Calling all thrill-seekers to the Western Slope: The Ouray Via Ferrata is now open, and this season there’s a new route along the Uncompahgre River Gorge for advanced climbers to traverse.
For the uninitiated, via ferrata is Italian for “iron path” and so-named for the network of hand and foot rungs typically installed into the side of a cliff face that allows adventurers to climb along it while hooked onto a safety cable.
Ouray’s is fairly new, having opened in 2020 during the first pandemic summer with one route, known as the Downstream Route. It proved so popular, however – more than 10,000 people tried it out its first season, said co-founder and board member Mark Iuppenlatz – that Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata, the nonprofit that manages the attraction, quickly started designing a second route to avoid overcrowding.
The new Upstream Route opened for a few days in 2021 but is making its grand debut in 2022. The Upstream Route is more difficult, Iuppenlatz said, and designed with avid rock climbers in mind.
“The new route would be considered advanced,” he said. “We recommend approach shoes or climbing shoes because the way they make it harder is to leave out a lot of the foot rungs. So it’s a mixture of rock climbing and via ferrata.”
The Downstream Route is accessible for a variety of ages and abilities, Iuppenlatz said; however, he recommends hiring a guide if you’re new to climbing or have never tried a via ferrata before. There are four approved guiding companies in Ouray that visitors can hire to show them the ropes and hook them up with gear.
“We say if you can climb a two-story ladder and you can hike a mile in the mountains, you are probably physically capable of doing the route,” Iuppenlatz said. “We have everyone from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds who have done the route. It is physically challenging… but you don’t have to be superhuman or have any particular skill.”
Those with “significant” outdoor rock climbing experience or previous via ferrata experience are invited to use both routes on their own as long as they have the correct gear, including a climbing helmet, harness and a specialty, energy absorbing via ferrata lanyard, he said.
The Ouray Via Ferrata is free and open to the public, though guiding services will cost a fee. It will remain open until early November.
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