Via Ferrata Incognita

Forbidden Fruit: Hanging out high above Telluride on the “illegal” iron road. Photo: Peter Bronski

“Let me give you some advice,” the concierge at my hotel warns. “Be careful how you talk about it.” He’s referring to Telluride’s via ferrata, an “iron way” in the mountains, similar to the World-War-I-era routes found in Italy’s Dolomites. Officially, the clandestine Telluride route was installed illegally on public land. Unofficially, the U.S. Forest Service looks the other way.

Every local climber I talk to not only knows about it, but has climbed it. And every local wants to keep its specific location under wraps. Luckily, through a friend, I get connected with some folks who agree to show me the way.

We park below the Idarado Mine, walk a stretch along the road, then slip behind a metal rockfall fence. We switchback up an overgrown, disused mining road, and after a while, once high in a particular drainage, turn off onto a faint blink-and-you’ll-miss-it climber’s trail. The trail weaves through the trees, around a buttress of rock, and then we’re there, perched on the edge of a precipice. A steel cable, bolted to the rock face, leads off along a narrow ledge. Time to harness up.

For several hours we traverse, sometimes along narrow ledges protected by steel cables, sometimes clinging to metal ladder rungs in places where the ledges peter out, leaving nothing but sheer vertical walls. Then we come to the money pitch, which some call the Main Event. Hundreds of feet in the air, the route traverses an overhanging rock face on metal ladder rungs. With Telluride far below and the soaring San Juans above, the airy perch has plenty of exhilarating exposure.

Soon, the crux is behind us, and we come upon a register for the Krogerata, as the route is now known. It is so named for Chuck Kroger, who discretely built this gem years ago. The names entered in the register are mostly locals… except for one: Timmy O’Neill, who I assume is the professional rock climber from Boulder.

We continue on, ending our trip on a hairpin turn on the Jeep road above Bridal Veil Falls. And, to quote Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

Check out more via ferrata photos here.

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