The lure of the via ferrata in Golden, B.C.
The Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort makes mountaineering possible even for the faint of heart
Personally, I’ve never wanted to climb a rock face, because I’m afflicted with the kind of height phobia that makes me want to throw myself off any edge I approach. So my fascination with a via ferrata (iron road) that scales sheer cliff faces is perverse.
Via ferratas originated in Europe in the 1800s and were implemented during the world wars to provide troops with safe passage through the Alps. There are more than 1,000 recreational via ferratas around the world, most notably in Italy and Austria.
The thing about a via ferrata—including the one at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) in Golden, B.C.—is that you can’t actually fall off the thing, in spite of its height and its steepness. To assist and safeguard climbers, metal handholds are bolted into the rock and climbers are securely attached to a metal cable that is strung along the entire trail.
“The whole time, you’re clipped in,” said Mike Rubenstein, director of operations at KHMR. “You’re secured to a lifeline the whole way along, so it’s impossible to fall off the mountain. You can get that feeling of exposure, but be totally safe in the gear.”
Should you slip during the climb, you might lose some skin and acquire a brag-worthy bruise or two, but that’s about as bad as it will get. You’ll be able to climb to the top of Terminator Peak, hike down the return portion of the loop, and tell the story afterward.
The idea of building a via ferrata at KHMR was first presented in October 2014, and approval for the plan was acquired in January 2015. Rock scaling on the Terminator Peak trail—the removal of large, unstable rocks—began in late May, and the Via Ferrata was opened to climbers on July 1. The trail was built by Prisme Equipments Canada, with some trail design and labour support from KHMR staff.
A via ferrata allows less-skilled climbers to enjoy climbing mountains in safety—though not without considerable effort and courage. KHMR’s Via Ferrata adventure begins with a gondola ride to an assembly area where guests are harnessed up and introduced to an orientation wall where they can familiarize themselves with the harness system. Access to the trail is gained by a walk along a Cat road and across a 60-metre-long suspension bridge; guests are already clipped to the cable at this point.
For anyone who then decides to forego the climb, there’s a “chicken” trail just a little distance beyond the end of the suspension bridge, before the real climb begins. Beyond that, there are two routes to choose from: the Discovery route, which is the shorter and tamer of the two, and the Ascension route, which is the more challenging one. The two routes share the trail at the beginning, then separate.
Rubenstein said that for some climbers, completing the Via Ferrata is a bucket-list accomplishment. Already, several local climbers have suggested that KHMR institute a punchcard system for those who want to climb its Via Ferrata frequently, and that option is being considered for next season.