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Fun And Thrills On The Banff Via Ferrata At Mount Norquay

Fun and Thrills on the Banff Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay

Only two people have ever turned back, my guide for the afternoon, John Thornton tells me. But then he goes on to explain that the people who come to hike and climb the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay basically self-select and those that are deathly afraid of heights don’t even consider the outing.

The Via Ferrata is the most recent addition to a line-up of adventure activities in Banff National Park. Since it’s opening in June of 2014, it has seen approximately 2,500 visitors. There are two options – a two hour or four hour climb; I opted to do the four hour climb as it finishes on a summit ridge with splendid 360 views.

To start, you sign the requisite legal forms acknowledging the risk on the adventure you’re about to undertake. There are severe drop-offs but stiff safety measures are in place to mitigate the risk of falling. After donning helmets, a safety harness, via ferrata leashes (each with two carabiners) and picking out a pair of gloves our group of eight heads for the chairlift. I sit beside John Thornton on the ride up and learn just what has gone into making this dream a reality. It took 10 years of jumping through regulatory hoops to get the final approval. He has been very involved, and in fact was a key player in the route design; in addition he oversaw the actual installation in 2013.

"Getting to the start of the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata"

Getting to the start of the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata on a scenic chairlift ride

After our scenic ride to the top of the ski hill, we collect by a rock face laced with steel cables, bolts, handholds and toe holds. John demonstrates how to use the two carabiners on this practice face and a few people try it out ahead of the real thing. We are warned against ever being fully un-clipped from the steel cables. Every time you reach a break in the cable – where there’s basically a steel knot, you must move one carabiner to the next steel cable and once it’s attached, you move the second carabiner. Should you fall, and no one has yet, you won’t fall far.

"Outfitted for the Via Ferrata"

Outfitted for the Via Ferrata

The fun and thrills begins on the Banff Via Ferrata

From the top of the chairlift it’s a short walk over to the start of the climbing route. As John tells me, it’s never steeper than the first pitch or two we do. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it – and although there are times it’s a wee bit scary, I always feel completely safe. You’re never rushed, and that helps immensely. It also gives you time to snap some photos.

"Starting off with a steep climb on the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay"

Starting off with a steep climb on the Via Ferrata

"Crossing the wobbly bridge"

Crossing the wobbly bridge

"Hanging onto the cliff "

Hanging onto the cliff

"Having fun on th eMount Norquay Via Ferrata"

Everyone is smiling – all the time on this outing

"The views of Mount Rundle and Banff are incredible up here"

The views of Mount Rundle and Banff are incredible from up here

"plastered against therock wall on Banff's Via Ferrata"

It’s a long way down!

"Everyone is smiling as they reach the summit"

More smiles as people reach the summit

"the summit of the Via ferrata at Mount Norquay"

Me on the summit

"Exceptional views of Banff at the top of the Via Ferrata"

Exceptional views of Banff at the top of the Via Ferrata

All told we climb 260 metres. Another guide tells me she can do the whole route in 45 minutes when she’s alone, so we certainly aren’t setting any records. But nor do we want to. The scenery is first rate all afternoon. Although they run the tours rain or shine, I’m thankful we ended up with a clear day.

"At the top of the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata"

There are plans to extend the Via Ferrata from here next summer

The down climb is on a trail with some sections of steel cable that we can clip into to make the descent easier.

"The descent is made easier with well placed cables"

The descent is made easier with well-placed cables

Leave time at the end of the tour for a drink with a view at the Cliff House Bistro.

"You can grab a drink with a view post Via Ferrata at the Cliff House Bistro"

You can grab a drink with a view post Via Ferrata at the Cliff House Bistro

What you need to do the Banff Via Ferrata

For the Banff Via Ferrata climb, you need only bring a pair of rugged hiking boots, water, snacks, warm clothes and rain gear. You must also be at least 12 years old and weigh between 35 and 140 kg.

In 2019 there are four tours – the 2.5 hour Explorer Route, the 4 hour Ridgewalker Route. the 5 hour Skyline Route and the 6 hour Summiteer Route. Prices range from $169 to $349 per person. Make a reservation.

This combo of hiking and climbing has whetted my appetite for more. In particular I’d love to visit the Dolomites in Italy, the birthplace of Via Ferrata climbing. John tells me that the Via Ferratas in Italy are graded and not to expect anything as easy as what I had done today. That gives me food for thought. I still want to go but I think I’ll start with the easy ones.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Climbing the Via Ferrata Way at Mount Norquay in Banff National Park


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 43 Comments
  1. Oh my gosh, Leigh, some of these pictures are absolutely epic. What an incredible experience with a jaw-dropping vista. You presented this in way that me as reader felt totally safe in wanting to give it go. And it’s obvious that Mr Thornton has rethought this 10 times over to keep safety in mind first. That’s neat that you got to ride up with him for that chat beforehand. Have a wonderful weekend 🙂

    1. @Mike John Thornton is an incredible guide – soft spoken and exuding confidence. I think he could get a terrified person up the Via Ferrata and have them smiling by the end of it all. These are some of the best views I’ve ever seen of the Banff townsite.

  2. This travel blog is as close as I will ever get to this hike. I am not deathly afraid of heights, but I don’t like activities that take so much focus on where you put your feet. Cross-country skiing and moderate whitewater canoeing is the limit of my adrenaline filled activities.

  3. I just did my first via ferrata a few days ago. It was challenging but I liked it a lot. This looks like an awesome one I’m bookmarking for when we make it back to Banff.

  4. Ahem – I have to confess: nothing for me. Due to a birth defect I’m not really sure footed. Add to this a fear of heights and mountain climbing is beyond me. I shuddered already just looking at the suspension bridge (and the thought of having to cross it). How can one take photos glued vertically to a rock face?

    1. @Juergen You’re tied in with a safety harness so I could get photos if I got my balance right. The beauty of this trip was that they didn’t rush you. The bridge was bouncy but even if you fell – and no one has yet – you wouldn’t go very far.

  5. You have actually made this look doable for a big ole scaredy cat like me. I like that with the double carabiner “should you fall, you won’t fall far.” That picture with the rock face on the right and the view of Mount Rundle and Banff in the distance make a good argument for taking on this challenge.

    1. @Michele Nice to hear a comment from someone who thinks they could do it. Fun is the goal on this adventure and safety is forefront in everyone’s mind – so you really don’t have to worry. Just pick the right day so you get some great views.

  6. Leigh, you never cease to amaze me! Just looking at that bridge almost made me faint! Congrats on the book being almost published. You must be excited.

    1. @Nancie I think I’ll be excited when it finally comes out. Relieved not to be working so much will be what I really feel. What a huge project it’s been. And the Via Ferrata was really great fun.

  7. OMG I’m happy just to experience this vicariously! The pictures are amazing and the scenery is just breathtaking. Good for you for braving the heights and that itty bitty narrow bridge!

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