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'Iron Paths' Climb Some Of Most Iconic Walls In The West

VF-Squaw-Cover "Iron paths" aka via ferratas are fixed-protection rock climbing routes that allow young and old to explore rock climbing in a safe environment. (Image via Palisades Tahoe Facebook)

Via ferratas require rock-face, cliff-y terrain, so it's no surprise that "iron paths" in the West can be found on ski and snowboard mountains known for their steeps.

Fixed “protection” on the rock, such as cables, steps, pegs and ladders allow inexperienced climbers to hook in and safely ascend on rock faces. Some via ferratas even incorporate hanging bridges. Reservations required for guided tours from 90 minutes to four hours. Here's a look at the "iron roads" within the trail-map boundaries of five resorts in the West.

The highest elevation for a via ferrata sits in Arapaho Basin's East Wall. A chairlift ride to mid-mountain, then an OHV ride gets to the base of the climb at 11,800 feet elevation. The full-day climb ascends 1,200 feet to the 13,000-foot top ridge of A-Basin. A shorter version goes to an abandoned mine shaft for a history lesson.

In the northern Rockies, Jackson Hole built the most extensive via ferrata in the West. A gondola ride delivers climbers to extensive route layout in upper-mountain Casper Bowl. A dozen routes – from introductory to most difficult – and a 120-foot suspension bridge await. Rates include two-hour practice climb, half-day option or six-hour full day on the rock, all spread across rock face with 500 feet of vertical drop.

In the southern Rockies, Taos Ski Valley has open a via ferrata complex on the famous cliffs of Kachina Bowl. At 11,500 feet above sea level, beginner and intermediate routes criss-cross the Kachina face and include a 100-foot-long bridge suspended 50 feet in the air. More advanced climbers move over to the infamous K Chutes that has a 50-foot cable walk.

In California, Mammoth Mammoth is one of two resorts in the state with a via ferrata. A gondola ride to mid-mountain McCoy Station arrives below the Caldera Overlook. Six routes await: three beginner, two moderate with a suspension bridge between, and one expert. Climbs are 180 feet long for three-hour private and 90-minute group tours.

The other is Palisades Tahoe, where the lower mountain's iconic Tram Face is ideal for fixed-route climbing. A 4x4 ride and short hike gets climbers to four routes of varying difficulty that ascend some 800 feet of rock wall. Routes were designed with kids in mind, and 4x4 await at the top for return ride to the Olympic Village.

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