Sky walking

The sport is called via ferrata (Italian for iron way), and some say it dates back to World War I, when Italian soldiers who needed to move troops quickly through the Dolomites built protected climbing routes by bolting cables, metal rungs, ladders and bridges into the rock face.

Today there are thousands of these fixed climbing routes along European mountain chains, including the Alps and the Pyrenees.

But unlike the sport of rock climbing, which requires special shoes, ropes and belay devices (along with serious technique), just about anyone can ascend a steep cliff on a via ferrata, giving the casual adventurer a chance to explore otherwise isolated routes in gorgeous terrain without the risk associated with unprotected climbing.

And, thanks to the sport’s surging popularity, similar routes have spread across North America in recent years, bringing an Old World sport to the sky-rocketing peaks of the New World.

Set deep in the Purcell Mountain range and reaching jagged and sharp into the sky, 2,651m-high Mount Nimbus is the kind of wild and extraordinary place that few casual mountaineers can usually reach.

Its 2.5km-long via ferrata, built in 2007 by Canadian Mountain Holiday (CMH) guides, is part of a heli-hiking excursion only available to guests of the remote Bobbie Burns Lodge, located near the small city of Golden.

After a helicopter drops off guests in an idyllic wildflower-covered valley, mountaineers strap on helmets and harnesses, clip their via ferrata lanyards to the metal cable bolted to the base of Mount Nimbus, and begin to climb.

Guests traverse sharp ridges, cross a suspension bridge of dizzying heights and scramble over the final summit, all the while taking in the snow-capped mountain scenery and watching the occasional eagle fly overhead. 

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