Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Epic Climbing on The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata in Golden, BC

A girlfriend and I took a trip to Golden, BC, this month to try out Kicking Horse Mountain Resort's guided Via Ferrata climbing route. We climbed the North Face of Terminator Peak through a system of steel cables, iron rungs, ladders, and bridges.

Exposed climbing on the North Face of Terminator Peak at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

My initial reaction to the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata can be summed up in the following Instagram caption that I posed immediately following my tour:

"Climbed a mountain today!! And I mean "climbed" a mountain! Absolutely epic with delicious exposure and vertical cliff faces we got to scale! This is the second Via Ferrata Climb I've done in the Canadian Rockies and it made my first one seem like a walk in an alpine meadow. Kicking Horse really knows how to kick everything up a notch!!! I've never been so terrified and happy at the same time."

Delicious exposure and vertical climbing on the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata

First, What is a Via Ferrata?  

 Straight from the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website:

"Italian for "iron road", a Via Ferrata is a protected climbing route with a steel cable running along the route that is fixed to the rock. Using a Via Ferrata Harness, climbers can secure themselves to the cable, creating a completely safe climbing environment. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps, ladders and bridges."

Fixed lines and iron rungs on the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata

Why I LOVE Via Ferrata Routes

A mountain climber I am NOT. I like scrambling up mountains to the top of easy summits, I like some mild exposure, and I like narrow ridge walks. But to climb up the vertical north face of a mountain, no thanks!!!
Real climbing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

I leave multi-pitch rock climbing to my husband and only do "easy" mountaineering routes that involve walking up gentle snow slopes.

Thanks to the "aids" provided with a Via Ferrata "iron road" though, I can get out for a day doing the same big stuff my husband would normally do (in a safer method that suits me just fine!) Instead of searching for hand holds in the rock, I get iron pegs and rungs to climb up. Instead of trying to down-climb a steep cliff band on a ridge, I get a suspension bridge across the scary chasm and get to walk straight across.

Via Ferrata climbing routes make alpine climbing feasible for "normal every day people."  - like me. They are awesome for those of us who worry about falling, dying, and of not coming home to our children again after a climb. And they are simply spectacular for outdoor enthusiasts who have the health and physical fitness to climb a mountain (but maybe lack some of the necessary experience.)

Exposed but Safe! Epic Climbing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata

I've done another Via Ferrata route in the Rockies before (that I loved,) so honestly, I was prepared to be a little "underwhelmed" trying it a second time. The first time doing anything is usually the "best" and I figured all Via Ferrata routes would be similar.

I was so wrong!!!

The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata is nothing like other routes in the Rockies. We did the full Ascension Route to the top of Terminator Peak, and this beast is much more vertical, much more challenging, and much more exposed than I could have ever imagined. It honestly made my first Via Ferrata experience at another resort seem like a guided walk in a park.

Climbing to the summit of Terminator Peak (and the ground is a long ways down!)

Details on the Ascension Route:

the crux move to get onto the guts bridge
"465 meters of pure bliss! Starting off the ridge-line dividing the Rocky Mountain trench from the Purcell range, and exiting at the top of Terminator Peak, the ASCENSION Route is a truly unique beast. From the climbers’ mouth, this course is one of the most technical & scenic in North America. Discover our signature “Guts Bridge” and stand on top of the world, feeling that you summited a giant!"

And I copied the above words right off of the Kicking Horse website because they are pretty bang on! This climb IS a beast. It IS technical. And you WILL feel like you've really summited a giant of a peak after taking the climber's route up. (Thank goodness there's an easy hiking route down the other side though because your legs will feel like jelly by the time you arrive on top!)

Crossing the Guts bridge
This climb also requires some real "rock moves." You can't just rely on the iron rungs and pegs the entire time. I found myself searching for hand and footholds at times, and thinking like a "rock climber" to get over tricky sections. (Quite different from my first Via Ferrata climb where I honestly just followed the iron pieces up the mountain.)

I felt brave, bold, and absolutely "bad ass" on this climb. I had to concentrate the entire time and I certainly had to take a few deep breaths before taking the step over the "crux move" onto the "Guts bridge." - Which made the suspension bridge seem like a cute little thing by comparison!

 My girlfriend is much more of a rock climber than me, and also loved every moment of our climb on the Via Ferrata route. In no way did either of us feel like it was easy with the "iron aids" that we got to use. It was often overhanging and you had to use some good upper body strength to climb the rungs. It was also very exposed so you had to swallow any fear of heights with every move that you took on the route. 

Crossing the Suspension Bridge at the beginning of the Climb

Other Stats:

Average climbing time - 4 hours

Equipment, orientation and guide included

Ratio - 8 clients per guide (though we lucked out and got a private guide because nobody else had signed up for the morning tour)

Gondola and adventure pass is included

Tours depart at 10am and 1pm - and it's advised that you book ahead of time

Standing on the Summit of Terminator Peak

And is it safe??

Yes, it's safe! Once you clip into the fixed cable, you won't be able to un-clip yourself until you get to the summit ridge. In the case of an emergency, your guide can always unclip you but I don't think you'd want to come off the cable!

Sliding my carabiner over a pig tail station
"Our Via Ferrata is equipped with the new "Aeroline" carabiner system. This allows you to stay securely connected to the steel cable at all time! The Climber only has to slide the Carabiner through the plates located at each anchor points, while never have to worry about clipping-unclipping carabiners like a traditional via ferrata system."

You'll slide your carabiner over a "pig tail" every 2 metres or so. This means, if you fall, you won't fall more than 2 metres until your carabiner hits the next pig tail below you. Allow for an extra metre or so due to slack with your climbing system, but you won't die if you fall. You might get a few bruises and be scared, but you will survive any fall to make it home to your family.

To be safe, I made darn sure I didn't fall, but I definitely tested out my system. Any time you want to "rest" or take a photo, you can just clip your second safety carabiner (much shorter in length) to the fixed line and then lean back. You won't go anywhere and you can just focus on getting that awesome photo or relaxing before the next big move.

The carabiners easily slide over the pig tail safety stations

Kicking Horse Alpine Resort - more than a winter ski resort

Kicking Horse is well known for raising the bar for skiable terrain that you can access from a gondola or chair lift. Summer is no different and again, they are kicking things up a notch for adventures that you can do when the snow has melted from the resort.

Hiking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Visit the resort for a day with the family and ride the sightseeing gondola for lift-accessed family climbing! The same mountain that I climbed on the Via Ferrata route, Terminator Peak, can be accessed via the easy family-friendly Terminator Ridge hiking trail from the top of the gondola. We hiked down this route and it was very easy. My 8 year old would have had zero challenges with the 2 to 3 hour round trip outing. And then when you're done your hike, stop in at the Eagle's Eye Restaurant for lunch (sightseeing combo + lunch packages available.)

And if you aren't up for hiking up a mountain, there are plenty of easier hiking options at the resort too. A full list of hiking trails can be seen here.

Easy hiking down the ridge off of Terminator Peak

The Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

The gondola takes you right over the grizzly bear refuge where you can catch glimpses of Boo, the resort's resident grizzly bear.

"This is the largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat in the world. The 20-acre area is the home of our resident grizzly bear, Boo. Within this natural mountainside habitat, Boo hunts, plays, forages, and explores just like his wild cousins. The interpretive centre is open daily during the summer and provides guests the opportunity to observe an adult grizzly bear going about his daily routine. Everyone who comes to visit Boo is fascinated by his strength, agility, intelligence, and personality."

And if you don't see Boo on your visit, ask the resort about a free visit your next time. 

Visitors can also pay for a sightseeing + Grizzly Bear Refuge combo tour if you'd like to see Boo from above and then see him from the ground on a tour of the refuge.

Meet Boo the Grizzly Bear at Kicking Horse (photo: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

The Mountain Bike Park at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

I'd like to say that next time I visit, I'll return for the mountain biking. However, let's be honest, I could probably never ride at Kicking Horse. That doesn't mean my boys wouldn't love a little lift accessed downhill riding though! (My son would be in Heaven!)

Some stats:

- 3700 foot drop
- 50 kms of trails
- 32 trail runs
- 120+ drops and jumps

Full information on the mountain bike park along with maps and trails can be found on the Kicking Horse website.  And the resort does rent downhill full suspension bikes along with full body armour for those that want to make sure they are fully geared up with the best equipment.

Downhill lift accessed mountain biking at Kicking Horse (photo: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Want to Try the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort?

The Via Ferrata tours run through September 4th and can be booked on line.

There are two different routes. The Discovery Route crosses the suspension bridge and does a shorter 2-hour version of the Via Ferrata route that I did. It does not cross the "guts bridge" or make it to the summit.

You can also pay to just cross the suspension bridge.

Kids must be 12+ to join a Via Ferrata Tour.

Nothing scary about this, right?

Recommended items to  bring:

Morning light on the Via Ferrata
  • A small backpack with a platypus and water hose for hands free access to water on the climb

  • A camera (if you can strap it around your neck and access it without risk of dropping it)

  • A snack for the summit

  • A light pair of gloves for the cables which can be cold on the hands

  • A light long sleeve shirt or rain jacket in case cool or stormy weather blows in on your climb

  • Sun glasses and sun block (apply before you start)

  • Sturdy closed toe light hiking shoes or boots

And make sure you go to the bathroom before you get attached to the cable! Once you're attached, you're rather committed!

Full information on the Via Ferrata and the two routes can be found on the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website.

The North Face of Terminator Peak, that we climbed!

Disclaimer: My photos are a little less crisp than normal due to smoke from a forest fire that blew in the morning of our climb. The views are normally quite spectacular!!

We also received a complimentary climb in exchange for this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

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