Trip of a lifetime: Experiencing the via ferrata at Mount Norquay

Trip of a lifetime: Experiencing the via ferrata at Mount Norquay on Where Rockies

Image provided by Mt Norquay

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For many, visiting the majesty of Banff National Park is the trip of a lifetime. With all the mountain activities available, it’s hard to put a cherry on top of an already stellar vacation. But a tour of the via ferrata at Mount Norquay is just that: an unforgettable highlight to one of the best trips around.

We’ve experienced Mount Norquay’s via ferrata, and we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. The tour is breathtaking, but what people may not realize is it’s also an accessible way to access a quintessential mountain experience.

A person climbs on the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay with great views in the background.

Image provided by Mt Norquay

“The via ferrata is really user-friendly,” says Kevin Hjertaas, a guide at Norquay who has been leading these trips since they first opened 10 years ago, “It’s designed for people of any experience level.” Many people taking this tour have never done anything like this before, but they’re in the mountains looking for a climbing experience. “Just like people go to Hawaii and want to try surfing, people come to the mountains and want to try mountain climbing,” says Hjertaas. “This is the most user-friendly mountain climbing there is. You get to the dramatic beautiful ridgetops and incredible steep cliffs, but you don’t need any experience to get there.”

All equipment is provided on this tour. The guides at Norquay recommend you wear clothing appropriate to the weather: generally long pants and long sleeve shirts are better for climbing on the rocks, and a waterproof layer is best in case some weather blows in. A backpack for snacks, water, and storing extra layers is also recommended, along with good hiking boots. If you don’t have this gear, Norquay can outfit you with everything you need.

Once you reach the North American Lodge, the guides will provide you with a climbing harness, lanyards, and a helmet. A ride up the North American Chairlift brings you to the Cliffhouse Bistro, the starting point for the via ferrata routes. At the top, your guide will show you the ropes on a quick training wall before clipping in and heading out on the actual climbing route.

Three people on the ridgetop at Mount Norquay's Via Ferrata

Image provided by Mt Norquay

The via ferrata is designed for people with no climbing experience. “The actual climbing movements are not overly difficult for any able-bodied person,” says Hjertaas. The longer routes aren’t more technical in terms of maneuvers, they’re just longer and offer more time on the cliffs with the unique mountain views. The routes are designed to help you climb with strategically placed handholds, footholds, and cables so you don’t need the grip strength of a mountain climber to access the exclusive terrain.

The via ferrata offers five routes. The Explorer is the shortest, at 2 to 2.5 hours. The routes get longer with the Ridgewalker, Alpinist, Skyline, and Summiteer. The 5.5 to 6 hour Summiteer reaches the East Summit of Mount Norquay. It also includes a packed lunch as well as a beverage and appetizer at Cliffhouse Bistro to celebrate completing this tour. “The Explorer route is shortest, but all the other routes get to a ridgetop and you get to a sense of accomplishment for climbing to the top,” says Hjertaas. “And the views! I definitely recommend one of the routes that goes higher.”

“Most people tell us it’s the highlight of the trip,” says Hjertaas. And it’s easy to see why. When asked what he loves about guiding the via ferrata for so long, he says, “The views for sure. Even after 10 years I still love getting up high and looking around the valley from up there.” And that’s the reward of it all: a chance to see the mountains from on high, a perspective not generally achievable by the average visitor to the mountains.

Two people high five while on the via ferrata at Mount Norquay

Image provided by Mt Norquay

So if you’re looking to experience a quintessential mountain activity and put a cherry on top of your already stellar mountain vacation, take a tour on the via ferrata at Mount Norquay. You’ll be glad you did.

Kate Barker