacation hiking and climbing in the Alps. Now that’s something to add to the bucket list!