Colorado Via Ferrata to Open With Social Distancing Measures

Ouray's "iron way" is one of just a few in North America—but it's not immune to the current pandemic.

Four years after construction began, Colorado is getting a new via ferrata this weekend. Made up of 4,000 feet of cable and 850 iron rungs, the Ouray Via Ferrata climbs up and around the Uncompahgre Gorge, crossing Uncompahgre Creek on a 70-foot ‘skyladder’ and traversing several natural ledges. Once open, it will be one of less than a dozen via ferrate in all of North America, and the only one on the continent that is both designed to the latest industry-standard safety guidelines and free to the public.

With Colorado still under “safer-at-home” COVID-19 protocols and many in the outdoor community worried about transmission, opening the via ferrata safely during the pandemic has proved a challenge. Gloves will be required for all users for the foreseeable future, and rangers will instruct all of them in social distancing measures before they can start the route. These procedures were established with the input of the local health department, with which the Ouray Via Ferrata has been consulting closely.

If you’ve never heard of a via ferrata, a set of metal rungs, pegs, and safety cables that allows climbers to navigate steep faces without special technical climbing knowledge, you’re not alone: While there are more than a thousand throughout the Alps, they’re  relatively uncommon in the Americas. Climbers can rent the specialized harnesses and lanyards necessary to make the trip from San Juan Mountain Guides, located in Ouray. Guided trips are recommended for those new to via ferrate, and will be available through San Juan Mountain Guides as well. The route, built by the nonprofit group Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata, takes 2-3 hours and will open at 8 am every day during the summer season.