“If people get this far, they’re usually okay,” says my guide, Krista Gooderham. As I let my harness support me, I lean back off the cliff face and look down the dizzying, 200-metre drop to the lush Great Bear Rainforest below. Gooderham is trying to persuade me to attempt the advanced section at the end of Tweedsmuir Park Lodge’s two-hour via ferrata, a climbing route that uses the assistance of metal cables and rungs anchored into the rock face.
Meaning “iron way” in Italian, via ferratas were originally developed during the First World War to help troops safely traverse the Dolomites with supplies. Later, these trails were adopted by mountaineers, and now they give travellers the thrills and panoramic views usually only granted to skilled rock climbers with very little risk. Not much is needed to attempt the vertical feat: only a helmet, a waist harness and some adrenaline. Climbers clip onto a metal cable threaded along the mountainside using carabiners attached to the harness by two short ropes.
Ensconced in a remote expanse of coastal temperate rainforest on the west coast of British Columbia, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge draws most visitors with its iconic grizzly safaris. But they’ve also been developing a robust outdoor adventure program, including heli-hiking, e-biking and via ferrata.
“Guests love the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing something outside their comfort zone that they’ve never done before,” says Tim Wilkinson, the lodge’s marketing director. “It’s the sense of perceived risk, when the activity is actually quite safe.”
Demand is rising for these types of adrenaline-pumping outdoor experiences – perhaps because they are the perfect antidote to the pandemic’s domestic ennui. According to a recent G Adventures global consumer panel, 71 per cent of Canadians want to be physically active on their next holiday and 33 per cent want to get out into nature. A 2021 trends research report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) showed more travellers are booking trips that offer a challenge and adrenaline rush, with an increased interest in climbing specifically.
Novelty might also play a part in via ferratas’ increasing popularity. The same ATTA study cited new experiences as the No. 1 motivation for embarking on an adventure travel trip, and although via ferrata may be familiar to Europeans – where the routes ribbon through the mountains in Italy, Austria and Switzerland – their appearance in North America is still fairly new. When I mentioned my recent experience to friends and family back home in Vancouver, I was greeted by faces that twisted into question marks, followed by, “a via-whata?”
As my own climbing experience reaches its crescendo, I decide to brave the advanced option at the end. Wobbly legged, I tightrope-walk along a cable suspended across a narrow gorge while holding onto another one directly above me and doing my best not to look down. Some deep breathing may have been involved. One more scramble up the craggy cliffside, and I reach the viewing platform at the end of the route. I am exhilarated and breathless. Endless emerald forest unfurls before me, punctuated by the milky-blue Bella Coola River, and towering, snow-dusted Mount Stupendous.
It’s not just British Columbians who are clipping in and climbing. Via ferrata routes have popped up all over Canada, from Alberta to Quebec, boasting some of the best views to be had of the destinations. Here’s where to leaf-peep from high above the trees this autumn.
Mount Norquay, Banff, Alta.
There are six routes to choose from at Mount Norquay, including two added this summer – the Mountaineer and Alpinist. About a 10-minute drive from downtown Banff, the routes all begin from the top of the mountain’s sightseeing chairlift at an elevation of 2,130 metres. So, whichever one you choose promises stellar views of the town and the dramatic Rocky Mountain skyline.
Mont-Tremblant National Park, Mont-Tremblant, Que.
This vast wilderness includes six rivers, 400 lakes and streams, and more than 40 mammal species. It was protected in 1895, making it Quebec’s first park. Three via ferrata routes begin by crossing a bridge over the Rivière du Diable. Choose the most challenging, the Grand Virée, and you’ll spend five hours climbing and scrambling over bridges, beams and footpaths that follow the winding river, all cast against the Laurentian Mountains.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden, B.C.
A scenic gondola ride up the mountain brings visitors to a short ridgeline trail that leads to one of the most exhilarating via ferrata networks in the country. Three routes of varying length offer different degrees of exposure and use a unique “Aeroline” carabiner system that stays connected to the cable system at all times without having to clip and unclip along the way. A 465-metre climb on the Ascension Route ends at Terminator Peak, with spellbinding views of the Rocky Mountains on one side and the Purcell range on the other. Make sure to stop by Eagle’s Eye Restaurant for a post-climb pint.
Les Palissades de Charlevoix, Saint-Siméon, Que.
The Palissades de Charlevoix Mountain Adventure Park, just east of Quebec City, is named after the craggy cliffs that mark the area, making it an ideal location for via ferrata. The three routes offered here combine hiking and climbing, and focus on using the natural rock for grip as much as possible, with fewer metal rungs along the way. A 200-metre-high suspension bridge gives climbers sweeping views of a fir and spruce forest, where it’s not uncommon for an eagle to escort you across.
The writer was a guest of Tweedsmuir Park Lodge. The company did not review or approve the article prior to publication.
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