My fear of heights has less to do with the actual heights and more to do with the idea of falling. However, Tim‘s fear of heights is non-existent and, wanting to be more of the adventurous type, I decided to follow along as he carried out his dream of scaling mountains. This is how I found myself climbing on Mount Norquay over (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend.
Having completely zero in the climbing experience department, we opted for Banff Norquay’s Via Ferrata. Via Ferrata, meaning “Iron Path” in Italian, originated in the Alps in World War I. Today, it is a series of cables and ladders built into the rock, to make navigating the steep, rocky paths more accessible. Via Ferrata routes have become more popular in Europe. The year was the first, after several years of planning and hammering out the details, that the Via Ferrata was open at Mount Norquay in Banff National Park in Canada.
Opting for the four-hour guided route, we met up with our group (8 total plus one guide), signed a waiver, and got fitted with some safety equipment. The first part of our journey took us up the Mount Norquay ski lift. This is where the actually climbing and hiking would start, after we practiced appropriate techniques to clipping ourselves to sections of the cables.
The initial metres of climbing took us up to the suspension bridge, a 30-metre-high dangling series of connected boards and cables.
I inched my way across at a snail’s pace, which turned out to be an error in judgement as our guide soon hopped on, shaking the bridge from side to side and jumping up and down. Somehow I made it, though my brain had frozen part way and for some reason I kept involuntarily saying, “No… no… no…”
Past the suspension bridge, things got a bit trickier. Yes, we had ladder rungs and cables to aid our climbs. Yes, we were connected to this cable so that we were completely safe and secure the whole time. The thing is, sometimes it’s still possibly for your body to go into a freeze response when you look behind and see nothing but a steep drop, forest and rock far below.
In at least two places on the route, I gritted my teeth and reminded myself that there was nothing to do but keep going. The view was increasingly stunning with each metre we climbed, and I told myself I’d be rewarded at the summit. After almost two hours of climbing, we made it, and I was right.
Looking out on Banff town to one side, and endless forest and natural world to the other, I could appreciate the enormity of this place. Banff is the most visited National Park in the country, and the expansion of the tourism industry here is a noticeable thing. Someday the view from this height may be completely different. This Via Ferrata route may be a controversial thing: it takes more and more people to isolated places that they might not have ever reached. Though, the route along the ridge is marked along its edges to minimize impact outside the path. Perhaps having more people in this wild place is a strange thing, but perhaps it is the exposure needed to cull greater appreciation for the rugged landscape and untamed nature.
The path back down to the ski lift was less dramatic, with dusty paths, sore ankles, and one final snow squall near the end. We parted from our group and hopped on the ski lift once more, feeling the chill in the air for the first time.
Banff Norquay Via Ferrata – 2-hour route: $140 pp, 4-hour route: $170 pp
Includes: equipment, certified guide, chairlift, maximum group size = 8 people
Shuttle available from Banff town