Hiking meets climbing on this thrilling route
When you look at the cliffs to the left of Ingram Falls east of Telluride, Colorado, you might not think it’s possible to traverse across the vertical wall. But Telluride’s Via Ferrata, also known as the Kroger Via Ferrata, takes adrenaline seekers directly across by means of narrow trails, rocky ledges and iron rungs.
Named after Chuck Kroger, the man credited with bringing the iron way to the Rockies, Telluride’s Via Ferrata was completed in 2007. In 2015, the Telluride Mountain Club worked to gain access to the route through private land, thus legally opening the trail to the public.
Translated from Italian, “via ferrata” means “iron way.” The concept of the via ferrata dates back to the nineteenth century but gained recognition during World War I, where Italian soldiers used these routes to traverse the intense terrain of the Dolomites.
Nowadays, these part-hike, part-climb ventures are found around the world, with six via ferratas in Colorado alone. However, it’s important to note that individuals with a healthy fear of heights should probably forego this endeavor, especially the one in Telluride.
What You Need to Know
Depending on how fast you are going and the number of people attempting the hike, Telluride’s Via Ferrata takes anywhere from two to five hours to complete. And while you can treat the venture as an out-and-back by going out and returning the way you came, the preferred route is to go one-way by starting off of Black Bear Pass and hiking down the trail to the parking lot below.
The Via Ferrata can be done on your own with the proper equipment. A climbing harness, helmet and a specific via ferrata lanyard protection system are all recommended for optimal safety.
An outfitter can also be hired to guide you across the Telluride Via Ferrata, for which they will provide all of the necessary gear.
To access the Telluride Via Ferrata, head east out of town and follow the road toward Black Bear Pass. If you have two cars, you may want to consider a shuttle so that you don’t have to hike all the way back up to the trailhead. If shuttling, you will come to a parking lot at the base of the switchbacks where one car can be left before heading up the pass to the trailhead.
The start of the Telluride Via Ferrata is located on the fourth switchback up the pass at a parking lot next to Ingram Creek. This lot is very small, and you may be required to park alongside the road. If so, pull off as far as you can to let traffic pass by easily.
From the lot, head up the dirt trail next to the waterfall. This is the beginning of the Via Ferrata.
What starts off as a normal hike quickly turns into a narrow, steep trail that follows a cliff band. Thick wire cables will come into view, and that’s when it’s time to clip in your via ferrata setup. When hiking in a spot with a cable, you will need to make sure that you always have one of your two lanyards clipped onto the cable for optimal safety.
You will continue the process of clipping in and out of the system of wire cables as you make your way toward the heart pounding section known as the Main Event. Here, the trails and rocky ledges give way to iron rungs that are only big enough to stand on. The ground disappears below your feet, leaving you exposed on the side of a cliff 500 feet in the air. Take a deep breath and take your time on this section — and whatever you do, don’t look down.
While the Main Event is the most exposed and heart-pounding section, a few small sections further down the trail keep things interesting with technical maneuvers and more iron-rung segments.
Before you know it, the trail begins to descend as you wind away from the cliffs above. While the hardest terrain is behind you, it’s still important to keep an eye on your footing as the trail down is steep in places. Once you’re back at the car, take a minute or two to look up the cliff wall to better understand the intensity of the trail you just completed.