via Ferrata - New Zealand

It's raining this morning as we walk from the hotel to the underground parking lot to pick up our rental car.  The clouds are low and heavy and the rain falls in a steady stream.  It's not light yet, but this feels like deja vu all over again.  We begin the hour drive to Wanaka and slowly but surely the rain slows and stops every now and again.  The clouds still hang low but the rain is noticeably lighter than yesterday.  With high hopes we park near our meeting place and walk the several stores down to once again eat pies for breakfast.  

New Zealand really has this tourist thing down.  Every town has a main information center which is also used to book adventures and serve as a pick up location.  It is usually centrally located and allows you to watch T.V infomercials on other adventures in the area.  There are several people in the center and I watch the video again of Wild Wire move across the screen.  So far no text has arrived and I visit with a few others who are on our tour as well.  Things are looking good. Soon the Wild Wire shuttle arrives and we load the van with 9 people.

The waterfall is located on private land several miles north of Wanaka and it takes about 20 minutes to arrive.  It is still drizzling rain, but the clouds have moved high enough to get a view of the waterfall route in its entirety.  It is stunning.  Linda and I are excited as the guides start to ask about experience, training, and fear of heights.  Unfortunately the road is clay dirt and wet.  Our driver makes several attempts up the slight incline to no avail.  We pick up our packs and hike to the trailhead.

Wild Wire via Ferrata

Wild Wire via Ferrata

We hike the short distance to the supply hut, outhouse, and practice boulders.  The drizzle is keeping things cool, but it won't take much exertion to heat things up.  They hand out gear, help secure the harness and give everyone instructions as we go through the practice boulders.

Practice and set up area

Practice and set up area

Linda and I pick up a couple new tips from our guide and we are happy that we hadn't been doing anything stupid on our Piz Trovat ascent.   Wild Wire is divided into three sections.  First a beginner section which goes about a third of the way up the waterfall.  There are 4 people in this group.  They are true beginners to all things involving rope and harness.  Linda, I and one other gentleman are in the intermediate category and will do about 2/3 of the waterfall, and a group of 3 plan to go all the way to the top.  These three are intermediate as well, but want to climb the whole thing.  Linda and I are undecided and we have the option to decide to go all the way to the top once we finish our section.  The course is well laid out as we begin our ascent. 

Guide teaching some details on cable crossing

Guide teaching some details on cable crossing

The rain has stopped, but the clouds are low on the surrounding mountains.  The water is flowing, but not aggressively so.  Our guide points to several deep swimming holes that they use for breaks during a hot day ascent.  We won't be going swimming today and everyone is still wearing jackets to keep warm.


We continue to pick up pointers as our guide is excited to teach someone who plans to climb via Ferrata in other parts of the world.  We are excited to find out there is a via Ferrata in Switzerland on the Eiger.  Apparently it closely follows the main route to the summit.  What a climb that would be.  Working our way up to the first bridge, climbing and taking pictures is risky, but I continue to get a few pictures along the way.  The "shorty" allows me to clip off close to the next step and the only risk is dropping my phone as I take it in and out of my pocket with gloves on. 


The view is stunning, it is exciting to see the first group making their way up the various slabs which gives us a good idea of the route to come.


Crossing the first two bridges we reach the end of the first section.  This is where the beginning group will finish and hike back down.  The gentleman in our group has decided to end his hike here, we eat some snacks and visit waiting for the beginner group to catch up to hand off our member to the other group.


We watch as the beginner group works their way along the route.  Most are unprepared for the adventure with shorts and t-shirts being the norm.  Hiking boots are okay, approach shoes with sticky rubber soles like Linda and I wear are okay, but plain tennis shoes are probably too slick on the wet steel.  I'm excited to see people break out of their comfort zone and the group arrives at our level.  Shaky high 5's are given and excitement is in the air.  The sense of accomplishment is infectious.  One by one they begin to cross the bridge to begin their return descent.  We wave good bye and begin our climb.

Return trip bridge

Return trip bridge

The next several sections are definitely more advanced as our guide continues to give us pointers on moving with poise and balance.  How to take breaks, using the shorty, and keeping the cable line over the arm to allow for smooth ascent.  The rock face becomes vertical and the distance increases between flat resting areas.


Several of these stunning vertical climbs exist on this third of the climb and it is exactly what I was hoping for.  The course is laid out exceptionally well allowing one to feel the spray of the water as it drops the hundred feet from cliff band to cliff band.  Bridges allow us to cross from side to side and I am lost in the moment as water, exertion, and beauty kick the endorphins into high gear.  


On the final bridge, Linda and our guide hook onto the hand cable and lean out over the edge.  I start to join them realizing (almost too late) I needed to hang in the opposite direction for weight distribution.  We were all clipped in so no big deal, but it did cause the guide to scramble fairly fast to stabilize the bridge.  Leaning in the opposite direction, we hung a hundred feet out over the waterfall and enjoyed the view.  The rental harness isn't as comfortable as my personal harness and soon it became uncomfortable to simply hang.  We gathered back onto the bridge for our final push to the second section stopping point.


Arriving at the end of our section it is decision time.  The first group had already gone on ahead, but we were moving faster with only 2 in our group.  The guides began to discuss options if we decided to go clear to the top.  No exit exists off the top, so the tour offers a helicopter ride from the summit back to the ground and they needed to know how large of helicopter to bring.


Looking at the remaining climb, the cloud cover, and frankly the additional cost. We decided that this was a perfect ending to our day.  Our decision relayed by radio, and we settled down to watch the others climb and eat lunch.  We would hike down the mountain by trail.  As we enjoyed our lunch a break in the clouds revealed a thick layer of snow on the surrounding peaks!  SNOW!


We finished our lunch and clipped into the trail cable as the clouds moved back in.  Even our guide became worried as the rain started and shortly thereafter the snow.  The helicopter won't fly in bad weather and there is no other way off the top unless you down climb back to where we finished.  With each slippery step I'm glad we finished when we did.  Arriving at the shuttle, we hear the helicopter arrive to ferry the group off the top.  It is a quick trip and the weather turns for the worst.  I'm sure on a clear summer day the ride down involves a little more sight seeing, but not today.  The group is cold, but excited at their accomplishment.  Linda and I are thrilled at the sections we did and don't regret for a minute missing the last part of the trail.

Back at Wanaka we are shocked by the amount of snow covering the mountain peaks, knowing that in a few days we will be at that elevation on the Routeburn Track.  We are prepared for rain, but we didn't even think about snow.