There are 2,000 via ferratas across Western Europe, but less than a dozen in the United States. Starting in 2020, that number will go up by one with the opening of a new route in Ouray, Colorado. Located in Uncompahgre Gorge—best known as the location of the Ouray Ice Park—the three-quarter-mile route will climb up, around and down the cliffs, ranging from just a few steps above the rapids of Uncompahgre Creek to hundreds of feet above the valley floor, with views of the gorge itself and surrounding San Juan Mountains.
Italian for “iron path,” a via ferrata is a set of metal rungs, pegs, and safety cables that allows climbers to navigate mountainsides without specialized knowledge of ropework and anchor building. Originally designed by the Italian military for use on the Alpine Front in World War I, they gained popularity among recreational hikers and climbers in the 70s and 80s. The rungs and safety cables serve as handholds while rungs, pegs and natural ledges work as footholds. Climbers wear a harness with special lanyards that hook onto the safety cable.
Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata, a non-profit founded by Nate Disser of San Juan Mountain Guides and Mark Luppenlatz of Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, designed Ouray’s route to the latest ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and CEN (European Committee for Standardization) safety guidelines. When completed, it will be the only free via ferrata in North American that meets those standards