The Iron Way.
The summit of Tram Face at Palisades Tahoe offers some of the most panoramic views of the Tahoe area. Far below, the lush green forests and meadows of Olympic Valley spread before you, while the mountains encircling Lake Tahoe reflect on its iconic crystal blue waters.
Accessing this vantage point requires navigating an 800-foot vertical maze of rock walls and ledges, but the reward is well worth it. And the best part? Anyone can do it.
The Tahoe Via Ferrata, which consists of rebar hand- and footholds permanently bolted into the rock, connected by a series of cables to which climbers attach, provides a simple, safe, exciting and adventurous way to access the unique viewpoints above Olympic Valley. A special lanyard, called a “continuous lifeline,” is fixed to a harness, allowing climbers to flow smoothly across the cables and up the rock face without ever having to detach from the system.
Though relatively new in the United States, via ferratas (Italian for “iron way”) date back centuries in Europe, and have historically been used to move people and supplies through the mountains. Via ferratas saw widespread usage during the First World War, and then became popular with hikers looking to access steeper, more technical terrain. Dozens of via ferratas now exist across Europe, where they have become a staple of outdoor recreation.
Today, via ferratas in the U.S. are gaining in availability and popularity, driven by a growing public interest in mountain access. While true rock climbing, including the sport’s rich history in California, is arguably enjoying its greatest popularity ever, the sport remains largely reserved for those with the time and ability to dedicate themselves to extensive training, or the resources to hire a guide. As a result, rock climbing has retained its status as a bit of a niche sport whose pioneers live on the edges of modern sporting society.
But all of that is changing. With climbing gyms popping up all over the country, climbers being featured as hardcore athletes in Oscar-winning documentaries, and climbing’s induction into the Olympic Games, more people are being exposed to the sport than ever before.
Building on this momentum, via ferratas are gaining traction in the U.S. as a way for friends and families to venture into previously unattainable high-angle terrain without experience as a rock climber. Rock climbing requires strength, balance, and athleticism, as well as courage, problem-solving, and mental fortitude. Via ferratas offer much of the same adrenaline-pumping experience and exposure, but in a more approachable manner. Ascending any via ferrata offers everyday adventurers an experience they can be proud of without incurring the difficulty and expense of traditional rock climbing.
In a community where climbing has long been baked into the local culture, the Tahoe Via Ferrata is a natural next step toward expanding climbing sports to a wider audience.
All Tahoe Via Ferrata tours are led by Alpenglow Expeditions fleet of certified climbing guides, and options range from 2-, 3-, and 4-hour tours. Beginners can opt for a two or three hour introduction, while those looking to reach the summit can enjoy the 4-hour tour. Using a harness, a helmet, and the special continuous lifeline lanyard, the system makes it easy—but still exciting—to scale the extensive rock face.
The Tahoe Via Ferrata offers an accessible opportunity, rewarded by uniquely stunning views, in a way that makes the adventure totally attainable without detracting from the thrill of the experience.
The Tahoe Via Ferrata is owned and operated by Alpenglow Expeditions, Northern California’s only AMGA-Accredited guiding operation. For the customer, this means climbers can rest assured that the guide(s) leading their tour have received the highest level of training available in the industry. If you’re interested in getting outside, whether on the Via Ferrata or the rock walls of Donner Summit or Lovers Leap, Alpenglow Expeditions can customize your experience to match any skill level. Climb with us to new heights, and discover the joys of the vertical world.
Written by Robert Kyte
Photos courtesy of Paul Hamill Photography