Rock Climbing Adventure Coming to Royal Gorge
The Pueblo Chieftain | January 12, 2019
By Tracy Harmon

CANON CITY — The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is working to add an Italian-born thrill to the park with a Via Ferrata climbing adventure that will allow visitors to scale the granite canyon wall on the south side of the bridge.

The beauty of the new feature will be its accessibility to a wide range of ages and those who may not have ever tried rock climbing.

“Via Ferratas are taking off in North America right now. It’s designed for non-climbers with an adventurous streak who want to know what it feels like to be on a rock face,” said Mike Friedman with Colorado-based Adventure Partners, who is designing installing the feature.

“I’ve done a few of them now to see what it is like and the best way to describe it is you don’t have the risk of rock climbing but you feel like you are taking a risk,” said Brent Hargrave, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park chief operating officer. “It is so amazing and a great way to introduce rock climbing and adventure sports to kids, families and people coming from places like Dallas or Denver who don’t have a chance to get out that much.”

Just in time for the bridge’s 90th birthday, the Via Ferrata can even be a thrill for those who don’t try it.

“Guests will be able to enjoy watching people scale the opposite wall from the visitor center deck, the bridge, or just about anywhere in the park,” Hargrave said.

Canon City Council on Monday approved spending $325,000 to pay half the cost of the $650,000 project, since it owns the bridge and park. The Royal Gorge Bridge Co. which operates the park on behalf of the city will pay the other half.

The city’s funds will come out of a $600,000 investment fund which is set aside to help with Royal Gorge park improvements, said City Administrator Tony O’Rourke.

“The fund is set aside to help pay for new attractions and since the city gets 25 percent of the revenues, we will use the proceeds from the new attraction to replenish the investment fund for the next few years so it will be back at $600,000,” for use on future park amenities, O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke explained that Italian troops first used the method of installing a system of bolts and cables to safely traverse mountain passes during World War I. Via Ferrata is Italian for Iron Road and the climbing method involves using a double clip-in method with climbing gear and carabiners as guests navigate through a series of steel cables and iron rungs installed into rock surfaces.

“The park is building something that will last forever. It’s a gateway for those who want to experience climbing,” Friedman said.

“Our Via Ferrata will probably be the most interesting because most are just horizontal climbing features while ours will be both horizontal and vertical with a 630-foot drop into the canyon,” O’Rourke explained. “The sheer beauty and big vertical drops will make the feature pretty unique.”

Now that the city has committed to helping, the bridge company will get to work making the attraction a reality.

“We are still working on timelines, but our target date to open the first phase installation is May 1,” said Peggy Gair, Royal Gorge Bridge spokeswoman.

Hargrave said the second phase of the feature likely will follow in a year or two and more phases can be added if the Via Ferrata is a success.

The park will offer guided tours ranging from two to five hours long. O’Rourke said guests likely will be charged an $85 fee to try a three-hour tour.

“It is becoming very popular and many climbing enthusiasts may come here just to do that. It will be good for the city,” O’Rourke said.

Captain Zipline located just east of Salida on Fremont County Road 45, has offered Via Ferrata cliff climbing tours since 2012 along with its aerial adventure park and zipline tours, said Monty Holmes, owner. O’Rouke said Via Ferrata features also are located at the Cave of the Winds near Colorado Springs and in Telluride.