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Trail review: Cloud Ladder provides adventurous thrills for climbers of all ages



Trail review: Cloud Ladder provides adventurous thrills for climbers of all ages

I have always told my children to “do hard things.” It is a philosophy that has served me well in life. On Friday, Oct. 8, I accomplished another “hard thing” at the age of 59.

The new Cloud Ladder Via Ferrata is part of the Alpine Jewell. The trail is installed into the Deville rock formation on the northern flanks of Twin Sisters in Estes Park.

“You’re climbing straight up a vertical cliff for several hundred feet,” explained Buster Jesik, who has worked for Kent Mountain Adventure Center (KMAC) for ten years. He’s an International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA) certified mountain guide. “It’s an experience that people can have that simulates – or essentially is the same as – a rock climbing experience, but you don’t need to have the physical skill set that a rock climber needs to get to these same places.”

Via ferrata means iron trail or iron road. Via ferratas have their origins in World War I Italy, helping move troops about in the Alps. After the war, the iron trails were left in place and people started to use them for outdoor adventure climbing.

RELATED: For the steepest via ferrata climb in the U.S., head up to Estes Park

The systems of fixed anchors, steel cables and ladders are gaining popularity around the world.

“The cool thing about via ferratas is that they are a gateway into rock climbing,” Jesik noted.

Via Ferrata Works Partner and Developer Reed Rowley, Estes Park Trail-Gazette Managing Editor Wendy Rigby and mountain guide Buster Jesik pose for a selfie at one of the many scenic stops on the Cloud Ladder. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

The new Cloud Ladder adventure begins with a short hike up to a shed that houses the gear KMAC provides for the climb, including helmet, carabiners, gloves and a harness.

At the base of the first cliff, I clipped my carabiners into the cable and started up the implanted ladders. The sheer rock face above is intimidating, but quickly, the adventure becomes a quest. I had to get to the top to see the amazing views of the Rockies and my town.

“Unlike a lot of via ferratas which are really just about finding the path of least resistance going up them, the Cloud Ladder is designed to almost replicate that experience of being a big wall climber,” explained Reed Rowley, Partner and Director of Business Development for Via Ferrata Works. “This is the crown jewel via ferrata we have worked on. It was completed in June of this year. It’s also probably one of the most challenging via ferratas in the U.S. with one of the longest single pitches.”

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The systems of fixed anchors, steel cables and ladders are gaining popularity around the world. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

There are about 850 steps and rungs on the climb up the Cloud Ladder. At a couple of crucial points, you actually have to use the rock to step up, not just the cables and the rungs.

Three weeks ago, designers added two bridges to the Cloud Ladder. These incredible spans take nerve to step out on to, but once I was on them, the sensations I felt were indescribable.

“The Cloud Ladder is designed for the more advanced climber,” Rowley noted. “But what makes the experience so special is that it allows people who don’t have the technical skill to get that hands-on sensation of actually being on a big wall. The bridges we installed three weeks ago add an element even beyond what rock climbs get. You almost get the perspective of what a peregrine falcon sees when flying through a ravine.”

The Cloud Ladder is designed for people of all ages and many skill levels. Children as young as 12 and people in their mid-60s have been up this trail.

The first via ferrata route built on the Deville rock formation is the Peregine route which opened in 2019.

I climbed that route last summer. I noticed something fascinating on both trips up. I was totally in the moment. You have to concentrate as your safety hangs in the balance. You become completely attuned to your body, the elements and the incredible beauty which surrounds you. I felt acutely alive.

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Three weeks ago, designers added two bridges to the Cloud Ladder. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

“One of the cool things about any form of climbing – whether it’s rock climbing, ice climbing or doing a via ferrata – is that you have to be 100 percent focused on what you are doing,” explained Jesik. “There are certain levels of risk with all of these activities. The via ferrata enables the least amount of risk to be able to climb up a mountain or cliff like this, but you still have to pay attention to make sure you’re doing everything right. You have to do it correctly or you could put yourself in a very dangerous situation. That’s what the guide is there for…to instruct and to supervise, to watch you and to help you through difficult sections if need be.”

At the top, a sign marks the top elevation at 9,282 feet on the south summit of Cathedral Peak. A Colorado flag flies. As someone who has undergone four major surgeries over the past four years, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Of course, then is had to hike back down, buoyed by an adventure I will never forget.

Via Ferrata Works

Via Ferrata Works is a company started by Harry Kent and Keith Lober. It is one of only a handful of companies in the U.S. that designs and builds via ferratas.

“Kent and Lober have an incredible amount of experience in climbing, adventuring and mountaineering,” Rowley noted. “Lober’s background is actually as the head of Search and Rescue for Yosemite National Park in California. These via ferratas integrates a lot of the combined 60 years of experience that Kent and Lober have as big wall climbers.”

Recently, the company wrapped up a project in New Mexico at media mogul Ted Turner’s ranch called Vermejo.

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There are about 850 steps on rungs on the climb up the Cloud Ladder. At a couple of crucial points, you actually have to use the rock to step up, not just the cables and the rungs. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

“What’s really cool about it is that it’s a low elevation via ferrata,” Rowley said. “It’s more of a traverse. We had to think, ‘How do we make this exciting and challenging without the big exposures and the big wall?’ We integrated a bunch of different artifacts from the site. We found historic artifacts, relics from mining operations on site. We pulled out chains and cables and draglines. There’s a section on that where you actually walk on a steel dragline from a mine. That’s actually part of you grab on to. We’ve integrated mazes.”

Increasingly, Rowley explained, the company is thinking about pushing the boundaries with elements like the bridges on Cloud Ladder, trying to find the sweet spot between making it too hard or too easy and finding the place where most people can do it, but they still finish the climb with an amazing sense of accomplishment.

“We’re looking to take this skill set and work on projects all over the world,” Rowley added. “We’re looking at sites in the UK, Canada, Mexico…all over. We also have some great partnerships that allow us to push the boundaries more. We’re working with another company out of Maine that designs sailboats. We’re working with them to create platforms that are installed into the rock, accessible by via ferrata. It’s going to be a version of cliff camping, but a little bit more robust where you can actually get out of your harness. We want to create something that’s a little closer to glamping (glamorous camping) where you can get out of your harness. You can have a meal up there. You can spend the night. You can get some protection from the elements. And then the next day you can put your harness back on and continue up the route. We’re looking at this site and a couple of others for that. We’ve got some designs already and we’re really excited to share those, hopefully in the next few months.”

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Patriots pound out 14-10 win at Buffalo, strengthen grip on AFC East



Patriots pound out 14-10 win at Buffalo, strengthen grip on AFC East

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The easiest way to explain the Patriots has been to point to the past.

To compare this doubted, slow-starting bunch to the 2001 team, a Super Bowl champion backboned by strong defense and a powerful enough run game to support a young quarterback. On Monday, these Pats turned the clock back even further.

Amid blustery conditions, the Patriots set a franchise record with only three pass attempts and beat the Bills 14-10 behind a historic ground-and-pound approach. The Pats rushed for a season-high 222 yards and ran on 32 consecutive offensive snaps spanning the second and fourth quarters. The Patriots became the first team to win while attempting three or fewer passes since 1974.

Defensively, they repelled three straight Buffalo drives that reached the red zone to close out their win. Defending fourth-and-14 at his own 18, Pats defensive back Myles Bryant broke up Josh Allen’s final pass to officially send the Bills packing moments inside the 2-minute warning. Allen finished 15-of-30 for 145 yards and a touchdown.

Buffalo’s two prior drives ended in field goal attempts, a 33-yarder blown wide right and a 35-yarder made late in the third quarter. Swirling gusts were constant inside Highmark Stadium, even reaching 50 mph during play. But nothing could knock the determined Patriots off course.

At 9-4 and winners of a league-high seven straight, the Pats extended their division lead to a game and a half and ensured they will lead the AFC when they return after their upcoming bye week.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones went 2-of-3 for 19 yards passing and took four quarterback sneaks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots’ one first-half pass attempt marked the fewest by an NFL team since 1978.

The Patriots and Bills both sputtered at the start, the wind affecting a third-down toss to Damien Harris that slipped through his hands and a third-down pass to Buffalo tight end Dawson Knox whose own butterfingers led to another punt.

The Pats failed to bully Buffalo (7-5) on their second series and again rain into a brick wall over three straight carries. Jake Bailey then sailed a 15-yard punt he lost immediately to the wind. Lucky for the Patriots, Bills running back Devin Singletary fumbled a hand-off four plays later, and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy fell on it, killing a drive that started in their territory.

Finally, the bullies broke through.

Taking a third-down toss left, Damien Harris (110 rushing yards) followed picture perfect blocking from his offensive line and cut upfield against a sea of Bills defenders before speeding all alone to a 64-yard touchdown. His score was the Patriots’ longest rushing touchdown in a regular-season game since Curtis Martin in 1997. Facing a relentless wind, the Pats bypassed an point-after try and instead scored a 2-point conversion sending Brandon Bolden on another toss left.

Ahead 8-0, the Pats defense flexed again late in the first quarter and choked out another drive. N’Keal Harry then curiously joined All-Pro Gunner Olszewski back deep for the first punt return of his NFL career. Sure enough, the ball soared toward Harry, took one bounce and glanced off his facemask for a fumble. An alert Bills coverage unit pounced on it at the Patriots’ 14-yard line.

On the very next snap, Allen rifled a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. While the Pats answered immediately with a 54-yard field goal drive, Buffalo’s run defense stonewalled them through halftime.

Breaking out of the locker room, the Bills booted their third straight punt and again yielded little to the Patriots’ rushing attack. Buoyed by another mistake — Bryant’s unnecessary roughness hit on Allen as he scampered out of bounds — Buffalo tacked on a field goal. And again, the Patriots answered with a field goal drive, this time a 33-yarder from Nick Folk.

In the fourth quarter, the Bills crawled into Patriots territory with a mix of short completions, runs and an Allen scramble. Then another Pats penalty, a horse collar tackle courtesy of Dont’a Hightower, vaulted them inside the 10-yard line. Dusting themselves off, the Patriots stood their ground against a first-down run, then sacked Allen on second-and-goal and forced a hopeless incompletion on third down.

Tyler Bass’ ensuing kick went wide right. After another Patriots punt, the Bills marched back, only to be beaten back again by the wind and the NFL’s best defense.

Here were the best and worst Patriot performances Monday:


Offensive line The Pats piled up 222 rushing yards without any help from their passing game. That’s a huge credit to the big men up front.

Red-zone defense Buffalo finished 1-of-4 inside the red zone.

DT Davon Godchaux He finished with a game-high 10 tackles and helped limit the Bills to four yards per carry.


WR N’Keal Harry His fumble led to the Bills’ only points through three quarters.

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Guregian: No need to pump the brakes on the Patriots. They’re for real.



Guregian: No need to pump the brakes on the Patriots. They’re for real.

The game came down to a testament of wills, but more important, coaching decisions.

Playing in crazy elements, with gusting winds and blustery freezing temperatures, surely altered the game plans for the Patriots and Bills in this Monday Night Football showdown of AFC East titans.

That’s why the Patriots having Bill Belichick remains a huge advantage.

He identified the way to win in those elements, and stuck with it no matter the down and distance.

He was going to be conservative with his offense, sink or swim.

That plan didn’t include much of Mac Jones.

Belichick ran, ran, and ran some more. Every down, every possession, he had Jones hand the ball off, and it worked to the tune of a hard-fought 14-10 win in Orchard Park.

If the Patriots had lost, there would inevitably be more questions about Belichick’s strategy, but it’s hard to argue with results.

The Patriots now have seven straight wins, and remain atop the AFC East at 9-4, and also stick as the AFC’s top seed.

After the game, Belichick called the conditions “somewhat challenging.” Naturally, he didn’t make a big deal out of only throwing the ball three times.

“We kind of played the way we felt we needed to win,” said Belichick.

Usually, the Hoodie makes opposing teams play left-handed, taking away their best asset.

Against the Bills, he voluntarily played left-handed, taking Jones out of the mix. And the Patriots still ruled.

Talk about taking the starch out of the Bills, who had to be deflated being crushed in the trenches, and losing their grip in the division so soon.

Plus, they have no idea what to make of Jones, still having to face him again down the road.

Maybe some — including the Bills — will feel Belichick’s strategy was an indictment on the rookie quarterback, who passed just once in the first half, and only twice in the second half.

It appeared more a reflection of Belichick sticking with what he felt was the best way to win. Ditto offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Heavy personal, ground and pound. Nonstop. Forty-six running plays, three passes.

“The coaches have been in a lot of games like this,” said Jones. “Coach Belichick, Coach Josh, they’ve been in every type of element there is. They know what it takes to win.

“So I think we knew if we held onto the ball, we’d be OK.”

Jones, who was experiencing those nasty conditions for the first time, doesn’t have the strongest arm, and in those winds, Belichick didn’t want to take a chance.

The elements spoke to the Hoodie, and he and McDaniels didn’t blink with their intentions to pound the rock, and also, rely on the defense to keep Josh Allen at bay.

Even the strong-armed Allen (15-for-30, 145 yards) had some difficulty rifling some balls through the 40 mph winds.

Turnovers loomed large. Ball security and field position was paramount.

Ultimately, Belichick wasn’t trying to earn style points, he was trying to win a significant football game.

And that’s just what he did.

No need to pump the brakes on these Patriots, even playing old style football. They’re for real. They are legitimately going to make noise down the road.

And that just eats away at Bills head coach Sean McDermott, who refused to give Belichick much credit for the win, or simply being out-coached.

“I don’t think, with all due respect, it’s not a Bill Belichick type thing,” said McDermott, “it’s what are you doing with the opportunities you got.”

Well, the Bills certainly didn’t do much. They were 1-for-4 in the red zone, and largely couldn’t run the ball. As it was, Allen was their leading rusher with 39 yards. The Patriots, meanwhile, ran all day.

They’re built to win in December and January in the outdoors. Between their defense and ability to run, they’re going to be a tough out especially against teams like the Bills, whose defense is built more to stop teams with elite passing games, such as the Chiefs.

Having a lighter, quicker front may be good against Patrick Mahomes & Co. but not against mashers and maulers like the Patriots.

The Bills knew the Patriots were going to run, loading the box with seven and eight guys, and they still ran, and did so effectively. At one point, McDaniels called 32 straight running plays.

Damien Harris gained over 100 yards. Rhamondre Stevenson was just as huge, as the Patriots ran down the Bills’ collective throats for 222 yards.

The Patriots were effective running whether they were going into the wind, or had it at their backs.

This was old-school running as McDaniels made good use of traps with great blocking from the line up front, along with fullback Jakob Johnson and N’Keal Harry at times.

The Patriots had a lead, so there was no real need to put the ball up in Belichick’s mind and gamble.

But that plan also called for the defense to stop the less-conservative Bills, with Allen putting the ball up, largely because Buffalo trailed.

Unlike his offense, Belichick didn’t hold back with his defense, sending an all-out blitz against Allen with a fourth-and-14 from the Patriots 18-yard line with 2:00 to play to help preserve the lead, and the win.

Belichick played his cards right, and in the process, demoralized the Bills, and remain a team no one wants to play, especially outdoors in the elements.

Devin McCourty put it all in perspective, talking about finding ways to win, and doing whatever it takes to accomplish the goal.

“That’s why I love playing here. This team isn’t about one person, it isn’t about egos, it isn’t about this is what we do, so we’re going to do it  . . . it’s about winning,” said McCourty. “We’re going to adjust and find a way to win . . . I think everyone will look at this game and say, they played good defense. But we ran the ball, we broke out a long run when we needed to run the ball and take the clock down . . . this week our offense morphed into a team that was going to run the football and it worked.”

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Boston pension payouts at-a-glance



Boston pension payouts at-a-glance

The city’s pension payouts list police and fire commanders atop the heap with a total of 470 retirees from various departments pulling down six figures annually. Here are the annual pensions at a glance:

Top 5:

$193,570 William Gross, former police commissioner

$185,416 John McDonough, ex-school superintendent

$181,979 Lisa Holmes, past BPD superintendent

$178,086 William Ridge, past BPD superintendent

$173,278 Joseph Finn, former fire commissioner

Oldest pensions:

1956, Joseph Vogel, firefighter hurt on job, $14,446

1959, Leroy Mahoney, firefighter injured, $20,158

1964, Robert Glynn, police officer injured, $20,083

1970, James Hardaway, firefighter hurt, $19,129

1974, Frank Murano, BFD injured on job, $24,835


$111,126, top-earning retired teacher

$108,890, top fire scuba diver

$52,673 Ray Flynn, former mayor

$33,752, tree climber

$32,562, vehicle impound specialist

$21,216, telephone operator

Go to for the database listing all 12,718 city retirees.

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