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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Taking On Lovely Ouray's Via Ferrata: Climb—Traverse—Descend Repeat


Bobbie decided she wanted to do something out of the ordinary for our 35th anniversary. Unbeknownst to me, she booked us on Lovely Ouray's newest adventure, the Via Ferrata. Cool! What's not to love, climbing harnesses, carabinieres  and clinging to cliff faces.  Surprise!  

Funny thing. The closer we got to "D-Day," the more anxious I became. How hard could it be, I reasoned? I mean, flatland tourists do the V. F. every day all summer long. 

We had a couple of friends join us on the V. F.. Hiker Babe Ruthie's son, Austin (from Sea-Level Sacramento) was in town which made for a fun foursome.

We had a morning convergence at Basecamp Ouray, a local guide and outfitting establishment. They fitted us with helmets and harnesses, then showed us "the ropes," so to speak...safety stuff for newbies. After our "prep-talk" we followed "Guide Noir" Jason up Camp Bird Road to a parking lot about a stone's throw from Box Canyon's now world famous Ice Climbing Park. There would be no ice today, however, as temps were forecasted to reach mid-80's.  

On our way to the access trail we stopped on the bridge for a hint of what we might be in for.  Huh. Guess I never took notice of just how steep these canyon walls are. Noting like a little verticality to jumpstart adrenal glands.

Swollen by spring runoff, the Uncompahgre River roared like a pride of lions. Being early morning, the steep-walled gorge was cloaked in mysterious shadows that tended to guard its secrets. My gut had a minor flip-flop. How hard could it be? It's for tourists!

The obligatory "Safety Talk"

Like sheep to slaughter, we followed "Guide Noir" Jason up the Ice Park Trail. The river thundered right below us, drowning out most of what he told us along the way. Hopefully, it wasn't too important. 

After a 20 minute hike, we stopped in a small roped off area to wait our turn. A gal was stationed at the gate to check gear and make sure climbers were adequately equipped and properly rigged. Finally, it was our turn. Everyone was pretty excited, except me. Apprehension would better described what I felt. 

Cliffside, awaiting our turn

We took a few minutes to give space and time to the group in front of us. Jason used that time to demonstrate the art of clipping our harnesses onto the safety cable. We got the ok to go. A 
sudden hatch of butterflies began flitting around in the pit of my stomach as we tiptoed (stumbled) down a steep cliff face. Bobbie, ever brave and eager, followed Jason down toward a swollen river better suited for whitewater kayaking than fishing.  

Little did we know that crossing the river rapids on a half inch cable would be our first test. Jason called it a bridge. I called it suicidal. Even with three strands of wire, it was a wobbly crossing at best.

No big deal for Bobbie

But my size 14 shoes on that little cable? Ha!
Below, Hiker Babe Ruthie did the sideways-shuffle.


The gang, Bobbie, Mark, Ruthie and Austin...holding on for dear life.

I gained a little confidence, having successfully crossed a raging river on what was basically a tightrope. Oh, but we've only just begun. There is "vertical" and then there is "beyond vertical." Suddenly our wall was beyond 90 degrees. It wouldn't be the last time, either. But hey, if tourists do this then so can I.

Fortunately, there were a few places where I could regain my composure and smile like I'm actually fearless and having fun :) 

Hiker Babe Ruthie going Vert!

Austin is first to top out after a long vertical climb...
Note Mount Abram in background.

Another "airy" ladder

Time to traverse the wall

"Hey Ruthie, wanna hang out?

I got behind a lot...shooting photos :)

Just when you think the worst is behind you....

Austin takes Lead. Mark's beginning to relax and have fun.

Yikes! Some serious drop on this Freaking Via Ferrata. You best stay "roped in."

Even if the water broke your fall, the current would crush you against the rocks

Another vertical.  Having fun, Austin?  We all take turns going up...

See the round disc between the cables? They are strung along the coarse and have numbers on them. If a rescue is needed, those numbers will tell them exactly where you are. Also, there are a couple of exit points for those who start then decide they are not Via Ferratta material. Our guide Jason told us he spent an hour with a woman who "froze" on one of the more exposed sections, trying to calm her down enough to get her to an exit point.

If you don't like being on extremely tall extension ladders, you won't enjoy the V. F.. Don't look down.

I was tiring after a couple of hours on the wall. Some of it due to all the "ladder climbing," some due to hanging on, and some due to adrenalin. When we started down toward the river, I thought the "end" might be near. But no. Suck it up, baby cakes. Ouray's Via Ferrata gives you your money's worth and then some. It helps to have some upper body conditioning, FYI.

But the Hiker Babes are not tired...

Not a place for acrophobes...

Finally a wide spot in the trail to relax on.

Keeping arms extended straight (like Bobbie above) helps conserve strength...as opposed to having them in a constant bend (curl) position.

Oh boy, another climb...

And another climb...

Then a welcome easy traverse section...

Up down, up down...traverse, repeat.

Maybe we're getting close to the end, I wonder. When your route is not a straight line it's difficult to tell.

Finally, I spy the Camp Bird Road's bridge. It's within sight and seems so close! But another cable "bridge" stands between us and the end. Unfortunately it's long and spans high above rock and rapids. Oh, and it ascends, too. Here we go...

We were making our way down when I saw Jason step across to our exit bridge. I study it closely. At least there are four cables this time, but the ladder rungs are tiny. The whole thing just looks sketchy. Hopefully it will be short and sweet.

But no. It's long, seemingly going on forever. As if that's not enough, it climbs higher and higher above the river as it goes. There's just so much air and space beneath your feet. Speaking of air, I had to fight off a bout of hyperventilation just watching the little ant-climbers inch their way up that ladder to solid ground. Home. There's ice cold beer waiting for me in the fridge.

This descent borders on a "rappel."

I keep eying the "ladder." A man is going up. The whole bridge is moving and the noise from the river is deafening. Good. No one can hear me taking the Lord's name in vain. 

Bobbie's down

Ruthie, making her way down

As I start down the (last?) pitch, it becomes apparent that there is no end to the exposure on this final "bridge." What if I freeze up? What number am I at? 

Austin makes his way up...smiling for Jason's camera. Bobbie is right behind Austin, and I'm leaning against the wall at the bottom trying to take photos instead of dwelling on what's coming.


A tough, exposed traverse awaits after the ladder...

It was good to have solid ground underfoot. We were all pretty jazzed about the whole experience, and when the question arose, "Would you do it again?" Well, I found myself saying, "Yes...definitely." We'll see...

Peace out,

Mark and Bobbie.

Remember: Growth and change begins at the end of your comfort zone


  1. As I viewed this post, I was constantly saying outloud "You're all NUTS!!" And its for tourists? I think not. LOL
    Glad you made it safely.

  2. I feel out of breath after reading all of that. Fantastic pictures! You guys are beasts!

  3. Ummm..I generally consider myself brave, but the river crossing is a big nope. I'm impressed.

  4. Via Ferrata. Given that I threw my back out last night cutting my toenails I going to have to train harder.


    1. Only you could do that :) Time to find a pedicurist...or, enlist the spouse :).

  5. Amazing! I'm also impressed by the choreography and construction of the whole thing. Someone had fun scouting it, designing it all and then building it!

    1. A lot of time and effort went into building the V. F.. A second one is about to open...with a lot more elevation gain and exposure :)

  6. Holy Moly! I'll pass on this one and just live vicariously through the crazy people...

  7. Oh boy, don't know if I can go back to those Big Tire bike rides now, especially after throwing all those superlative descriptions of being Up Against the Wall with no escape plan, reminds me of when my daddy took me to see my first indy car race after participating in all those soap box derbies as a 6 yr old..guess you have reached the final challenge Mark......Im a little confounded to deal with the ladies in this sport though :) Plus all those gorgeous Rock faces and roaring streams got the old adrenalin moving thru these old veins again.....I felt like there was still some life left in me .
    ......oh ye'll.....HAPPY 35TH ANNIVERSERY too YOU BOTH ! )

  8. You two ROCK! Happy Anniversary! Scamps

  9. Ya know, I was pretty impressed with myself when we went canyoneering in Escalante a few years back, rappelling down into the slot canyon at the start. But this one activated all my fear of height issues for sure. Good on all of you for finishing. Certainly a well-designed and well run operation. Not sure about the wisdom of taking "tourists' through it though.......

  10. Thanks for sharing something I will never attempt....Way cool and I'm glad you folks had fun...At least I think you did..

  11. I am impressed and kudos to Bobbie for instigating this high flying celebration.


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