Gone Postal: Going the Iron Way
Italian words and phrases have a tendency of turning the ordinary into something spectacular; words like cappuccino, gelato, Mafioso, vino, and even spaghetti sounds really exotic if you say it just right. Via Ferrata is just such a word, except it’s not transforming the ordinary into the spectacular – Via Ferrata is spectacular.
Via Ferrata is the Italian word for “the Iron Way,” a system of cables and iron fixed into the mountainside allowing access to mountain terrain previously only available to rock climbers and adventurers. Originating in Italy during wartime as a means of moving troops quickly and safely through steep mountain terrain, Via Ferrata has morphed into a one-of-a-kind adventure activity.
This week local photographer Erik Mauer and I had the chance to walk Whistler’s Via Ferrata with an adventurous Washington, DC couple and led by our guide Matt of Whistler Guides. After gearing up with ice axes, helmets, harnesses and safety sauce, aka sunscreen, we began our trek to the base of the climb.
A short & mellow hike brought us almost immediately to the Whistler glacier and the chance to put our ice axes to use. That said, by this point in the tour the most used piece of equipment in the group was the camera. It’s easy to be amazed by the mountains and, even though the Peak-area of Whistler is my winter playground of choice and I see it daily from my home patio, I’m always awed when I stop to really look at it.
Now, gazing up at what we were about to climb, awe turned to “This looks awesome, let’s get’er done.” As an avid rock climber I was curious to see how the Via Ferrata would stack up against and feel different to rock climbing. In rock climbing there is a certain amount of risk, strength, and technical skills required to climb a steep mountain face, however, the views, exposure, and feelings of adventure and of conquering a climb are like nothing else.
Whistler’s Via Ferrata offers all of the perks of climbing, but with no experience necessary and the added bonus of a knowledgeable guide who also doubles as cameraman. And trust me, you’ll want both!
The actual climbing starts off pretty mellow and progressively becomes more difficult but is always fun. As you begin feeling more confident, try using the iron steps less and less and ascend the mountain using the natural rock features for foot and handholds. You’ll really get a sense of what it’s like to be on the side of a mountain climbing up it. Either way, you’re bound to have fun!
Maybe the best part though, is popping out over the top of the climb and watching jaws drop and eyes pop as tourists exploring Whistler’s Peak via chairlift are shocked someone would climb up. The comments are predictable and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself walking around the tourist area with an ice axe on your back – you can just feel the admiring eyes on you in this moment, your moment of Edmund Hillary-esqu glory. Bask in it. After all, you deserve it; you just climbed Whistler’s Via Ferrata!
Check out Whistler Guides to climb the Via Ferrata or to try out other adventure mountain pursuits. Their professional guides are passionate about the mountains, know how to travel safely through them, and are a lot of fun to be around. To book a Whistler Guides tour check out their website www.whistlerguides.com