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Via Ferrata in Kentucky

The boys halfway through the Via Ferrata in Kentucky in the Red River Gorge!

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Come climb the Via Ferrata in Kentucky, no experience or equipment required!  You may have never heard of the Red River Gorge Geological Area in Kentucky, but it’s known round the world as a top rock climbing destination.  In Kentucky!!!  People have come from every country in the world to climb here, but it’s a best-kept secret in much of America.  Tucked in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge (RRG) covers nearly 30,000 acres of mountainous canyons, cliffs, waterfalls, more than 100 natural bridges & arches (State Park), 70 miles of trails, and those famous rock faces.  It has been designated a National Natural Landmark and a National Historic Place.  Most of the people we met here are transplants from across the country and even the world.  They fell in love with the RRG and rock climbing, and literally left their lives and families behind to move here to follow their passion.  It’s a daily focus here.  They work & live to climb and friends commonly meet up after work to go.  It’s a neat little community that reminded us of Colorado with their very fitness, health-minded, outdoorsy way of life.  There are organic & healthy food options available, and plenty of campgrounds where many live.  A young community with a simple life focused on what they love.   

 

The Via Ferrata at the Southeast Mountain Guides was the very 1st of its kind in the United States.  There are less than 10, now, that I’m aware of.  Via Ferrata is Italian for ‘Iron Road or Path’ built into a mountain for climbers.  It’s a series of iron rungs & ladders anchored into a sheer rock face, with a steel cable system that runs along it.  Your safety belt harness is attached to the cable with 2 carabiner clips, for your safety.  You don’t need to bring & carry a lot of gear like rock climbers do.  Instead, you can scale cliffs & mountains in relative safety with little to no skill or experience.  Many Via Ferrata locations would be extremely difficult or sometimes impossible, even for skilled rock climbers to tackle, otherwise.  The Southeast Mountain Guide operation has been operating safely for nearly 20 years.  

 

Early Via Ferratas were developed in the Alps to travel sheer mountains, in the late 1800s.  In WWI, they were used in Italy to transport troops and supplies across the mountains, and to hold the battle lines.  Today, they’re popular in Europe for sport, but are still virtually unknown in the US.  

Via Ferrata Twins Kentucky

Kids need to be at least 10 years old for the Via Ferrata, here, to focus & follow safety instruction and remain clipped onto the safety cable.  The twins were obsessed with the Via Ferrata!

What to Expect-

You’ll start the day with waivers and 45 minutes of instruction & safety training.  No climbing experience, whatsoever, is required, so they go through everything you need to do and stress and practice the precautions for your safety.  They’ll fit you with a safety harness and helmet.  Make sure both fit snugly and check both of your carabiner latches to make sure they are latching & locking correctly and securely.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help, or have them repeat, if you’re not clear.  

The 3/4 mile course includes 6 different sections.  The progressively increase across 4 levels of difficulty and there is an exit ladder at the end of each one, if you don’t want to continue.  Climbing the Via Ferrata is very physical, so while you don’t have to be an athlete, you need to be relatively fit & agile.  If you’re able to climb a 13 foot climbing wall, you’ll probably do fine, at least with the 1st several levels.  It takes a bit of strength, even in your hands.  

  • Easy (2)–  These are a great intro and you could probably tackle these 2 even with a bit of a fear of heights.  It’s high, but not crazy, yet, and not so difficult that you’re afraid.  However, they’re not total piece-of-cake-easy.  They’re still a challenge and a bit of a workout.  If you have smaller kids and have an issue with heights, you can do these, repeatedly, and have a blast! 
  • Intermediate (1)– It’s high up on this one!  It has a 120 foot perch 1/2 way across the canyon, at the top of the horse-shoe shape.  You can rest here, sit and have a snack or just enjoy the view.  It’s kind of cave-like with a low ceiling, so you’ll mostly be low crawling here.  A small waterfall is just past and is fun to climb behind.  It’s from an overhang that juts out, so you won’t get wet. 
  • Advanced (2)-  There is a narrow, sky-high swinging bridge to walk along.  With our kids along, we didn’t feel comfortable tackling any further, and our muscles were getting worn out.  But we’ll be back! 😉  We did go back and complete the 1st two easy sections which were a piece of cake at that point.  By then, we stopped for lunch, our muscles were fatigued, we enjoyed the view for a bit and hung up our climbing gear for the day!
  • Expert (1) ‘Black Diamond’-  It has a high-wire cable walk (with 2 shoulder-height cables to hold & clip onto).  There are not as many resting spots, along the way.  Make sure you’re rested for this.  Your muscles can become shaky and a bit jello-ey after awhile, so make sure you’re up for it and rested!  The expert course is intensive, but they’ve had climbers complete it in their 80s (very fit 80 year olds!), so if your very athletic and active, go for it! 

Daddy & the girls on the left.  On right- Can you find me???  👀  I’m the teensy, weensy red dot above the treeline on the pic on the right!  Way higher up than it looks!

What to Bring:

  • Climbing Gloves–  These are a lifesaver for your hands.  Holding and pulling your body weight would quickly be difficult and possibly painful on the re-bar without them.  We use ours for mountain biking and other recreation, too.
  • Carabiner clips-  These are a must to hold a water bottle for each climber.  Cold or hot, you will need a lot of hydration with all of that full body exertion.  It can hang easily from your harness.  Car keys and looped sun screen bottles, etc… work well with these, too.
  • Phone Lanyard Bring your phone for awesome videos, pics & selfies.  You can’t keep it or access it in a pocket with your harness, so these lanyard holders for your neck are perfect!
  • Insulated metal water bottle with loop– You’ll want an insulated water bottle to keep your H20 cold and the steel bottle will keep it from breaking as it thumps and crashes into the rock.  A loop at the lid is essential so it can hang from your Carabiner clips.  
  • Pack your lunch!  After a strenuous, exhausting workout, reward yourself with an outdoor lunch with a gorgeous view of the canyon you just conquered!  
  • Layers of clothing to peel off and wear around your waist if you go on a cooler day (which I recommend!)  Wear comfortable, movable clothing to stretch and move with you.
  • Bring bug spray in warm weather.  Woods (& bugs) surround.
  • Wear tennis shoes or hiking boots.
  • Sunglasses, sun screen, and a bandana or sweat rag, if you want.

Probably the only time you’ll see me without any makeup on, but this pic makes me happy because it takes me back to the pure joy and vibrantly feeling alive that I felt in this moment.  The twins had absolutely no fear!  They’re natural monkeys!

What else is available?

  • Guided Rock Climbing– No experience is necessary, though must be aged 6 & up.  
  • Guided Rappelling–  They offer rappelling from 50 to 120 feet, so the quick duration and less physically taxing activity may be much more palatable to people who are nervous about heights.  There are no age restrictions, though they recommend it for 6 & up.  It is a 5-10 minute hike to the rappelling site and then you can rappell as much as you like during your time.  

What the Wheats think of the Via Ferrata in Kentucky:

Our family loved the Via Ferrata in Kentucky, though it will push you physically and mentally.  It was a challenge, exhilarating & unique, and a bucket list item if you’re up for the thrill!  Seeing those incredible views around you and experiencing ‘rock climbing’ makes you feel alive and blessed and strong in ways you don’t experience, otherwise.  It connects you with nature, with life, with yourself, and (for me) with God.  It’s an experience of a lifetime and you should absolutely grab it.  Seize the day!  

There’s much more to keep you busy in the area.  RRG is abundant with hiking and climbing options and has several tourist-centered sites that are unrelated to climbing.  They are physically engaging, though, and will keep you active, having fun, and young!  Spending time here, you’ll realize that you’ve found a special little gem that the crowds haven’t found, yet.  A must-do for the active & adventurous!  Add it to your bucket list! 

Family at Southeast Mountain Guides

A family that plays together, stays together!  ♥  There’s nothing like a new, unique challenge that pushes your limits to give your kids confidence in their abilities.  

Via Ferrata in Kentucky

Good to Know:

  • Free parking on site.  During slower times in off-season and through the week, it was big enough for our camper.
  • Reservations are required for all activities.  Weekends can fill up, so reserve more than 2 weeks prior.  
  • Dining– They have picnic tables below the canyon or on the 2nd story deck off the office.  Pack your lunch and eat outside with a gorgeous canyon view!  There are some prepared small lunch kits at several small shops in the area.  There are often healthy options that consider special diets in this fitness-minded community.  
  • A small gift shop has souvenirs, apparel and some supplies.
  • Restrooms are available in the office building.
  • Admission for the Via Ferrata is a Full Day Pass, currently $52.  Guided Rock Climbing & Guided Rappelling are currently $135 for Half Day of 1 activity and $185 for Full Day of 1 activity.     
  • Discounts are applied for groups over 1.  Kids 9 & under are $20 off with Rock Climbing & Rappelling.
  • Typical Hours are 8:30- 4:30, rain or shine, and you can climb till dusk on weekends.   
  • Duration– Most people, especially with kids spend 4-5 hours here.  
  • It can be busy in summer, particularly on weekends.
  • Lodging– It’s a smallish town, but there are some hotels, lodges, and several campgrounds available.   
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Southeast Mountain Guides  

1617 N Ky Hwy 11 Campton, Ky

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Once Upon a Wheat

Terri & Bill Wheat

Hey, there! I’m Terri & my husband Bill and I have 4 kids (2 boys & twin girls + a pup!) and we’ve been traveling since our kids were little. At this mid point in my journey, I’m trying to shove as much as I can into this precious gift of life and squeeze all the joy and growth and learning I can out of it. Making memories that matter, building a life of joy & meaning, actively pursuing my greatest potential. I have a zest for life, for learning, for growth & I want to give you the resources & inspiration to have better vacations and get more from your life!

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Go Via Ferrata Climbing in Kentucky!