‘The sky’s the limit’: Tahoe Via Ferrata opens in Squaw Valley | SierraSun.com

‘The sky’s the limit’: Tahoe Via Ferrata opens in Squaw Valley

The final steps up Squaw Valley’s Tram Face give way to one of the best views in all of Olympic Valley.

In order to reach the top, however, exposed sections of rock hundreds of feet above the valley floor and steep climbs up crumbling granite must first be navigated — but anyone can do it.

“I just saw a poster around the village the last couple of days, and I’ve always heard about Via Ferrata stuff around Italy and Europe,” said Mark Jen, who was visiting the area with his family from San Francisco. “I thought it was awesome. We ski here a lot too, so it’s a great way to see the mountain from another perspective. I think the mountain looks totally different in the summer already, so to see it from Tram Face, looking down, is awesome.”

With the Village at Squaw Valley looming far below, Jen, his 7-year-old son and a group of three others visiting the area were led along a route consisting of steel rungs and cables by one of Alpenglow Expeditions’ team of American Mountain Guide Association trained guides as part of the grand opening for the area’s newest attraction, the Tahoe Via Ferrata.

Via ferrata, an Italian term meaning iron road, is a protected climbing route with permanent steel anchors and cables that allow participants to be safely connected to the rock at all times. Participants never unclip from the cable during the climbing sections, and bypass the anchors via a small slot in their carabiners. Each climb is led by Alpenglow Expeditions guides, who teach participants how to navigate the rock face while introducing basic climbing techniques.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Jen, whose son was led by a guide during more difficult sections as an added safety measure. “They did a great job with the kids. It’s a cool activity for families.”

Alpenglow Expeditions celebrated the grand opening of the Tahoe Via Ferrata on Wednesday, July 3, and by day’s end, the company’s guides had taken more than 100 people, many with little to no climbing experience, up a pair of routes to the base of Tram Face 1, which stands roughly 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

“The Via Ferrata is a very simple system, but it gives you that experience of multi-pitch rock climbing that you can’t get unless you’ve spent years learning technical rock systems,” said Tahoe Via Ferrate Manager Sam Kieckhefer. “We’ve had 7 year olds, we’ve had 81 year olds, and we’ve had everyone in between.”

The Via Ferrata first opened at Squaw Valley last October, and operated for roughly six weeks before snowfall halted climbing. A historic winter in the area then delayed this year’s opening.

Ascending Tram Face

Guests begin their journey up Tram Face by taking a short ride up the mountain in a truck, dubbed “The Beast,” by guides. From there, groups of six climbers are led by guides on a short hike where they get their first taste of climbing a via ferrata.

The climbing picks up as the group ascends one of two routes up Tram Face, making use of steel rungs and other features installed in the granite along the route to safely reach the top. The route also features sections called “Monkey Bridges,” in which a climber uses only a cable for their feet and a cable for their hands to cross from one side of a precipice to the other.

The two routes meet up on a tiny cliff below the top of Tram Face called the “Island in the Sky.” From there, climbers traverse past the upper reaches of Squaw Valley’s Tram Chute before arriving at the conclusion of the route beneath Tram Tower 1.

“The guys that built the route did a really great job of having it explore the zone and not just go straight up it,” said Kieckhefer.

Climbers then continue along a path during a descent that features views of Shirley Canyon and KT-22, completing a roughly four-hour journey in terrain that was previously off limits to guests at the resort.

“It’s kind of an untouched zone,” said Kieckhefer. “It’s been closed to the public in the winter and the summer forever, and now we get to go take clients and explore it.”

The route itself can be as challenging as climbers make it with options of grabbing the cable, bolts, rungs, or holds in the granite.

“The technical climbers love it because it’s like a little jungle gym for adults,” said Kieckhefer. “You don’t have to worry about your systems and rope work and things like that. It’s really more just about having fun in a mountain environment.”

Alpenglow Expeditions will operate the two routes seven days a week through summer and fall, and may expand to offer other routes in the future.

“This summer, we’re really excited to operate on the two routes,” said Kieckhefer. “Beyond that we see the rock around here as kind of the sky’s the limit. We’re excited to continue to identify ways we could expand.”

Scheduling a climb

The climb takes roughly four hours and costs $149. Alpenglow Expeditions also offers an intro course for $99, in which climbers spend 2.5 hours on the lower half of Tram Face. Private and group tours are also available. To book a tour up the Tahoe Via Ferrata, visit TahoeVia.com.

“If you’re not familiar with via ferrata or you don’t know what via ferrata is, come check it out, because it’s a really manageable experience and everyone has a fun time,” said Kieckhefer. “Even people that are afraid of heights or nervous about the adventure, it’s very manageable.”

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com.