Tackling the Via Ferrata As a Couple
From the bottom of the North American Chairlift, Mt Norquay looks big. There’s no other way to describe it, it’s just big. As the chairlift ducks below the tree line and periodically re-appears, the only gauge for the distance is the Cliffhouse Bistro sitting mid-mountain, where you disembark.
My partner, Tim, and I have lived in the mountains for a while and do our best to spend our free time exploring the landscape together, and the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata was something we hadn’t yet checked off our list.
As we loaded ourselves on the chairlift, we were delighted to see a gathering of bighorn sheep below, lounging in the morning light. While they welcomed the day, we were on our way to the practice wall just below the Cliffhouse Bistro. When we arrived, we took another moment to look up and even though we seemed to have covered the first half of the mountain by lift, we still had a long way to go to reach the top.
In anticipation, we practiced our footholds and hooking our carabiners onto the safety cable that lines the course of the climb. As we got to know our group, we learned that everyone was at different experience levels and had different expectations of the challenge ahead; some were giddy and excited, others a little more skeptical and nervous. Tim, the former, and me, somewhere in the middle.
Tim and I have tackled long hikes, summits, and caves together, but we have never done a traversing climb over crevasses and buttresses. And, I’m a little fearful of heights. The Ridgewalker Route starts with a gentle hike to the first clip ins and then begins the upward climb. We met our first obstacle when we arrived at the lofty 30-metre bridge. With tender steps, I went first. Tim was immediately behind me and received an earful for “shaking the bridge.” I later learned, he was just walking and not, in fact, messing with me.
After that, we quickly learned to better communicate the course with each other, our guide, and our group. This included calling out if a rock was loose and tips on how to tackle the next set of hand- and footholds.
I was taken with the never-ending sights that surrounded us. We were seeing Banff like we hadn’t before and couldn’t believe we had waited this long to book a tour. As a geologist, Tim was more impressed with the fossils he was finding along the way.
“Just after crossing the bridge, I found my handhold and was surprised to see ancient corals that graffitied the rock face beneath my fingertips. On the descent, I was also lucky enough to see remnants of the once abundant sea lilies, which blanketed the ocean floor, and now happen to look like little fossilized Cheerios. Fossil hunting was a good counter-balance to the adrenaline I felt from crossing the open-air bridge,” says Tim.
As we reached the ridge and highest point of our trip, we took a moment to look around and truly appreciate the effort we put in to achieve this stellar view. Moments of shaky grips and telling myself to “not look down” all felt like they were miles away. Tim on the other hand felt that, “once the adrenaline subsided, it was surreal to overlook the Bow Valley while standing on top of rocks that used to be under the sea. In my opinion, Mount Norquay has one of the best views in the park and is that much more breathtaking after earning it on the Via Ferrata.”
Feeling so accomplished, it was hard to leave and start the descent. But, as soon as someone mentioned après at the Cliffhouse my ears tingled, and I was ready to hurdle over the group to make my way down to a cold brew and locally sourced charcuterie board.
While it may have been my urge to overtake everyone on the way down, that approach is certainly not recommended. With a different view of the valley, we were just as captivated by the sights and wanted to cherish every moment as we had on our ascent.
Arriving back to our point of departure, we were so pleased with ourselves. We had tackled another adventure together and we were better able to communicate and support each other. We treated ourselves to a well-earned drink and bite to eat while we relived our newest memories and began planning our next trip on one of the longer routes.