A Texan’s Guide to Telluride

This town is full of thrills—especially the Via Ferrata (hint: don't look down)—and necessary chills.

Sat May 01 2021 06:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

The box canyon town of Telluride, where you can dangle from a sheer cliff by day and forage for cast-off treasures at the community Free Box by night, has long topped my list of favorite places in Colorado. Although the ski runs first lured me there fifteen years ago, my love for the place runs deeper than the snow that stacks up in Revelation Bowl in the dead of winter.

I’ve always preferred historic old mining towns to made-to-order resorts such as Vail, and Telluride’s rows of brightly painted Victorian homes surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks make me swoon. I even like the name Telluride, which, depending on whom you ask, came either from the element tellurium, found within deposits of gold mined here, or the echoing call “To hell you ride!” bellowed to friends as they galloped away for a wild time in the lively town.

I head to Telluride when I’m craving adventure. That might mean pedaling a mountain bike, rented from Box Canyon Bicycles, to the Telluride Brewing Company for a glass of Whacked Out Wheat or Face Down Brown Ale, or climbing a frozen waterfall while wielding a pickax and wearing boots with spikes at the toes. I’ve trained binoculars on a pair of eagles perched in a treetop while birding with local guide Eric Hynes and hiked past a forest of trees downed in an avalanche. You can fly-fish, backpack, or rock climb in Telluride, too.

But if you really want to crank the dial to eleven, you’ve got to experience the two-mile cabled hiking and climbing route called the Via Ferrata.

Soldiers used via ferratas (“iron paths” in Italian) to cross the rugged Alps during World War I. Today, the term refers to the increasingly popular recreational routes that require inching across tightrope-walk-width ledges and clinging like a gecko to metal rungs driven into cliff walls.
Chuck Kroger installed the series of metal handholds and footholds under cover of darkness (and without official permission) in the early 2000s. He died of cancer not long after it was finished. The U.S. Forest Service officially acknowledged the route years later, but it’s still a do-it-yourself endeavor. Anyone with proper equipment—and nerves of reinforced cement and steel—can access the spot, which features dangerous drop-offs galore. That’s why I went with a guide, Josh Butson, of San Juan Outdoor Adventures, who provided gear, knowledge, and moral support.

Even though I’m a bit of an adventure hound, I was nervous before starting. My knees clacked like castanets, and my palms never stopped sweating for the next two hours. At one point, I found myself stuck to a 330-foot sheer rock wall, my nose against the gritty rock, feeling like the Grinch peering down on the patchwork quilt of Whoville. I couldn’t work up the nerve to take in much of the view, but Butson told me that if I turned around, I’d get a stunning glimpse of Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. I’ll have to trust his word—it was all I could do to scuttle along the rock face to the trail’s end.

Pam LeBlanc