Colorado activities are ever-evolving, and as our gear closets grow, we’re always on the hunt for the next thrill or challenge to enjoy in this magnificent state. Unbeknownst to many, a via ferrata — recently expanded to include two routes — sits quietly outside the town of Estes Park. Read Ward, partner of the Alpine Jewel, tells us more about this geographically accessible adventure.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE VIA FERRATAS AVAILABLE IN ESTES PARK?
The project was started by Colorado climbing legend Harry Kent. Kent founded outdoor guiding company Kent Mountain Adventure Center 30 years ago, which has a coveted concession permit to guide in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). In 2017, Harry and his longtime climbing part-ner Keith Lober (head of Yosemite Search and Rescue for 20 years) began exploring the idea of building a via ferrata. They had climbed on via ferratas throughout Europe and felt there was a big opportunity to bring one to the Front Range. The first route, Peregrine Ridge, opened in 2018, which was designed for families and intermediate climbers. However, as big wall climbers with ascents throughout Europe and North America, they wanted to create a via ferrata that would give climbers that same thrill of steep ascents and massive exposure of real climbing. The Cloud Ladder via ferrata was born. Completed in 2021, it’s the steepest via ferrata in North America with two 40 foot suspension bridges and a section that has a slight inversion.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT THE DAY LOOKS LIKE?
Each climber will have a different climb time depending on their ability; the total time is closer to four to five hours. The day starts at the Kent Mountain Adventure Center office (who guide the via ex-clusively) for a quick orientation. Guests are then shuttled to the location just outside of RMNP. There is a 45-minute hike to the basecamp hut at the bottom of the via ferrata where guests get a final ordination and are geared up to climb. There is a max of four guests per guide, so everyone feels supported and safe. Once on the wall, climbers will ascend 650 feet and cross a 47-foot treadway bridge (250 feet above the ground), which is a warm-up for a 45 foot sin-gle-cable Burma bridge (300 feet above the ground). There are places to rest and take plenty of amazing photos along the route. Finally, guests will emerge at the summit around 9,660 feet, which features 360-degree panoramic views of RMNP, Estes and Twin Sisters. It’s epic! A sepa-rate hiking trail takes them back down.
WHAT DO PEOPLE GET OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE?
For many people it really is a life changing event. We encourage climbers to be the hero of their own adventure. Via ferratas are an incredible way to build self-confidence and self-awareness. It’s one part meditation and one part adrenaline rush. You hear the famous big wall climbers talk about how when they’re climbing noth-ing else matters. Via ferratas deliver that same experience to normal people, but with a lot less risk. Most of our climbers become repeat customers, and we often see as their confidence grow; they look to take on new and bigger challenges.
CLOUD LADDER IS DESCRIBED AS A “BLACK ROUTE.” CAN YOU ELABORATE ON WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE ONE WOULD NEED TO FEEL COMFORTABLE ON THIS ROUTE VERSUS PEREGRINE RIDGE?
Peregrine Ridge is a great first-timers via ferrata. It checks all the boxes, including amazing scenery and a mix of holds includ-ing rungs, steps and real rock. However, it is designed as more of a traverse than a sheer vertical climb. Cloud Ladder is a different story. It’s intentionally designed to push climbers out of their comfort zone. Cloud Ladder also includes a short but exciting inverted section. For many people, that’s a new sensation. Both routes serve the ultimate function of trying to be fun and enjoyable to our climbers. Cloud Ladder comes with a couple other warnings and disclaimers, but we’ve seen a huge range of ages and abilities complete both routes.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE OUR READ-ERS TO LEARN/TAKE AWAY FROM THIS ARTICLE ABOUT THE VIA FERRATA, OR CLOUD LADDER SPECIFICALLY?
The common misconception we hear is “I would never do that; I’m scared of heights.” Harry Kent completed the first winter ascent of the Eiger in Switzerland, and he’s scared of heights. That’s natural. What I also hear from those same people who step out of their comfort zone and climb a via ferrata is, “Wow, I’m so glad I did that. That was a life changing experience.” You don’t have to be a daredevil to complete or even enjoy the experience. Via ferratas are designed for everyone — from first timers to experienced climbers. The point of the experience is to try something different, maybe even something mentally or physically hard, but in a controlled environment. The result is an authentic sense of growth and accomplishment that only comes when we push our limits a little.
For more information about this epic adventure, visit thealpinejewel.com.
Photo courtesy of Alpine Jewel.
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2022 Issue.