Ouray, CO

New Gold Mountain Via Ferrata climbs through Memphis Mine above Ouray

Morgan Tilton

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Morgan Tilton climbing with Basecamp Ouray guide Jacob Raab on the Gold Mountain Via Ferrata in Ouray, ColoradoPhoto Morgan Tilton

Colorado’s newest via ferrata recently debuted in the San Juan Mountains above Ouray.

Dubbed the Gold Mountain Via Ferrata after its namesake location, the route is privately owned with exclusive guide services provided through Basecamp Ouray.

The climb is north of town. At one of its highest points, the route offers bird’s eye views of both Ouray and Ridgway to the north.

Learn more about what a via ferrata is in my recent article “Where to enjoy via ferrata routes in Colorado.”

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Ouray Basecamp guide Jacob Raab gives a safety talk at the base of the Memphis Mine Via FerrataPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Various via ferratas in Ouray, Colorado

Two other via ferrata routes currently exist in Ouray (pronounced you-ray): An upstream route and a downstream route on the Uncompahgre River on the south side of town, which start at the same location.

They are both managed by the Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata nonprofit, free of cost, and open to the public.

Basecamp Ouray was founded by Logan Tyler, who was born and raised in Ouray.

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Looking towards Ouray on the Gold Mountain Via FerrataPhoto by Morgan Tilton

“After working for the Ouray Ice Park for four years, I decided that starting Basecamp Ouray was a good way to continue to foster the climbing community here. This town should be producing world class climbers—they just need the facilitation and mentorship, which was the seed of it all,” said Tyler in an interview.

The locally owned and operated guide operation also manages the climbing gym, a coworking space (located at the climbing gym), and local programs such as kids climbing camps.

We discussed the Gold Mountain via ferrata while sitting in the freshly built coworking space, which has a window that overlooks the climbing gym, while employees prepped the climbing walls for an indoor dry-tool ice climbing competition.

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The route features occasional double-wide rungs allowing climbers to comfortably keep their weight over their feetPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Basecamp Ouray also hosts local, complimentary climbing days on the new via ferrata.

“We've been able to really maximize the growth opportunity here [among our guides], because the culture is grounded by the guides being able to connect to themselves and to others. The emotional intelligence is what really matters. Guiding is a people's business,” said Tyler.

What is the Gold Mountain Via Ferrata

On an autumn day with golden, glowing aspens and cottonwoods mixed into the pines, I met Jacob Raab, one of the lead Basecamp Ouray via ferrata climbing guides to experience the route.

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We hiked below and beside to the top of the Memphis Mine sorting housePhoto by Morgan Tilton

This summer, Raab has guided the route at least 50 times. His professional guiding started on ice in Michigan, Montana, and overseas in India before moving to Ouray close to three years ago.

In the winter, he is a ranger at the Ouray Ice Park. Raab has both a SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) and a Wilderness First Responder certification.

“The number one rule is to have fun,” said Raab, as we approached the base of the via ferrata climb, which was a 5-minute shuttle from downtown Ouray on the east side of the canyon.

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The decrepit sorting house remains upright against the mountainsidePhoto by Morgan Tilton

As we prepared to climb, Raab gave me one of his specialty mini “TED talks” about the route design, safety, and history, which I enjoyed through the day.

The one-way route is approximately 1,300 vertical feet of ascent and typically takes 3.5-4.5 hours to complete with stops and discussion along the way and contingent on the group size. The return shuttle is 20 minutes.

One unique attribute of this private via ferrata is that it’s completely traffic-free, which allows for solitude. Without other climbers or groups, there is no opportunity for a bottleneck or additional hazard management.

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At a fork in the route climbers can choose to add on an expert-only segmentPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Ultimately, a professional guide is required for visitors, and the premium offering is a high-quality experience.

The Gold Mountain Via Ferrata enables public access to the Memphis Mine site

I love studying Colorado’s mountain, mining, and railroad history, so one of my favorite parts of the via ferrata is that the route interweaves the old ruins of the Memphis Mine, which date back more than a century.

The 1800s is when mining blew up here in the San Juans with abundant precious metals—gold and silver, explained Raab. By the turn of the century, the mining heyday took off in Ouray with three different mines operating on Gold Mountain including Memphis Mine.

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Climbing one-by-one on the expert-only segmentPhoto by Morgan Tilton

The historic site includes a decrepit sorting house and blacksmith shop, the latter of which is still in excellent condition. Inside, there are remnants of the workers including an abandoned shoe.

Inside, there is an iron foundation which was likely used to stabilize a piece of equipment such as a kiln, forge, or anvil.

A 150-foot-long tunnel remains blasted through the mountainside, which climbers hike through. The original tracks are still intact, which were used to roll the minecarts, large, rectangular buckets that were pushed or pulled by men and mules.

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Across the gorge stands the old mill for Memphis MinePhoto by Morgan Tilton

Across the gorge, the old Mill site still stands, which is where the ore was broken down, separated, sized, and classified.

When climbers cross the first cable bridge, they can peer across to the opening of the mine shaft.

A boarding house for miners used to be on the mountainside, too, which burned down in the early 1900s.

The Great Depression between 1929 and 1939 caused the shutdown and abandonment of Memphis Mine.

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Climbers hike through the 150-foot-long original mining tunnel with the ancient tiesPhoto by Morgan Tilton

What is the route like on the Gold Mountain via ferrata

The Gold Mountain via ferrata, similar to any via ferrata, enables folks that are not experienced rock climbers to have access to otherwise inaccessible terrain.

The route includes close to three pitches to reach the halfway section.

The first cable bridge, called the Memphis Mine Bridge, is close to 50 feet in length followed by another three pitches.

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The first cable bridge is short and overlooks the mine shaft and roof of the blacksmith shopPhoto by Morgan Tilton

At print, there is one spur section where climbers can choose an additional section which reconnects with the primary route.

The optional segment is a difficult, double black diamond-rated part of the route, featuring the most exposed and difficult moves. The pitch is called, “The Don Wall,” which is named after local Don Fehd, who passed in 2022.

Near the top of the via ferrata, the second bridge is 263 feet long, supported by five separate cables, and stretches between a gorge 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

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The blacksmith shop is in excellent condition for a 120-year-old non-renovated buildingPhoto by Morgan Tilton

There is a 4-inch-wide diamond plate tread for traction, which climbers walk along with one foot in front of the other. Two ergonomic hand-railing cables rest at torso-height. One high cable is where climbers clip themselves for safety.

“It's the longest five cable bridge on a via ferrata in Colorado,” said Tyler.

After the long bridge, there is a small pitch to reach the top of the via ferrata, where a cliffside bar awaits. The post has electricity and is still being outfitted but will eventually provide beverages, food, and camp sites.

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Remnants from the miners are scattered throughout the blacksmith shopPhoto by Morgan Tilton

The Gold Mountain via ferrata is creative and fluid

One of the standout traits of this new via ferrata is that the rungs face a variety of directions rather than all being perpendicular to the rock face.

“The other [special] feature of this route is the flow. Flow state is such a cool thing to experience as a human being. That's what we tried to really emulate with the creation of this course—putting people into that natural flow. Where you would intuitively want a rung, that's where there is a rung,” said Tyler.

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Work day views in the blacksmith shopPhoto by Morgan Tilton

He added, “We tried to push the boundaries with rung turning, tilting, and under clings—that kind of rung placement had never been done before on a via ferrata. It [has always been] two-dimensional.”

The artistic placement of rungs allows for a more ergonomic, intuitive, and fluid climbing experience, which I really appreciated and enjoyed.

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The five-cable bridge is long enough that there is a descent and ascent in the arched shapePhoto by Morgan Tilton

The route was proposed and physically built by Tyler with the help of several local climbers. The creative visionary and leader behind the fluidity was Xander Bianchi, the founder of Gravity / Line, a rigging solution consultation and construction company, who helped to construct the route.

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Overlooking Ouray across the five-cable bridge below the final short pitch to the summitPhoto by Morgan Tilton

Tyler said, “We haven’t scratched the surface of the potential of what can be done on Gold Mountain, and we have exciting plans to continue to expand.”

I already want to go back and climb the route again.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

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