I clip onto cables anchored into the mountain and shove my feet in a narrow crevice. Gripping the rock with my hands I steady myself enough to look cautiously down. Though I’ve only been climbing for 10 minutes, I’m precariously perched and clutching the tiny holds hiding within the rock’s surface. When I donned my harness back at base camp I felt mostly calm. But now, taking in the elevation, I wondered if a rescue chopper with onboard bar could be made available. With only my ropes tethering me to the mountain, I release my hope of cocktails in a rescue bird, lift my eyes, and resolve to continue up the Iron Road.
This is the Via Ferrata. Italian for the Iron Road, this climb lets adventure seekers and scaredy-cats of nearly all abilities ascend Mount Norquay in Banff, Alberta, anchored via harness to iron cables and led by a certified climbing guide.
On the day of my Explorer Climb, I arrive at basecamp and am greeted by my guide. He carefully explains climbing protocol and the safety rules to be followed along the way and fits me for a harness and helmet, backpack for snacks, and jacket to keep out the cold mountain wind. Suited up, I notice him considering my hiking boots.
“I brought my own,” I offered.
“You can’t climb in those. They’re too slippery,” he replies, immediately providing me with a pair of toothy hiking boots.
I take in my reflection in the window and look out at the soaring mounting above. We head for the chairlift and ride up to the course.
The first stage of ascension fills my veins with cool anxiety as we wind our way straight up and over a leg of jagged rocks to a swinging bridge. I transition from mountain climbing to Indiana Jones bridge-traversing, my bulging eyes betraying any and all coolness.
Off the bridge it’s time to get serious and scale the iron ladders and narrow trails, and scramble the winding switchbacks over the 1,000 meters of vertical path. My guide kindly encourages me, coaching my movement when the next move seems impossible. It’s an hour into the climb now and my panic has begun to subside. The thrill of the climb rushes over me and I take in a big breath of air and the incredible peace and quiet.
Throughout the courage-testing climb, we are treated to astounding mountain views, a humbling aerial look at pristine Banff, and unending snow-capped mountain ranges.
At the end of the course, my guide indulges me by taking a few hero style photos before we make our way to the Cliffhouse Bistro for après-climb drinks at 7,000 feet. Here, looking out over the now conquered mountain, I feel satisfied that the cortisol output required to complete the ascent was well worth it.
The Via Ferrata offers 2.5-hour intro climb or the longer 4, 5 or 6-hour routes and operates from mid‐June through early October with departures daily in the morning and afternoon.
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