Free extreme cliffside hiking route to open in ‘Switzerland of America’

Photo Courtesy of Friends of Ouray Via Ferrata.

There’s a new high-altitude attraction set to open in Colorado and it’s sure to attract adventure junkies from around the country.

On Saturday, May 23, a brand new via ferrata will be opened to the public in Ouray, Colorado, stretching along the rugged Uncompahgre Gorge with more than 4,000 feet of cable and 850 metal rungs. It’s slated to be the first free public via ferrata in the United States that’s built to modern safety standards. As an added bonus, the attraction also includes the first ‘skyladder’ in North America, which crosses a 70-foot span above the wild Uncompahgre River.

Free extreme cliffside hiking route to open in ‘Switzerland of America’

Ouray Via Ferrata. Photo Courtesy: FOVF

Of course, falling from the course would likely mean death in most cases, which is why participants are required to wear special via ferrata gear with a redundant carabiner system. This ensures that climbers can stay clipped into protection at all times while traversing terrain that would typically be quite dangerous. See additional rules here.

RELATED: An interview with the creator about Ouray’s new via ferrata route

While the via ferrata falls somewhere between a hike and climb, the route is passable without technical climbing experience. It’s rated a 4B on the Italian Via Ferrata rating scale, which is rated between 1 and 5 with an A, B, or C used to indicate the level of commitment required. As explained in the official press release, a ‘C’ route would have the least number of escape options. Participants will be required to climb some vertical sections and shuffle along cliff walls, with the distance above the ground ranging from a few feet to hundreds of feet throughout the course.

Free extreme cliffside hiking route to open in ‘Switzerland of America’

Ouray Via Ferrata. Photo Courtesy: FOVF

The route is funded by a non-profit called the “Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata,” which has spent more than $250,000 on the course. Continuing operations will be covered by a number of sponsorships and donations, as well as fees collected from guiding services on the route. The route is expected to attract 12,000 people during a five-to-six month season, increasing local spending by as much as $5 million.

Just minutes from downtown Ouray, required gear for the route can be rented ($30 from the San Juan Mountain Guides) or may be included in a local guide package. A family of four can try out the course with a guide for $189 per person with San Juan Mountain Guides. If you’re inexperienced with via ferrata routes, hiring a guide is strongly recommended as improper use can be fatal.

Access to the route can be found off of the Ice Park Loop trail, with the route ending past the ‘Upper Bridge.’ Find more information here.

Ouray is known as the ‘Switzerland of America’ due to its many jagged cliffwalls and mountain peaks. The tiny town of 1,000 is found in southwest Colorado at an elevation of 7,792 feet. This creates the perfect stage for a route of this natural, which will likely be compared to the via ferrata that’s currently bolted above nearby Telluride. While also free, the Telluride via ferrata was unofficially installed and is likely less maintained.

RELATED: An interview with the creator about Ouray’s new via ferrata route

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