“That sounds like a terrible idea!” The eyes of an acquaintance bulge in horror. My plan to take my afraid-of-heights friend mountain climbing on the Norquay Via Ferrata is met with shocked disbelief. In defense, I argue the assisted climbing experience, in the stunning Alberta Rockies, will empower my pal Cherie in overcoming the fear of heights.
“Either a fear of heights cure or the end of your friendship!” sneers the naysayer.
Well, that seems rather pessimistic.
“Or it will be an incredibly exhilarating experience!” I flash a confident smile.
Before you hand me the nasty friend of the year award, imagining poor Cherie clinging to the side of a cliff by her fingernails, for those who aren’t familiar, let me tell you about a Via Ferrata.
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. Just outside of Banff, Alberta, Mt. Norquay provides four breathtaking Via Ferrata routes to choose from.
The origin of the Via Ferrata rests in finding ways for inexperienced climbers to safely navigate a mountain and 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.
By placing steel steps, long handles referred to as towel racks, ladder rungs and the cable in the rock, climbers can securely traverse a mountain route. No previous climbing experience is required.
Wearing harnesses and helmets, those on the Norquay Via Ferrata, are secured to the cable via safety leashes. A mountain guide is always present. Sara, our lead guide, after being made aware of Cherie’s acrophobia, or fear of heights, kept our friend near to provide extra support and encouragement throughout the adventure.
Fear of Heights and Norquay’s Via Ferrata
Want to see Cherie in action? Click on the video below to see how she manages to be afraid of heights on the Ridgewalker Via Ferrata route at Mt Norquay.
Now you may be thinking, Cherie looks like she is smiling. Or is that a grimace? One step ahead of you friends. Below you will find our interview with Cherie.
Of the four Via Ferrata routes, you chose the 4 hour Ridgewalker route. What made you choose that rather than the shorter Explorer route?
Cherie – I never like to do the beginner of anything. I always like to challenge myself and 4 hours seemed like a distance I could do. While I have never climbed before, I felt 2.5 hours would not be long enough.
Sue – Having climbed all four Via Ferrata routes ourselves, for anyone who is frightened of heights, we suggest starting with the Explorer or Ridgewalker routes. In our opinion, the 5 hour Skyline route, with its airy 55 m suspension bridge, and the 6 hour Summiteer with an additional 3 wire bridge, are better for those with little height anxiety or who have already done one of the shorter climbs.
Was there ever a point on the route where you thought, ‘ I am afraid of heights! I just can’t do this!’ If so how did you get through it?
Cherie – When I saw the first plank, even though it was short, it made me a little anxious. Then I saw the suspension bridge……..I thought of my 6 year old granddaughter and how I put aside my fear of roller coasters, went on one many times because she could not go on it by herself. It makes her smile and laugh, especially when her grandmother screams. I love to see her having fun. When we were climbing straight up the sheer rock face, I kept saying “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” My heart was in my throat, but with the encouragement and guidance I knew I could do it.
Having now done the Via Ferrata at Norquay, what tips do you have for others who want to try it but are scared of heights?
Cherie – Listen to the guide, remain calm, pay attention to the instructions and practice wall. The guides are excellent. She knew I was nervous so she advised me in some spots, watched over me and gave me encouragement. It was also comforting having friends behind me also watching out for me. When you look at the gorgeous views, you forget the nervousness. Just like climbing hills on your bike, look at the beautiful scenery and it helps to trick the mind.
Would you do the Via Ferrata again?
Cherie – Definitely! I would love to do it again. Probably I would stick to the Ridgewalker route as I’m not sure I have the strength for a longer climb at this point. I’d love to challenge my sons to do it with me.
Did climbing the Via Ferrata help you overcome the fear of heights?
Yes, it helped ease my fears for sure and did give me more confidence going forward.
What if I am truly unable to do the Via Ferrata?
For those who choose not to do the Via Ferrata or have physical limitations, the best kept secret view of Banff is still available. A ride up the North American chairlift to the Cliffhouse Bistro, provides one of the best restaurant views in the world. You can meet your friends who did the Via Ferrata and toast their accomplishment and adventure of a lifetime.
Cheers to you Cherie!
Would you try a Via Ferrata?
Considering overcoming your own fear of heights? Pin these to your Pinterest board for future reference.
Thank you to Mt Norquay for making this adventure possible for Cherie and her not so nasty friends. All opinions are our own.