Italian for "iron way," via ferrata are giant iron rungs embedded in rock – essentially climbing systems constructed back during WWI to provide European armies safe passage through the Alps. Via ferrata are now widely used by less experienced climbers in North America. The concept is simple: Use the rungs to climb, and stay protected by clipping straight into the fixed metal cable with two carabineers that attach to a lanyard on your harness (one 'biner is always attached). No ropes, no belaying, no placing gear. (Not to mention, you can leave all that cumbersome equipment at home.)
We recently tried the Skyladder, which is the first via ferrata system to hit British Columbia's Bugaboo Mountains. It opened last summer and is now in full operation by Canadian heli-skiing and adventure outfitter CMH. Using permanently fixed cables and metal run ladders that climb to 8,350 feet, the vertical path climbs and traverses the quartzite face of Trundle Ridge, a rock buttress towering over the larch forests below that offers a stunning bird's-eye view of the otherworldly Bugaboo Spire.
After a helicopter ride from the lodge and a short, steep hike to the approach, we stepped into harnesses, clipped into the cable, and scooted across a narrow rock ledge before encountering the first set of rungs that went straight up – a 90-degree climb for nearly 1,000 feet. Without the stress of having to place our own protection, we were free to just climb, methodically unclipping and reclipping carabineers into the next set of cables, stopping often to indulge in the dizzying mountain views.
At the summit, an investment banker from Chicago – a man with zero climbing experience – cried openly. "This is the most amazing thing I've ever done," he said, teary-eyed. At that moment, breathing in the thin alpine air and soaking up the 360-degree views of the Bugaboo range's snow-dusted granite peaks, it was hard to disagree.