“The cuts from the bracken were starting to sting, and I was beginning to lose my grip on the sheer bank. As Mark held my feet in place with his hands, I took a last leap of faith and launched myself upwards towards the sole cabbage tree that had managed to take hold on a tiny ledge beside the waterfall. With my arms wrapped around the tree, I heard my husband’s enthusiastic voice. “So, what do you think? Should we do it?”
Laurel told us the story of how their dream of developing NZ first waterfall via ferrata became a reality, as we made our way to the practice area of Wild Wire.
The story goes something like this. Laurel, a glaciologist from Canada, met her adventuring Kiwi husband, Mark on a trip to Antarctica. She was doing her masters in glaciology and Mark was working for Antarctica New Zealand as a safety guide and got to travel with Sir Edmund Hillary’s entourage when he came to the ice to commemorate his South Pole expedition. Their mutual love and appreciation of the outdoors, in particular, rock climbing, led them to the idea of developing a via ferrata in their now hometown of Wanaka and Mark had found the perfect place, Twin Falls.
Twin Falls are two side by side waterfalls that cascade 450m vertically down through canyons and crevasses on the outskirts of Mt Aspiring National Park, 20 minutes from Wanaka. Although visible from the road, it was while Mark was abseiling the multi-pitched falls that he realized it would be perfect for a via ferrata. So, he took Lauren “bush crashing” to show her the spot and their dream became a reality.
Laurel explained via ferrata translates literally to mean via (as in direction) and ferrata (iron), so it translates to the iron road. The iron, in this case, is the bolts and footholds (over 2000 of them) placed on the cliff face to enable almost anyone with a thirst for adventure the chance to experience what it’s like to climb a rockface.
Protected climbing routes and paths have been used for centuries with villages in the Alps using them to connect each other to their high pastures. In WW1 they were used to help transport troops across steep mountain ranges. As Laurel explains, “the modern via ferrata typically involves a steel cable with runs along a route and is periodically fixed to the rock. This allows climbers to secure themselves to the cable and climb using iron rungs, pegs, bridges and ladder. This allows those with no climbing experience to reach remote locations and enjoy places and sights that they might not otherwise be able to experience.”
Our group spanned a 30+ age bracket, and our levels of rock-climbing experience ranged from those with none at all, to those who had done a ‘bit’ of climbing 30 years previously. We also seemed to have the full range of height fears covered too, from the overly confident to the ‘shit scared standing on a stool’ and everything in between, so this was going to be a good test as to whether it would appeal to us all.
Overall there are over 2600 rungs at Wild Wire, and over 1000+ meters of cable. There are 7 bridges, and 2 wire bridges. Wild Wire offers three levels of climbs:
Level 1, “Go Wild” takes you to the top of the first waterfall, crossing 4 bridges, 150 vertical meters above the start point, and takes around 3 hours to complete (approx. 1 hour of climbing).
Level 2, “Wild Thing” carries on another 170 vertical meters further and takes approximately 5 hours adding in another two bridges and a 3-wire bridge with a 60m drop below. (approx. 3 hours climbing).
Level 3, “Lord of the Rungs” is for the more experienced and takes you to the very top of the waterfall, 450 vertical meters above the ground over all 7 bridges and 2 wire bridges and finishes with a helicopter ride back down to the beginning.
Looking up from the bottom, it seemed impossible to think it would take over 3 hours of actual climbing to reach our destination. Still, as Laurel explained, that although it may only be 320 vertical metres to the end of the level 2 experience, there were over 750m of climbing needed to reach that point and looks can be deceptive.
After a briefing at the practice boulder, we set out on our climb. Safety was obviously high on the list, and unlike other, via ferrata we had been on, Wild Wire had added a third carabiner called a shorty, that you clipped in whenever moving your main crab claws (one at a time) so you were always linked to the wire by either three clips or two. Also, we found throughout the day that the layout of the rungs was challenging enough for us all without being too daunting. What first impressed me was that it was all on within minutes of leaving the start point. We were clipped into the line, and before long, we were hanging off the side of a sheer cliff, climbing our way towards the first bridge.
Those in our group who knew that “fear was a factor” for them, gained confidence on those early pitches. Laurel encouraged them to test the safety of their equipment while they were still close to the ground by sitting back in their harness and relying on the carabiners and safety ropes to hold them in place. For anyone slightly scared of heights, this goes against all instincts, but it was incredible watching the faces of my friends as they realized they could really do this. As the climb increased and the distance underneath our feet increased too, the solid metal rungs gave everyone the reassurance they needed.
As we climbed through the hidden pools and over suspension bridges, we stopped numerous times to take photos. Never far from the cascading waterfall, you found yourself transfixed by the noise and the spray and exhilarated by being a long way off the ground, or with “plenty of air under your feet” as Laurel would say. I found myself singing Prince’s song as we made our way up the rock; the simple act of climbing a waterfall made you happy.
“Don’t go chasing waterfalls.
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all.
But I think you’re moving too fast.”
But we were never really moving too fast! We were constantly stopping to take pictures. After approximately an hour of climbing, Laurel pointed out the exit point for level one. I was surprised by how much you would get to see and experience just completing this level. However, we were destined for higher things, and after a short break, we continued upwards.
Although I know we were safely clipped in at all times and the rungs offered us a huge advantage that most rock-climbers don’t have, it still felt like we were really climbing. The higher we climbed the more challenging the experience became. As we continued Laurel encouraged us to use the rungs as much or as little as we liked and the more experienced could still enjoy the climb as a result.
My only regret is that it came to an end, before having the experience I would have thought you could do it once and it would be ticked off your bucket list. That is not the case, and it was so much fun; it was such a fantastic mixture of adrenaline, the environmental and challenge that I would go again next week.
We are fortunate we get to have a lot of these types of adventure-based experiences, and we have done them in some of the most amazing places on earth. But this would absolutely be at the top of my list – I loved it; everything from location and challenge to being Kiwi owned and operated. If you do not do anything else while the borders are closed, make sure you ‘go chasing waterfalls’ – with Wild Wire.
To find out more check out www.wildwire.co.nz