“What is the best thing to do in Banff?” With apologies to every other Banff adventure, the Norquay via ferrata is the response we most often give adventure seeking visitors.
Gaping at the wondrous expanse of Canada’s Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park is a stop-the-car moment for any traveler. However, to be able to climb those mountains safely, secured on a via ferrata, those vistas become panoramic.
The 360 degree views, not to mention the view often between or under your feet, is an adrenaline pumping thrill.
What is a via ferrata?
Italian for “iron road”, via ferratas are protected mountain routes equipped with fixed cables, rungs or ladders and bridges. Today more than one thousand exist worldwide, with the majority being in Europe.
The origin of the via ferrata rests in finding ways for inexperienced climbers to safely navigate a mountain. The assisted climbing routes are most commonly associated with the First World War.
Several via ferratas were built in the Italian Dolomites to aid in the safe movement of troops across mountain passes.
Is climbing a via ferrata safe?
Are you reading this muttering “You people are crazy! That doesn’t look safe at all!”
The origin of via ferratas rests in finding ways for inexperienced climbers to safely navigate a mountain. By placing steel steps, handles, ladder rungs and the cable in the rock, one can securely traverse the mountain route.
Participants wear harnesses and helmets and are secured to the cable via safety leashes. At the Norquay via ferrata, all guides must be certified by the ACMG. (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides)
Wearing a harness at all times, that is secured to the steel cable pathway, a worry free climb awaits. The metal rungs and bars make navigating the via ferrata far easier than rock climbing.
Choosing a via ferrata route at Norquay
The 2 – 2.5 hour 1 km Explorer route allows those who have little experience in the mountains or may be short on time, to get an introduction to via ferrata. Climbing a few pitches and going over the suspension bridge helps first time climbers step out of their comfort zone.
The 3.5 – 4 hour 1.4 km Ridgewalker route includes the suspension bridge on the Explorer. The climb continues on the Memorial, Sunrise and Vista buttresses high on the Norquay cliffs. Here grand views of Banff and Mt. Rundle are the reward.
If you like to move, the 4 – 4.5 hour 1.9 km Alpinist route is a good choice. Following the Ridgewalker tour, the route continues along the ridge to the Norquay “Panoramadome”. The name sums up the jaw dropping views. Be ready for moderate to strenuous exertion throughout, with brief breaks.
Crossing the “airy” 55 metre suspension bridge is high adventure. The 4.5 – 5 hour 2.5 km Skyline route is has climbers also traversing a sheer rock wall and climbing a metal ladder looking out to the valley below. At the top the 360 degree views a reward for the adrenaline inducing effort.
This 5.5 – 6 hour 3.2 km distance is our personal favourite. Continuing along the Skyline route, the Summiteer traverses an alpine ridge. Then a hand-sweating crossing of a three wire bridge, leading to the East Summit of Mount Norquay.
Upon seeing it, the label ‘bridge’ seems rather generous in terminology. Climbers clip into the two upper wires while walking across the bottom wire.
After an included picnic lunch, circle back for a reverse walk on the wire bridge. Once at the bottom of the route, a beverage and appetizers are included at the Cliffhouse Bistro.
Just cannot get enough via ferrata? This 8 hour 3.7 km route includes all of the Norquay via ferrata routes. Moving the entire length of the mountain crest between the SE and NE summits, climbers gain 500m of vertical elevation. A moderate exertion day with lunch and après snacks and beverage included.
What do I need to bring?
Weather can be changeable in the mountains. Dress in layers for this Banff adventure and have rain gear in a small day pack. You will need to bring water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a camera.
We used a small carabiner to clip our camera to our pack to ensure it didn’t take it’s own adventure. If you are using your phone to take photos keep it in a zippered pocket.
Sturdy hiking shoes or boots are a must. This is no ordinary walk in the park.
Norquay has a selection of free rental equipment for the via ferrata. Back packs, hiking boots and rain gear are available on a first come first serve basis.
Can anyone do the Mount Norquay via ferrata?
Looking at the photos you may think “There is no way I could ever do a via ferrata.”
In actuality it is not as hard as it looks. If you are fit enough to climb a series of ladders, which happen to be attached to a mountain, you can add the Norquay via ferrata to your Banff adventure wish list.
To climb the Explorer or Ridgewalker routes, individuals must be 12 years of age and minimum 40 kg (88 lbs). For the other longer routes the minimum age is 14 years and 40 kg (88 lbs).
Special tips for a Norquay via ferrata experience
Be sure to bring enough water, being especially mindful of warmer weather. We would suggest 1-2 two litres per person on a warm day.
Hiking poles must be able to collapse and fold in your day pack. Primarily your hands will be busy climbing. We do not take poles, however we have seen others use at least one pole in some of the descent sections.
Fitness and adventure level
Have you been on a via ferrata? Have you ever rock climbed? Do you hike regularly? If the answer is no, consider choosing the Explorer or Ridgewalker routes to get a taste of the experience. For those who have a fear of heights, this advice also applies.
For those who can not get enough adventure and are moderately fit or more, the longer routes (Alpinist, Skyline, Summiteer, Mountaineer) may be best.
Which via ferrata route at Mount Norquay would you choose?
With thanks to Banff Mount Norquay for hosting our fifth Norquay via ferrata experience. All opinions, and squeals of delight are my own. More information on the Norquay via ferrata can be found here.
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