Via Ferrata-ahhh- An Interns Point of View
For the first week of the summer season, I was invited up to the Bobbie Burns Lodge for some high flying fun. So, on the morning of July 6th I met up with a couple of other people from the office and the rest of the guests, and we were on our way up to the lodge! We did an afternoon hike so that the guides could figure out groups for the following day. Then we came back to an amazing dinner, drinks on the deck, and bed!
The following morning we were awoken by the bell at 7:15am for our stretch class. The stretch room was filled with all sorts of nervous chatter as today was the day that we would be tackling the via ferrata. With people moving back and forth, debating if they would do it or not, I was thinking nothing of it… I mean, come on, this thing is safe, you are clipped in the whole time... how bad can it be! So, after more contemplation over breakfast, we loaded the helicopter for the flight up to the base.
When we arrived at the start, Mark, one of our guides, pointed up to a distant peak. He then explained to the group that was where we would be in a couple of hours. At that point, it really didn’t seem possible that we would be sitting on top of something so far away.
So we started the climb. We reached the first rope across a patch of snow. This was great practice for the clip out clip in techniques for our harness system. After walking around the corner, we reached the first rock wall we had to climb…
It was at this point that I realized that I don’t do this sort of thing… I would be far more comfortable skiing down most of this, but climbing up… Yikes! On my way up the first pitch, which was only about 20 feet high, I thought to myself- Oh jeeze, I am pretty high up! And this was just the beginning...
For the 20 feet I felt was high at the beginning, would turn in to 3,000 feet by the end. And so I kept climbing, one iron step at a time. Winding our way up through boulder fields and ridgelines, we crossed planks, small bridges, and boulders. Eventually we hit a snack spot just below the first peak.
It was at this point where Sarah asked me how it was going. The only words I could think of were: “I am completely out of my element”. And this was true, because I was. After taking some mocking from the other group, we passed them to cross a snow patch to the start of the first peak. Now, the first peak truly does look impressive from any angle. Mostly because it looks exactly like the fang of a creature that could eat you. As someone who has never rock climbed on natural rock, I was intimidated to say the least. Of course the fact that I let the entire group ahead of me didn’t help either… Having to look up towards the summit to see nothing but the harness clad rear ends of my climbing partners all the way to the summit did not exactly instill the confidence in me that I needed. So, up I went. As I reached the Nimbus sub peak, I truly felt on top of the world. Even though the higher Nimbus peak is right beside you, connected by what can only be described as a behemoth of a suspension bridge, you still do feel like you are as high as you can go. It is at this point that you make the short decent to the start of the famous bridge.
The bridge. The bridge is one thrilling thing to look at. 2x4’s unevenly spaced across a span with a 2500 foot drop to the valley floor below. It is seriously something straight out of Indiana Jones, minus the snakes, I hate snakes… So after 96 shaky steps across the bridge, you reach the other side where you never thought you would be so happy to hug a big piece of rock. Then you look up and you realize you now have to climb something higher than the peak you were standing on 20 minutes ago. So you unclip from the bridge, and clip in to the cable which leads to the summit. Of course when they built the via ferrata, the guides put the route as close to the edge as possible so that you could experience maximum exposure the entire way up. This I was actually ok with as I found that you quickly get used to the heights and it becomes much more comfortable. The climb to the summit finishes of with a section where you literally have to hoist yourself up on to the summit. This is one of the greatest feelings in the world as you push that last little bit to finally reach the summit. Once on the summit, we sat down to enjoy our lunches that we had packed that morning.
Of course, standing on the summit would seem like a great place to have a drink of water. At least that is what I thought. So I unclipped my water bottle from my backpack and wedged it between my legs. It turns out that stainless steel water bottles do not grip very well against metal carabineers. Next thing I know, one of our guides was yelling at those below to watch out as my water bottle bounced the 3,500 feet to the valley floor. Needless to say I was, by my own fault, very thirsty for the rest of the day.
Luckily for us, our decent was far more controlled and graceful than that of my water bottle. It involved rappelling, down-climbing, and snow sliding in rain gear before getting to the pick up for the flight back to the lodge.
That night I was so tired that I had a nap prior to dinner and was woken by the dinner bell, although I still think I didn’t actually wake up until about half way through dinner. Everyone had stories to share from their adventures of the day, with the biggest theme being the smiles from all who had accomplished something truly remarkable!