A Via Ferrata is a challenging way to experience magnificent nature. PHOTO BY SUSAN WAYMIRE
A Via Ferrata is a challenging way to experience magnificent nature. PHOTO BY SUSAN WAYMIRE

There are some sensory experiences in travel that cannot be forgotten. For me it is the chopping sound of the helicopter approaching our group in the “heli huddle” formation.

For years, I was lucky to join my dad heli-skiing with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), skiing everything from breakable crust through dense forests to deep powder on alpine glacial terrain. These are now fond memories as I look back at those father-daughter bonding trips — ones that last a lifetime.

My adventure this year saw me travel to the Canadian Columbia Mountains to go helicopter hiking, and rekindling that familiar memory, while attempting my goal of climbing the longest and highest Via Ferrata in North America, Mount Nimbus. CMH also organizes an incredible trip of heli-hiking and Via Ferrata at their Bobbie Burns, Bugaboo, and Cariboo Lodges.

What is the Via Ferrata? Simply put, it’s the newest adrenaline rush in adventure travel. It originated during World War I as the “iron path” between Austria and Italy, tucked in the Dolomites. It was known as the Klettersteig (Iron Path) in Germany and Austria. Soldiers clipped themselves into these cables during those years of battle, as a means of transporting themselves over the steep cliffs while bearing packs laden with ammunition and supplies.

After the war, these paths were used for recreation and are now found all over Europe. My first time experiencing the path was in Southern Germany in the early 1980s. I then explored this in the Dolomites in 2019 and had it in the back of my mind that, if I did this again, I would want the fitness required for this effort. Now we have these Via Ferrata adventures being built all over the western states and Canada and so it’s much easier to access than traveling to Europe.

During the pandemic, I kept up with my personal training and wanted a physical fitness goal to make it all worthwhile. I signed up for the CMH Heli Adventures in January for this July, and showed my trainer, Andrew Loscutoff at Sisters Athletic Club, my video of the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata.

I said, “Get me there.” Ramping up my training to include dynamic upper body sessions as well as weight lifting and heavy cardio, I found I was the strongest I have been in my adult years. I was ready.

My trip was the lodge-to-lodge experience hiking from Bobbie Burns Lodge to the Bugaboo Lodge. Bobbie Burns has two Via Ferrata routes and Bugaboo Lodge has one route. The first is Mount Nimbus, which is an exposed, rocky face with a massive 200-foot suspension bridge — overall a 3,000-foot climb. Conrad Glacier routes up a rushing glacial river that has both balance-beam and tightrope bridges. It’s a good introductory option as they have climb-arounds for some of the features.

As you climb the cable, you are constantly clipping in and out, with two carabiners so that one is always attached to the cable — unless you forget. Mental focus in addition to physical strength is required for this very reason. As you climb up the granite face, you have to grip onto rungs, cables, and rocky ledges — all the while trying to not look down. Gloves are a necessity.

Given that the designer of our Via Ferrata was 6-feet-3-inches, the rungs were set for someone with very long wingspan, making it difficult for those who are shorter. Leaping from rung to rung and hoisting your body weight up the cable was sometimes necessary, as well as jumping over the intentionally dropped slot on the suspension bridge — truly not for the faint of heart or for those with fear of heights!

They wanted to make it challenging, yet doable, and they succeeded.

The heli-hiking is much easier than the Via Ferrata. Because the terrain is varied, they divide the lodge into four groups, depending on whether you want to hike more aggressively or you want to be more laid back.

I would have to say it was the most fit group of travelers I have met on any of my trips. Age was not a huge concern if you had the fitness level up to the challenge.

After the helicopter dropped us off on an alpine ridge, we found ourselves hiking over pristine meadows with incredible wildflowers and hiking up alpine crags and rocky outcroppings, making for spectacular views. Our shining moment was being able to hike on Vowel Glacier, a major glacier in the Columbia Mountains. They geared us with microspikes and sent us climbing with a local naturalist who is the resident expert on the glaciers, geology, and the wildlife.

Our group was the first group CMH allowed on the glacier; conditions were just right so they let us explore this area. We actually saw how much the glacier has receded over the past 20 years. I had skied this area in 2003 and since then it has already receded noticeably — a harsh reality of climate change. They said by 2050, the glacier will be nearly gone, making water issues noticeable to the farming communities in the valleys below.

The food with CMH is fantastic, especially the bread and pastries. They have their own veteran chefs, and the pastry chefs are usually from Europe so the desserts are amazing. The food was otherwise healthy and included both game and local trout. The wine list hailed from many of the local wineries in that region making for a true Canadian experience. The lodging is upscale Swiss-style lodging designed for the active adventurer.

If you want to test your physical and mental fitness, or you just have the desire to wander in scenic alpine terrain, consider an adventure on steroids with CMH for 2023. The high-flying adventure is one for your personal bucket list. Now that the pandemic is behind us, it’s time to create your own epic memories!