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Via Ferratas Take the Kennedy Mountain Campus to New Heights

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Connor Mokrzycki


The University of Denver’s first-of-their-kind climbing routes offer the public a new way to explore Colorado’s mountains and enjoy unparalleled views.

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Climbers traverse a ridge at the Kennedy Mountain Campus

The University of Denver’s James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus, where first-year students complete their First Ascent, is now home to two via ferratas—the first ones on a college campus—providing students and the general public a unique alpine adventure this summer. 

A via ferrata, meaning “iron way” in Italian, is a protected climbing route equipped with ladders, rungs, cables and other permanent fixtures that make it easier to move across, up and down steep mountain faces. Via ferratas first rose to prominence during World War I, when they were constructed throughout the Dolomite Mountains to help Austrian and Italian soldiers and their equipment move throughout the treacherous high-altitude terrain. In the century that followed, recreational mountaineers and alpinists took it upon themselves to maintain and improve the routes as the military use of via ferratas subsided. More recently, they’ve grown in popularity as an attraction for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts across the world.

At KMC, the two routes combine natural rock features and traditional via ferrata construction with challenge-course elements and aerial bridges, allowing climbers to choose their path to the summit.

The Crest Via Ferrata is perfect for beginners, with a green circle level of difficulty. Climbers gain 400 feet of elevation, cross one of two aerial bridges, and work their way through natural terrain and climbing aids before reaching the top, where they find stunning views of Cliff Lake and the rest of the campus. Climbers can reach the summit in under an hour and a half.

Climbers scaling a vertical via ferrata section

The second route, the Cirque Via Ferrata, offers intermediate and advanced climbers a chance to test their skills. The blue square route begins with climbers scaling more than 200 feet of near-vertical climbing to the Lunch Ledge—the perfect spot for a quick mid-climb rest—before traversing an aerial bridge and deciding on their path to the summit. Climbers can choose to continue on the intermediate route or test themselves on the Big Kahuna Headwall. The double-black diamond headwall is 170 feet tall, at times steeper than vertical. The 25-foot inverted climb is one of the most challenging via ferrata sections in the country. From the top, which can be reached in approximately two and a half hours, climbers can enjoy breathtaking views of southern Wyoming, the Rocky Mountains and the plains.

Both routes, built in partnership with the Estes Park-based Via Ferrata Works, use creative, challenging and novel course design, says Reed Rowley, partner and director of business development. “I don't think there are any other via ferratas in the U.S. that have that unique mix of elements, views, exposure and diversity of climbing. These via ferratas are the top category of what's out there currently,” says Rowley, who is also pursuing a master’s degree in real estate and construction management at the Daniels College of Business.

Both via ferratas at KMC are available to the public, with registration open now. Prices start at $149 per person, and special rates are available for larger groups. DU students can also take advantage of special events, like the recent Outdoor Experience Weekend, to access the routes. Pricing includes a guide and harnesses, helmets and other required equipment. Discounts are available for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus is a two-hour drive from DU’s urban campus. Its 720 acres offer endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Whether you are in the mood for hiking and climbing or would rather try your hand at archery, or roast s’mores over a firepit with friends, there is something for everyone. Promoting social, physical and mental well-being is an important part of the 4D Experience, and the new via ferratas promise students an exciting new way to connect, exercise, reflect and reach new heights.

Visit the Kennedy Mountain Campus website to book your via ferrata experience.

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