It started as “via ferrata” which is Italian for “iron road”. A via ferrata is a mountain hike equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders and bridges.
In Whitehorse, there’s the Equinox Ice Towers which offer, in addition to regular climbing with pick axes and ropes, an ice hike with fixed ropes up tunnels, through slopes and across bridges, which allow even the inexperienced to succeed.
My sons could barely contain their excitement when I told them we were going to climb the Ice Towers they’d seen so often on our various forays downtown.
In no time, they were ready and waiting in the truck while I, being used to the usual prodding necessary when getting them out the door, was still rounding up my stuff.
On our arrival at the towers, we were met by Chris Gishler, owner and operator of the towers and our guide.
The wood stove took off the chill as introductions were made and the first thing Gishler checked was our boots. They needed enough ankle support to avoid injury when climbing on the uneven surface of the ice.
Helmets were fitted and harnesses were put on. These would attach to the fixed rope while we were climbing, in case we slipped.
Then the crampons were donned. These stiff metal plates sport long nasty spikes on the bottom and out the front, which would grip the ice as we climbed.
First we practised climbing and descending the steep slope up to the towers. David and Brace zipped up and down while I discovered climbing up was still easier than climbing down. Denali lost his footing and slid down the smooth surface like a grinning starfish.
Gishler showed us how to safely transfer our safety lines from the rope on one side of the anchor, which held it to the ice face, to the other and how to check the carabineers to ensure they were clipped securely. We were now ready to begin the ice hike.
Denali went first, followed by Gishler, David, Brace and myself. One by one we went through the ice tunnel and climbed a series of shallow steps cut in the ice, using the rope anchored along the ice to help hoist our weight up.
At the top was the first bridge, the boys were already across and quickly heading around. Denali said the best part was when Gishler carried him across the bridge to the other side and helped him around.
David and Brace’s highlight was later when they, one at a time, climbed straight up the face of second highest tower. Attached to one end of a long rope going up the slope, through a loop at the top and back down to Gishler, the boys climbed.
Repeatedly, they swung the ice picks into the ice and pulled up with their arms, digging in the front picks of their crampons to help carry their weight while Gishler took in the slack as they got higher.
Coming down was easy. They both said climbing straight up was less scary than our previous hike because they were facing the ice.
I’m sure they now fully expect me to e-mail Chris at [email protected] and set up another climb for them.
More information can be found at www.equinoxyukon.com.
PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]