“Grab the top of that ledge, latch your chili bean and let go!” says Alex Hesler, outdoor attraction manager at Cave of the Winds.
He’s encouraging me to hang by my hands from a ledge on the Via Ferrata Canyon Tour. But as my shoes barely scrape the rock, my muscles tense and my survival instinct fights back. I retreat to the steel step.
“Man, you almost had it,” he says.
Not satisfied by almost, I reattach the carabiner, aka the chili bean, to catch me if I slip. I reach for the ledge, pull myself up and push off the rock. My lower body briefly swings back, but I trust my grip and hang suspended over 50 feet of open air. Our lead guide cheers and I feel more confidence and adrenaline than ever before.
You don’t need nerves of steel to conquer the via ferrata of Williams Canyon—only a sense of adventure. I have no rock climbing experience, and I tend to stay away from any ledge. But via ferratas, or iron ways, are designed for even climbing novices to scale cliffs or rock faces. Featuring steel cables and built-in handles and footholds, the courses were first developed in Europe during World War I to move troops quickly in the mountains. Now with locking carabiner systems, they’ve been experiencing a popularity boom in mountain locations around the world, including Colorado Springs since 2018.
The Cave of the Winds course features ladder steps, a steel balance beam and a large cargo net. Its highest point is 85 feet where you scramble across an open cliff face. Hesler says the most difficult challenge of the via ferrata is mental, but that’s what the guides are there for—to help someone like me get past the unfamiliar techniques of scaling a cliff and my fear of heights.
At the start of the climb, the guides promise that you’ll soon be a natural with clipping and unclipping the carabiners. Yeah right, I thought. But before long I found myself trusting the equipment and trying to use the limestone more than the ladder.
After about two hours of clipping, climbing and scrambling, we reached the top. Then came the flying. A first zip line is a 500-foot-long flight through the canyon, and a second runs 1,000 feet to the final checkpoint. Our final feat was rappelling from the last zip line tower. Back on solid ground, I realized I had learned some basic rock climbing skills, taken in panoramic views of Pikes Peak, flown over Williams Canyon and overcome my aversion to heights. Lifetime memory made.
Other Colorado Via Ferrata
Cave of the Winds: Check for weather- dependent fall hours. caveofthewinds.com
Idaho Springs: AVA Rafting & Zipline’s via ferrata includes a 50-foot freefall, a 70-foot rappel, 300-foot suspension bridges and three zip lines. coloradorafting.net
Buena Vista: The Granite Via Ferrata features one section where the cable is the only place to step at the base of the Collegiate Peaks. coloradoviaferrata.com
Royal Gorge: Choose from the Revelation, Royal or Private tours, rated beginner- friendly to exhilarating. royalgorgebridge.com
Estes Park: Enjoy guided, unique views of Rocky Mountain National Park from a 600-foot cliff. kmaconline.com
Telluride: B.Y.O.Gear or hire a local guide on Colorado’s original, noncommercial via ferrata 500 feet above town. telluride.com