Beyond Via Ferrata In British Columbia

A towering spire in British Columbia's Purcell Range is home to North America's most ambitious via ferrata. [slideshow:560]

Not familiar with the term? It's Italian for "iron road," and a Euro tradition that dates back to World War I—a way for mere mortals to ascend otherwise highly technical (or impossible) big walls and mountains by way of iron rungs and swinging bridges.

Climbers wear harnesses and clip themselves onto fixed steel cables. Serious falls are virtually impossible, but tell that to your fluttering heart as you strain to reach a rung or reposition your feet for a dynamic move while perched on a vertical face 500 sheer feet above the stony terra firma.


Guides at Canadian Mountain Holiday's Bobbie Burns Lodge established the via ferrata in 2007, and it's been a huge hit. Nearly every helihiking guest at the lodge opts to do it in the course of a standard three-day visit. The fun begins after a short chopper ride and a short hike to the base of 9,000-foot Mount Nimbus. Then it's a full day of vertical ascents, chasm crossings via swinging footbridges, and a long rappel off the mountain.

Now, as if this weren't thrill enough, CMH has put up another adventure that blends helihiking, via ferrata, and multiple thrilling river crossings on an ascent of a glacier canyon and massive rock wall at the mouth of Conrad Glacier.

CMH completed the Conrad Glacier Experience at the end of August 2012, and your (fortunately nonacrophobic) correspondent joined lodge guests on the first ascent of the canyon. The route is gorgeous—challenging but doable for any reasonably fit hiker, and creatively designed for simultaneous thrills and stellar views. You might see mountain goats as you inch along a rock ledge and an osprey as you gaze up at your next pitch of iron rungs, and all the while you're cooled by the katabatic breeze sweeping off the glacier.

Ultimately you scale a rock face that overlooks the mighty mouth of the glacier. When you're done, you can pose for hero shots as you wait for the chopper that will buzz you back to the lodge and appropriate libations.

CMH has completed its summer season, but is accepting bookings for its High-Flying Adventures including the via ferrata and Conrad Glacier Experience for 2013. To learn more, visit the CMH website.