Alaska’s First Via Ferrata Is an Epic Climb in Untouched Territory

Alaska's first via ferrata
Courtesy Image

Heli-skiing, ice climbing, glacier hiking—Alaska is ground zero for adventure activities. The Last Frontier can be intimidating, though, to those who aren’t experienced in the outdoors, leaving them to trod well-worn slopes and paths along with the rest of the neon puffy coat–clad tourists.

But in June, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge—an exclusive luxury hotel 40 minutes from Anchorage—opened up access to Alaska’s first via ferrata (a beginner-friendly one, at that!) in an area few people have ever walked, let alone climbed.

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While climbing’s popularity has been growing in the U.S., via ferratas (protected climbing paths aka “iron paths”) are hard to find stateside. In fact, there are fewer than 10 in the United States—and Alaska’s is by far the most remote. While it’s technically a public climbing route, it’s 80 miles from the nearest road, and a 10-minute helicopter ride from the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge property, which in and of itself is only accessible via float plane. (The lodge controls heli access to the area, making the route effectively private.)

But the climb is worth the time and effort (and money) to get there. Tordrillo bolted 1,200 feet of steel cables to a solid granite crag, covering 900 vertical feet of climbing starting from 4,000 feet above sea level. Two suspension bridges span gaps in the crag, with dizzying views all the way down to the ice.

Ashley Mateo on a steel cable bridge
Author Ashley Mateo on a steel cable bridge Courtesy Image

As scary as that sounds, it actually is a beginner-friendly route (as long as you’re not afraid of heights). To climb a via ferrata, you clip in with two carabiners and slide them forward simultaneously on the cable. When you reach a bolt or anchor fixing the cable to the rock, you unclip the first carabiner, move it past the bolt or anchor, and reclip it to the wire, then repeat with the second carabiner. It’s a redundant system. You’re safe because you’re always attached to the cable with at least one carabiner.

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The only other danger is that the views might literally bowl you over. The route overlooks the Triumvirate Glacier, a 28-mile stretch of creeping ice. And literally every turn affords you sweeping views of the glacier’s lunar landscape, including Mt. Spurr, an active volcano that last erupted in 1992, and hundreds of feet of ice that swath the mountains of the Alaskan Range. But perched on the side of the crag, you’re not only safe from any ice fall, you’ve got a birds’ eye view of deep crevasses with winking layers of arctic blue and glacial pools dotting the ice—a perspective few have ever seen.

It took five years for Tordillo to bring this via ferrata to life, says Mike Overcast, a co-owner of the Lodge and an experienced snow blaster, avalanche consultant, and wilderness guide. “No one had even heard of via ferratas in Alaska,” he explains, so just getting a permit took over a year. The main issue was safety, but the remote location ended up being an easy solve—unlike in Europe, no one is going to wander off the highway and onto this particular via ferrata.

Mateo overlooking the trail
Mateo overlooking the trail Courtesy Image

Installing the via ferrata was part of the Lodge’s goal to rebrand Alaska as not just a do-it-before-you-die destination for cruisers, but somewhere for younger adventurers, says Overcast.

In that vein, after reopening in February, the newly renovated Tordrillo built out their summer activity schedule with helicopter-accessed fat-tire mountain biking, salmon fishing, kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, wakesurfing, and waterskiing.

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But if there’s still one do-it-before-you-die element of the experience, it would be the via ferrata—and the opportunity to see Alaska from an entirely new vantage point.

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