The Famous Royal Gorge Park has a number of attractions; there’s zip lining, the gondolas, and of course, the bridge. For its 90th anniversary, the Royal Gorge is introducing a brand new attraction: the Via Ferrata.
The Via Ferrata, which is Italian for Iron Path, will allow people to actually climb the side of the gorge itself, and it opens to the public May 24.
Guests will be halfway down the 1,200-foot walls of the gorge when they start their ascension. The Via Ferrata system introduces people to mountaineering in a safe environment that uses guides, climbing lanyards, steel cables, and iron rungs installed into the rock’s surface.
Construction on the new attraction began earlier this year. Via Ferratas began in Italy during the first World War and are popular in Europe. There are several in North America as well, but none like the new one at the Royal Gorge.
“It’ll be the only Via Ferrata with this type of elevation gain,” said Brent Hargrave, the COO of the Royal Gorge Park. “Some go horizontally or you only go up 100-200 feet, tops. This is the only one we know of with this type of elevation gain in the United States.”
Hargrave was unaware of what Via Ferratas were until recently. Once he learned more, he made sure one would be coming the the Royal Gorge.
“The whole idea was, ‘How can we get guests to better experience the Gorge?'” asked Hargrave. “How can we get their hands on the side of the cliff? Getting the guests out here and experiencing the rock, that’s something we don’t have anywhere else in the state. So it is the perfect fit for us.”
I got an exclusive first look at the new attraction and got to climb on two of the courses: one for beginners and the other for intermediate level climbers.
After getting geared up, climbers actually hike the trails halfway down the gorge. Those hikers get to see views of the Gorge not many have seen before.
Then comes the climb.
“The big challenge of the Via Ferrata is getting over your own fears,” said Eric Mclemore, a tour guide for the Via Ferrata. “You’re out of your own element but you are completely safe.”
“If you can walk up a steep trail you can do this climb,” said Canon City Council member John Hamrick.
Hamrick, as well as other council members, were given a first go at the new Via Ferrata Wednesday morning before it opens in two days.
“There’s a place or two when the rock face is vertical, and it’s just like climbing a ladder,” said Hamrick. “But it’s a little bit different with the view down below you.”
The Via Ferrata opens to the public Friday , and The Royal Gorge is taking reservations on their website.