Thursday, September 04, 2014

My First Via Ferrata Tour - And It Was Awesome!!

Last week I got the chance of a life time to do the all-new Via Ferrata at Banff's Mount Norquay ski resort.  From the top of the North American Chairlift and Cliffhouse Bistro, I climbed to the summit of Mt. Norquay with the aid of a professional guide and a fixed anchoring system of cables and ladders.  I even got to cross a 30 metre long suspension bridge across a chasm on our climb!

Suspension Bridge on the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata
Full Exposure and an Awesome Day in the Mountains!!

What did I LOVE about my trip?  

The exposure and the pure awesomeness of being able to do something completely terrifying and scary - without risk! 

Yes, I could have taken a small fall, could have bruised myself up a bit, and without the cable system I would never have been climbing Mt. Norquay!  But thanks to the Via Ferrata system, I felt 100% safe while hanging off the side of a cliff.  So freakin' awesome!! (and I said that a LOT on our climb.)

The climb was actually pretty easy as well.  I don't have a lot of upper body strength so I was a bit scared that I'd struggle with climbing the ladders bolted into the side of the cliffs.  I didn't have any problems though as all hand and foot holds were well spaced and easy to climb.   This isn't wobbly rope ladders you're climbing. Everything was stable, solid, and firm beneath my feet.

KEEN Ambassador on location at Mt. Norquay

I was also a bit nervous about how much leg strength would be required climbing a mountain using ladders and metal foot holds.  This was not an issue in the slightest though!  Mt. Norquay seriously built a tour with the average tourist, outdoor enthusiast, and every-day person in mind.  I never had to take gigantic steps or haul myself over a cliff with yoga-like finesse.  I think it's fair to say that this tour could be done by any fit person, regardless if you have ever climbed a mountain in your life or not.

My friend and model for the day - showing what the tour is all about!

The Journey

I chose to do the four hour Ridgewalker Route because doing a Via Ferrata had been on my life bucket list forever!  And Banff is a heck of a lot closer than Italy so I was stoked to try this out!  On our tour we'd get to actually summit Mt. Norquay (which the two hour tour does not get to do) and we'd get to climb all three Memorial, Sunrise and Vista buttresses on our way to the top.  Of course, we'd also get to do the epic suspension bridge that both tours must (get to) cross.

It all starts with a chair lift ride to the Cliffhouse Bistro

We met at the North American Lodge on the Mt. Norquay ski hill.  Here we met our guide, received our climbing gear (all supplied with the tour) and proceeded to the sightseeing chairlift for our ride up to the Cliffhouse Bistro (base of the climb.)  You can see the Bistro in the photo above behind the chair lift and you can see Mt. Norquay behind us.  While it doesn't look very impressive, high, or mighty in this photo, I can assure you that it felt pretty awesome while climbing straight up those cliffs in the photo!!

Viewing Platform outside the Cliffhouse Bistro below our climb

Next we received a very short but informative lesson in how to use our climbing leashes, how to clip into the fixed cable system, and how to move around on the Via Ferrata. Then it was a bit of easy hiking to get to the base of the cliffs.

Hiking to the base of the cliffs (suspension  bridge seen at the top of the photo)

We hiked to the first cable section and right away our guide was able to determine who would be able to continue and who would not have what it takes in terms of fear of heights, exposure, and maybe even general fitness.  Fortunately 90% of the people who come out for the tour make it past this point and don't have to turn around.  (most people do know after all if they are absolutely terrified of heights.)

The first section of the climb - You jump right in!
I may have done this without a cable for protection but it was sure nice to have it!

From here, it just went up, up, up until we reached the suspension bridge that both the two and four hour tours get to cross. 

Upwards and Onwards on the Via Ferrata
Alannah climbing the fixed ladders

Is this not awesome?!!!
I especially LOVED the part where we got to cross a narrow 2x4 type piece of wood across a small rock chasm.  Freakin' Awesome!

About half way to the top, we left the Explorer route and began the final portion of the Ridgewalker route.  It wasn't really any harder.  Just longer.

There was one section however where we got to choose between two lines up a cliff and my whole group chose the harder line.  It didn't have any of the metal foot holds and you had to do actual scrambling (finding your own foot and hand holds.) 

This was probably the most challenging part of the tour for me as the rock was a bit slippery here and I found it hard to gain traction on the rock.  No matter though, we all made it up, nobody fell (even the beginners) and we were quickly back on easier terrain with the metal foot/hand holds.

Taking a break on the way up

We got several chances to take a quick rest break on stable ground with no exposure and there was even one spot where I quickly pulled out a granola bar from my pack.  I found that you got quite hungry on this tour and I'd recommend everybody bring snacks to quickly stuff in your mouth when you get a chance.

Climbing higher and higher on exposed cliff faces
Another Cool Balance Beam we got to cross

We got rest breaks where the route was simply steep climbing on a well maintained trail and as we reached the ridge top we didn't have to clip into the cable anymore.  I liked this about the tour because it felt like I was really hiking on a typical trail in the Canadian Rockies.  It wasn't hard and any novice hiker could have done the full upper section.  A good fitness level is highly recommended though as I was out of breath on some of the hiking sections.

Upper section of the Ridgewalker Route on the Via Ferrata
I don't recommend looking down unless you love heights
Alannah finishing one of the final Via Ferrata sections high above Mt. Norquay
Hello Mt. Norquay ski resort - WAY below us.
The final ridge walk section - off cable
Reaching the Summit of Mt. Norquay

The Summit

We reached the summit and took a long break while we rested and had snacks.  The tour information I received didn't mention anything about bringing a lunch along but I'm sure glad I at least brought some snacks or I would have died up there. 

Lunch and Snack Break on the Summit of Mt. Norquay
My Summit Shot on Mt. Norquay
Keen hiking shoes and boots - the footwear of choice for this tour.

The Descent

The way down was a bit loose and steep but certainly not as exposed as the way up.  We still got to clip into a hand line to make sure we didn't take a big fall but personally I didn't need it.  Hikers with experience scrambling would find the hand line a bit excessive in spots but it was good for the beginners in the group.

Making our way down from the summit on a good trail
Using the cable on the way down for added security
Easy scrambling on the way down
Looking down on the Cliffhouse Bistro  below us with the hiking trail


Lunch at the Cliffhouse Bistro

We reached the Bistro and some of us chose to go inside for a late lunch and drinks.  We were disappointed though in the menu.  It was extremely over the top in its choice of "fancy" food that it served.  I didn't want to eat beef tartare (made out of brussel sprout  kimchee) and I didn't really feel like eating green beans and asparagus.   There was a cheese platter for $30  and a charcuterie platter for another $30 but personally, if I just finished climbing a mountain and wanted cheese, I'd rather have it on a pizza or plate of nachos please! 

I finally chose a salad with roast duck and Asian noodles to go with my beer but it just didn't go down as well as a club house sandwich would have.  We even named it for you:  The Cliffhouse Club.   I do have to say though that the Village Brewery Beer was amazing and I have since bought some for enjoyment at home.

Overall, go for the Ferrata but then go into Banff for lunch or dinner.  Unless, the Cliffhouse decides to revamp their menu, I can't really recommend it to those of us "ordinary" folk who want a bit of sustenance for our $30 dish.  For that price, I can order ribs or a steak in town.   I admire the vision of the Bistro to have a gourmet menu but I can think of several ways to make a gourmet pizza, sandwich, or quesadilla for that matter that might appeal to a wider audience. 

Riding the Chair Lift back to the parking lot


Why you should try the Norquay Via Ferrata 

  1. It's a chance of a lifetime opportunity whether you live in Calgary, the Bow Valley, or have come from afar to visit the Canadian Rockies.  Seriously, if you don't do it here you'll have to go to Italy or some other far off place (and I don't have $ for airfare to Italy.)
  2. SO MUCH FUN!!!!
  3. Safe and Exciting!  Just don't look down.
  4. You can start with the 2 hour Explorer route and then if you like it, go back next time for the 4 hour Ridgewalker route.   
  5. Any fit person can do it!  No experience required.
Fun AND safe!

What you should bring for your day trip

I found that the information on what to bring was a bit lacking on the Mt. Norquay website so here's my personal list of what you should bring:
Having fun on the Via Ferrata
  • A hydration pack - water bottles are just too hard to pull out of your backpack and you will get thirsty on the sun baked slopes of Mt. Norquay.
  • A small backpack loaded with snacks, extra layers if you get cold, a light rain jacket, gloves if you choose to use them, and maybe a knit hat or tuque. (gloves are provided if you forget.)
  • Sunblock
  • Sun glasses
  • A small camera that you won't lose!  You'll notice that I took a LOT of photos.  That's because I wasn't using a fancy SLR camera or my phone.  I had a small point and shoot camera that clipped to my backpack and had a strap around my neck.  My friend and I passed it back and forth among us so that we each got shots of one another.
  • Good hiking shoes or boots.  Some members of our group had running shoes on but personally, I recommend good outdoor footwear.  (you can rent boots from Mt. Norquay if you don't have any)
  • Long pants - it could hurt if you fell and scraped your legs up against the rock.

For More Information...

Climb On!

Visit the Mount Norquay website for all information on the tour. 

Please note that while my tour was graciously taken care of by Mt. Norquay, I wasn't paid to write this story or prompted to write a certain message.  All words are my own and my opinion is mine.  I LOVED the tour and you can't pay me to say that unless it's 100% true!  In fact, and this may get me in trouble, but I have to say - this was the BEST tour I've ever done in the Canadian Rockies and it was the Most awesome day I've had in the mountains all summer!!  Maybe all year.

I can't wait to go back!!


  1. Great to know-thanks! Great photos, too!

    1. Thanks Stella. Hope you get a chance to try it.

  2. Looks amazing! I loved all your photos - almost feels like I was there. : ) Will have to take hubby for our anniversary next year.

    1. You definitely have to take your husband there for your anniversary! So much fun!

    2. That's great information. Thanks for sharing this blog. I did a search and found your blog and glowing review. It's been a big help! Thanx!