The Adventure

The Iron Way: A Critique of the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata

Posted by Topher Donahue on Tue, Jun 21, 2011

A critique of the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata in the CMH Bobbie Burns area was posted on YouTube as a comment to the video shown here:

The writer was “personally dismayed” to see the Via Ferrata and had a number of questions about it.  Here are a few of their questions and my answers from the perspective of knowing the guides and the discussions around the via ferrata:

Q: Why is this area inaccessible to the general public? 

TD: While the public could, in theory, access Mt Nimbus, it would be difficult.  It would require driving 50km up a logging road, bushwhacking all day, and then scrambling on loose rock to reach the beginning of the Via Ferrata.  To our knowledge, nobody had ever found the Via Ferrata without a guide and a helicopter or even hiked or climbed in the area without helicopter support.

Q: How was the route carefully sited?

TD: Mt. Nimbus was chosen in part because it was an utterly ignored piece of landscape that would never be seen by other wilderness users, in part because the loose and broken nature of the rock makes it unappealing to rock climbers, and in part because the terrain around it is durable rock and talus that can withstand human traffic without eroding tundra or other fragile ecosystems.  The guides who installed the via ferrata are all mountaineers - if Mt Nimbus had been worthwhile as a traditional climb they never would have installed the via ferrata.

Q: Clearcuts and dams cover a small amount of a larger "operating area" but does that justify their existence?

TD: Comparing a Via Ferrata to a clear cut or a damn is quite a stretch - being how you can’t see the Via Ferrata until you are quite close to it and virtually zero living things were damaged in the installation or the ongoing use of the Via Ferrata.  However, at CMH we are well aware of our delicate environment and publish a sustainability report every year that explains how we are doing in our endless quest to decrease our impact and increase our contribution to the good of the environment and the communities where we operate.  To this end, CMH has implemented micro-hydro power systems and taken many smaller steps, like timed lighting in bathrooms and food-waste composting systems.

Via Ferrata impact critique

The critique concludes: “This critique doesn't even factor in the carbon footprint of the helicopter flights. While you may pay for your high-adrenaline, low-risk ‘adventure,’ the mountain environment (and the spirit of traditional mountaineering) pays in the end.  On the one hand, this allows folks to do things they might not otherwise do, and see things they might not otherwise see. Hopefully, it leads them to appreciate the wild Rockies more than they did. Ironically, this kind of installation is destructive, permanently alters the mountain, and will likely lead to many more visitors (and human impact) than normal."


  • Regarding the carbon footprint issue, between 2009 and 2010, CMH was able to reduce our carbon footprint while maintaining our quality of service and viability of our business.   
  • Regarding the destruction, the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata required many small holes to be drilled into the rock, but the rock surface can withstand millions of footsteps with no erosion.  When the hardware is removed - and CMH will remove the hardware when the via ferrata is no longer used by CMH - there will be no sign of human passage. 
  • As for the spirit of traditional mountaineering, mountaineers use automobiles, helicopters and planes to reach the wild places, and too many mountaineers leave empty oxygen canisters, tents, trash, and fixed ropes all over the world’s most beautiful peaks.  We can all improve.

I couldn’t agree more with the critique's final point about people going home from a CMH Summer Adventure with greater appreciation of the wild Rockies – that’s what it’s all about.  

Tags: Bobbie Burns Lodge, helicopters, Sustainability, Via Ferrata, CMH Experts