CLIMBING THE IRON WAY – VIA FERRATA IN OLD QUEBEC
When my Quebec City guide told me that tomorrow I would be experiencing something called Via Ferrata, she must have been surprised by my reaction, something she undoubtedly would have put down to the subtle nuances of language. "Sounds delicious," I had responded, dreaming fondly of some kind of pasta dish – a delicious white wine, garlic and clam sauce over linguini, served up at the wonderful Bello Ristorante in Old Quebec.
What a miscalculation, I am thinking, as I find myself pressed tight against a sheer rock wall adjacent to the Chute Montmorency, clipped onto a re-bar hook by a carabiner and bungee. The roar of the eighty-three metre waterfall is deafening just to my left. If I check my footholds, I can see some 60 metres below the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff, whipped by the spray from the cascade. If I tilt my head and peer above, I see only the wire cable and metal rungs curving up the rock face, like some manufactured but very real climbing wall. Did I mention I am not fond of heights?
This, apparently, is Via Ferrata - Italian for "iron way." The type of climb was invented by the Italian army during the First World War as a means to get troops and equipment through the Dolomite Mountains. Now it has become a popular tourist activity, where a series of ladders, rock-embedded iron rings, cables and single rail bridges enable amateur climbers, apparently with a bit of a death wish, to scale and traverse rock faces, fissures and deep chasms, and thus experience the kind of adrenalin rush normally reserved for extreme rock jocks. Whistler is the only place in British Columbia to offer tours, but its widespread acceptance in Quebec is now a fait accompli. Montmorency Falls Park is located a few minutes from Quebec City. Between river and cliffs, it is one of the most spectacular sites in the province. It is a beautiful and dramatic landscape when observed from the cable car which I travelled up in, or from within the comfort of the Manor Montmorency at the top. On this 270 metre climbing route, I'm not sure if I am as impressed as I should be by the breath-taking view - and to put this into perspective, this waterfall is 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls!
It is true that on this Via Ferrata you are accompanied by an accomplished, park-certified guide, but for some reason our expert has chosen me to lead the group, while he concentrates more on a pretty young climber from Chicago. Perhaps my calm outward demeanour at the outset, as the process and important safety procedures were being explained to us, had him believing that I was a confident climber. I did appear calm, it is true, a condition more telling of a state of shock, as the true reason for fitting us in these tight nylon harnesses was slowly sinking in.
Now, as I laboriously clamour up what I hope is the final stretch of the Route Torrent de Montmorency, I am just trying to concentrate on the small world right in front of me. Unclip one of the safety lines (never both), move upward a step, and clip back in. Repeat.
"Are you singing?" asks Magalie, the athletic female climber behind me. Was that me, I am thinking; I thought it was a choir of angels.
From farther below the guide yells up instructions. "James," he shouts. "You will find it easier if you move yourself back from the wall a bit." Yes, I suppose he is right, and it might also save the bloody scratches I am inflicting to my nose, lips and eyebrows. Still, not really wanting advice at this juncture, I yell something back down to him that we will not repeat here.
Perhaps I am sounding like I didn't fully enjoy this activity, and certainly there might have been a brief time when I questioned what I was doing. I had been put outside my comfort zone, but, as I climbed over the crest of the rock wall at the top of the chute, this made the feeling of having accomplished something that much better. It is a fantastic and rewarding adventure. Even the zipline that I had fretted about before heading out on the iron way, the one that will whisk us over the brink of the falls on our journey back to the Manor, is nothing after the climb.
IF YOU GO:
Québec City Tourism www.quebecregion.com
After the Climb: You may have a need to unwind after the climb. Try these six activities:
1. A relaxing soak with a side of meditation therapy at the Sibéria Station Spa. www.siberiastationspa,com
PHOTOS by Jamie Ross (except #4 & 5).
1. Bello Ristorante in Old Quebec
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