Via Ferrata in the Rockies

Whilst moseying around the Canadian Rockies we found ourselves looking for something exhilarating to kick off our trip. Then we found Via Ferrata. Not QUITE sure what it was at first, we then saw it involved climbing mountains – so we decided to check it out. Boy, are we glad that we did

So what exactly is Via Ferrata? It means ‘Iron Road’ in Italian, which is a protected climbing route, originally used in the Alps. This takes the form of a steel cable running the length of the route, which is attached to the rock. Other aids include pegs, iron rungs plus ladders and bridges to get the users from beginning to end. All of this can give inexperienced climbers such as myself the thrill of taking on a mountain but without the need for rope technique.

So this is how we got on. We arrived nice and early with the clouds sitting pretty low on the mountain, a grey day ahead of us for sure. But that’s OK, its like being back home in sunny England. Waivers all signed the equipment is handed out by our guide Stephan, which consists of a climbing harness (the one that feels like you’re wearing twisted underwear), via ferrata set (shock absorbed cable which has 2 carabiners attached to each end – this is attached to your harness, leaving the 2 carabiners to clip into the cable) and a helmet. We were strongly advised to bring our own waterproofs and hiking boots.

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Loz is raring to go!

Taking the gondola up we break through the clouds so that bluer sky is above and a lake of cloud is below – it was hot and the waterproofs were stripped off. We were shown how to best use the carabiners and did a test run to make sure we always had one clip in. Hoorah, we all succeeded – off the the mountain.

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The view at the top of the chair lift – beautiful

And so we started, keeping a couple of metres between us, with Stephan leading up front. It was a relatively steady diagonal climb for the first 10 minutes – this helped us find our feet but also got us used to process of clipping in and out of the attached cable. It was also the opportunity to get used to the feeling that the via ferrata set was your safety line between you and the bottom – for what would be a pretty ragged and painful journey down otherwise.

The blood was pumping and we started to feel a little more comfortable and confident with  our abilities – “this isn’t so bad!’ We reached a bridge which required a walk over an access plank 6 inches wide. This marked the first quarter of the trip. We took to the bridge, again only 6 inches wide, however the cable attached to the top, with the hand supports on the side made it much more manageable. It could only support the weight of 4 people and Stephan dutifully said “it’s OK if you want more, just make sure I’m off” – he knows what it’s all about.

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Our guide – Stephan

For anyone who has climbed of bouldered before, I’m sure you’ve come across some of those pesky Slab climbs, which brings you in close to the wall and you need to reach across to your next hold. These are awkward because the holds are shallow and leaning back results in a fall. There were a couple here that required some concentration and trust in your feet however we all made it around fine without any spillages. This being said, it was probably the most nerve wracking part of the climb just because it’s awkward and you knew what was below.

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Nice and secure – Photo Loz

We went steady enough that it was OK to take pictures along the way, and there was so much to take in. The sea of clouds below us, the peaks of the mountain ranges sticking out across from us and the clear blue sky above us made every stop a photo opportunity. Everyone was pretty much in awe of what we could see, and apparently it’s not usually like this.

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Once we reached the top we could really take some time to breath in that cool mountain air and appreciate our surroundings. We had a 360 degree view of the mountains around us and that was just incredible. This isn’t something you see from the office block in Aldgate East.

We could have stayed there for hours, just sitting and looking, alas we had another group behind us so we started our descent. Stephan had informed us that this was actually a trail that we shared with the big horn sheet (they were there first) so we should keep our eyes peeled. Only a couple of days before Stephan and his group had to take an alternative route because the presence of goats had rocks hurling down the mountain side. I think it would have been cool to see however, equally I’m glad to not be playing real life Donkey Kong. One thing we realise is that going down is far harder than going up. You suddenly become less sure of your footing!

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This was a perfect experience for anyone wanting to get up to the top of a mountain. I would say that it’s probably a good introduction to mountain climbing as if gives you a taste of climbing in the elements, but also you get to scale peaks with relative ease and safety – you get to see/do more as a beginner than with rope climbing. It really has made me want to take my indoor climbing to the outdoors next, and get a bit more technical!

I would like to thank Via Ferrata Norquay for the experience and knowledgeable guiding. You can find out more about Via Ferrata in the Rockies here: https://summer.banffnorquay.com/

Cheers, Scott

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