With one hand grasped tight around a metal rung, I leaned back, allowing my full weight to pull against the redundant cable attaching my body to the side of a cliff. Glancing down at my feet, I could see the ground beneath my foothold, a scatter of scree approximately 30 feet below. There was no belay-system attaching my harness to a higher point and there was no life-saving crash pad for me to land on in the event of a fall. I relied on my harness’ connection to a waist-height safety line – and that was it.

Author’s Note: Individuals in these photos are experienced climbers who have trained for this type of route. They are also limited to a small section of the experience with limited exposure and risk. When this attraction is complete, additional safety features including helmets, updated harness systems, and a constant connection to a redundant cable will be required for all participants.

Author’s Note: Details of this attraction are subject to change prior to the estimated opening date.
A via ferrata uses a harness that utilizes two safety clips to ensure that one clip is always connected. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin, OutThere Colorado.

“Think of it like an Intro to Rock Climbing, but it’s something someone at any skill level can enjoy.” said Alex Hesler, one of the people responsible for the installation of Colorado’s newest adventure-travel attraction – a via ferrata at the Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs.

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Alex Hesler explains the type of testing done on the rock to ensure it was safe for the build. Bolts like this are used to attach the safety line to the route. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin; OutThere Colorado.

The Italian term for “iron path,” a “via ferrata” typically consists of metal rungs across a sheer rock face, allowing for a trail-like experience where steep terrain would otherwise make building a protected route impossible.

By using a harness system with multiple clip-in carabiners, participants on a via ferrata are able to traverse difficult climbing grades safely, utilizing man-made footholds and handholds to fill in gaps that would otherwise require technical climbing experience. While it’s an artificial route, a via ferrata often maintains a natural feel, rugged and exposed – sure to appeal to the adventurous soul.

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Stephen Martin of the OutThere Colorado team transfers his safety clips to a new portion of the route one-by-one. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee, OutThere Colorado.

Upon completion, the Via Ferrata at Cave of the Winds will be roughly a half-mile long, consisting of metal rungs and rock grabs that lead participants across an exposed rock face above a canyon. The route consists of a traverse, as well as a vertical stretch that means climbing an overhang. While the constructed nature of the experience standardizes the route, several technical spots allow for creativity for those with climbing experience under their belt.

Other features of the “via ferrata experience” will include a balance beam crossing point and a cargo net bridge suspended over open air – and that’s not all. This via ferrata is especially unique because it ends with two ziplines that lead participants back to the starting point – one that’s approximately 400 feet and another that’s estimated at 1,000 feet.

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This photo shows the metal rungs typically used on via ferrata routes, allowing a safe step almost anywhere on a rock face. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin, OutThere Colorado.

Why the interest in adding a via ferrata to Cave of the Winds’ already action-packed line-up of attractions? Multiple factors went into the decision, from the budding interest in this type of route among American outdoor recreation enthusiasts to the fact that this type of attraction has a very low environmental footprint. Consisting of small metal holds attached to rock, routes like this tend to go unnoticed to the untrained eye, requiring no motors or fuel source to operate. As far as attractions go at the typical adventure park, a via ferrata is one of the least intrusive to the landscape.

Here’s what part of the route looks like from below, nearly invisible to an unknowing passerby.

The age limit for participation at the Cave of the Winds’ via ferrata will likely be set at 12 and up, with groups as large as eight at a time (accompanied by two guides) able to tackle the route. Pricing is estimated to land at $85 per trip, which includes a climb up the via ferrata and the trip down two high-flying ziplines. While the construction is still underway, the crew is aiming to have the attraction open around Memorial Day weekend or shortly after. Other features may include a quick drop tower at the end, as well as a food truck and an outfitting center.

Author’s Note: Details of this attraction are subject to change prior to the estimated opening date.

The current Cave of the Winds line-up includes the famous Terror-Dactyl canyon swing, a high ropes course, and of course, cave tours – among other things. Check out the video below for more about this destination.

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