My heart and head tussle with the decision to cry or laugh. With a smile so wide my jaw begins to ache, tears balance delicately at the edges of my eyes. The joy of once again climbing the rock cliffs of Banff National Park, which once seemed forever lost to me, oozes from every pore. The sunlight sparkles on my beloved Canadian Rockies as I traverse the metal rungs and footholds on the Banff Via Ferrata.
Beginning in the mid 1990’s, rock climbing in Banff National Park and neighbouring mountains became my passion. Some might say my obsession. The feel of the cool rock against my hands. The challenge of puzzling my way up a rock route securing the rope as I moved ever higher. The empowerment of reaching the summit of a cliff by my own physical power.
I loved it all.
In 2005, without warning, near the top of a multi-pitch rock climb, a searing pain sliced through my left arm as though a lightening bolt struck me out of the blissful, blue sky above. There was no fall. There was no obvious injury.
There would be no explanation for the multiple compressed vertebrae in my neck, other than many years of gazing skyward while climbing and belaying (holding the rope for my climbing partner). The prognosis remained the same.
“You likely will never climb again.”
The news left me in a state of despair. Scaling these mountains had become my battery charger in the journey of life. After several weeks of feeling extraordinarily sorry for myself I began physiotherapy. I did manage to return to rock climbing out of sheer determination and an astounding health care team.
But it would be short lived. Years of looking skyward while climbing and closely watching my partner doing the same had taken its toll. Climbing outdoors could no longer be done safely. This time my climbing days were finished.
Until the opening of the Banff Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay.
Italian for “iron road” a Via Ferrata is a protected mountain route equipped with fixed cables, rungs, ladders and bridges. Originating in the 19th century, the origin of Via Ferrata is most commonly associated with the First World War. Several secured rock climbs were built in the Italian Dolomites to aid in the movement of troops.
I can imagine many readers shaking their heads and muttering “You people are crazy! That doesn’t look safe at all!”
The original purpose of Via Ferratas was to find ways for inexperienced climbers to safely navigate a mountain. By placing steel steps, handles, ladders and bridges and the ‘iron road’ cable in the rock, then and today, one can securely traverse a mountain route.
Wearing helmets and harnesses attached to the mountain’s steel cable pathway, we follow a certified mountain guide. From keeping a watchful eye on his climbers, to lending advice on how to move along the route, to telling stories to distract those having nervous moments the guide is ever present.
When looking at what to do in Banff National Park why would people chose the Norquay Via Ferrata? Likely the reasons are as diverse as our group of climbers on this glorious day.
We share wide grins and the tendency to bellow “Wow!” as the Banff summer views brand dazzling memories in our minds. Other than these similarities we eight Banff adventure seekers have little in common.
In what surely is the coolest mother-daughter bonding ever, a Florida mom and her teen take to Via Ferrata rock climbing like pros. I, who already am fairly emotional, catch a lump in my throat several times listening to them encourage each other and celebrate moving through challenging sections.
A couple from northern India, with the Himalayas in their backyard, have chosen the Via Ferrata as part of their Canadian trip of a lifetime. Recently graduated from college (and younger than our own children we might add ) another couple scale the Via Ferrata attempting to hold only rock rather than the added rungs and bars.
The mother in me is reassured they are securely attached to the metal rope of the Via Ferrata at all times.
How do I know which of the Banff Via Ferrata routes to choose?
This is not our first time on the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata. In fact we have done three of the four routes. I tend to think of them as a ladder of increasing challenge. The photos above are all from the longest route, the Summiteer.
At 2.5 hours round trip this is a great introduction to Via Ferrata guided tours. Crossing a suspension bridge and rock climbing several pitches, it is a good first step out of the comfort zone.
A half day excursion climbing high up on the Norquay mountain. Traversing the suspension bridge participants go on to climb the Memorial, Sunrise and Vista buttresses.
Over five hours this Norquay Via Ferrata route crosses a 55 metre (180 foot) long suspension bridge. With the town of Banff 1000 meters (3280 feet) below, the views, if not the experience, will take your breath away. Climbing a ladder facing out toward the expansive valley is an adventure not easily forgotten.
Of all Banff National Park attractions, the Summiteer Via Ferrata route wins the big prize. A continuation of the Skyline route, this full day adventure includes a three wire bridge that we declare to be Banff’s most adrenaline inducing adventure.
As a reward the Summiteer route includes beverages and appetizers on your return to the Cliffhouse Bistro before you head back to the parking lot on the Mt. Norquay chair lift.
Want to see the Summiteer in action? Click here for one of Canada’s premiere adventures. Be sure to watch for my toothy grin!
For more detailed information on the four Via Ferrata routes at Banff Mount Norquay click here.
What’s that you say? You absolutely can not try any of the Via Ferrata routes at Mount Norquay? Instead you can meet us at the Cliffhouse Bistro for the best kept secret view of Banff instead.
Want to save this idea for a future trip to Banff, Alberta Canada? PIN it!
Who wants to try Banff’s Via Ferrata?
We are ambassadors for Mount Norquay and were their guests on this day. All joyful grins, occasional tears and opinions are our own.