For too long, Brent Hargrave has gazed at the glass walls of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park and dreamed.
People, of course, walked on the bridge over these sheer cliffs. Here, too, they rode gondolas, zip lines, and helicopters, and there they rafted the vertical world-cutting Arkansas River.
“All the while, I thought, ‘Dude, it would be so cool if we could do something to get visitors over the gorge,” said Hargrave, the park’s chief operating officer.
So he found himself at this convention a few years ago and thought he had found the answer: a company was launching its high-tech repulsion system. Hargrave approached the shopkeeper, who suggested a better idea.
“What you need is a via ferrata,” he told Hargrave.
To which Hargrave replied: “A via fe-what?”
A via ferrata, which in Italian means “railway”, a concept born from soldiers sailing in the Dolomites during the First World War. They planted iron bars in the mountains and used them as steps on a ladder.
The idea slowly gained traction in the outdoor recreation scene in the United States, with Colorado in 2006, when a well-traveled amateur mountaineer and welder, Chuck Kroger, took his power drill to the ledges of a peak. near his hometown of Telluride. Since then, guides have taken tourists on breathtaking and thrilling crossings.
And now comes a via ferrata for one of the state’s most spectacular landmarks, providing access to views that have until now been reserved for intruding climbers and royal hawks catching the drifts of the wind in these passages.
The Royal Gorge kicks off the guided experience this weekend, a big addition to the park’s 90th summer anniversary. And in addition to the money ($ 135 for the shorter visit, $ 165 for the longest), visitors will also need courage.
In a taste this week, harness mountaineers fell into the wild on a thin trail, stopping on a “training route” fashioned along a rugged slab bending skyward, at some 300 feet above the canyon floor. Guide Eric McLemore asked them to always leave one of the two carabiners hooked to the steel cable while attaching the other to the next anchor. Have your foot on a rung or on granite and stay cut. “Critical,” McLemore said.
“If you mess this up, it’s your life.”
But the railroad could be trusted, the anchors and rebar were drilled 4 1/2 inches into the rock and filled with mortar, he said. “It will be many years to come, long after we are gone.”
And it is expected to be used as long as people are looking for adventure. Of course, diehard climbers north of Cañon City on the limestone formations known as Shelf Road would laugh at via ferrata – a “sanitized” attempt at the sport, they would call it.
But of the 300,000 who come to the Royal Gorge each year, of those who venture into the open air, the via ferrata could be an epic initiation.
“A truly unique introduction to rock climbing,” calls it fellow guide and avid climber, Spencer Thomson. One way to get used to the rock and the gear, “but you don’t have to worry about the more technical stuff.”
City council members knew rock climbing was popular in their area. But what were they asked to help fund at the end of last year? A via ferrata?
“It was kind of like ‘What are you talking about?’ Mayor Preston Troutman recalls. “‘Is that safe?'”
They were sure of it. And they were also told that their investment in half of the $ 675,000 project would be recouped quickly (for the rental of the park, the city received a revenue cut of $ 2.7 million last year. ).
It was an easy yes, said the mayor. “It will be the thrill of a lifetime.”
A thrill that the promoters anticipate will be sold to people around the world. Unlike Telluride and other via ferratas they’ve tried in Utah and Wyoming, the roads in the Royal Gorge tend to be vertical, straight down the cliffs. And then there is the landscape.
“Some of these opinions are simply unmatched,” said Jeremy Boswell, vice president of park operations.
They originate from an aerial walkway, spanning a ridge to a craggy throne, overlooking the large bridge above, the river below, and the damp mountains and snow-capped peaks of Sangre de Cristo beyond. And they come from the Royal Traverse, on which climbers passed after the “training track”.
Although more confident in their abilities, the exposure scared them – the rungs scaled tower-shaped outcrops, ending at the rim in less than a mile. From above, they could faintly make out someone’s remark about the bungee jumping.
” NS ! There are people there!