Walking the EdgeWalk high on the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada

I leaned backwards on a catwalk 1,168 feet above downtown Toronto, with my arms spread wide like Leonardo DiCaprio on the prow of Titanic. Even though you couldn’t pay me enough to skydive (fear of falling) or scuba dive (fear of suffocation), heights have never been among my phobias. I was surprisingly relaxed as I dangled 116 stories above the ground.

Author Laura Byrne Paquet leans backward high above the Toronto skyline on the CN Tower EdgeWalk (photo courtesy of CN Tower EdgeWalk).

Laura Byrne Paquet leans backward high above the Toronto skyline (courtesy CN Tower EdgeWalk).

When you’re tethered to one of the world’s tallest freestanding structures by not one, but two, strong cables, it’s relatively easy to be brave.

The EdgeWalk at Toronto’s CN Tower is a half-hour stroll around a five-foot-wide catwalk that was purpose built on the roof of the tower’s main observation pod. The price tag ($175 per person as I write this) hasn’t deterred thousands of people from doing the EdgeWalk since the attraction debuted in 2011.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You really, really love the wind in your hair.
  • Indoor observation decks are just so last year.
  • Good for groups, families with teens and anyone who isn’t afraid of heights.

On my tour, I was part of a group of five that included a Russian couple living in Toronto and their visiting friend, and a young Dutch woman. The other two women on the tour were vocally, viscerally afraid of heights, and I gave them props for facing their fears.

Preparing for the EdgeWalk

About half an hour earlier, we’d started at the grandly named Base Camp, a glassed-in room at ground level where we stashed anything that might fall off on the EdgeWalk, including jewellery, change, cell phones and sunglasses. (Prescription eyeglasses were okay, but we had to attach them to our heads with oh-so-fetching elastic straps.) Anyone not wearing rubber-soled shoes was issued a pair of sneakers. After putting on bulky red jumpsuits, we were cinched into bright yellow safety harnesses studded with buckles and carabiners. The combination made me look a bit like a primary-coloured pregnant ant.

EdgeWalk participants make a fashion statement in red jumpsuits and yellow harnesses (photo courtesy of CN Tower EdgeWalk).

EdgeWalk participants make a fashion statement in red jumpsuits and yellow harnesses (photo courtesy of CN Tower EdgeWalk).

After the Base Camp staff gave each of us a breathalyzer test and scanned us with handheld metal detectors, it was time to head for the elevators. EdgeWalk staffers gathered in the corridor to cheer us on, as though we were astronauts setting off on an Apollo mission.

After an ear-popping ascent in a glass-floored, glass-walled elevator, we got a detailed safety briefing from our tour guide, Joanne, before she and another staffer attached two cables from our harnesses to a metal rail running above our heads and around the circumference of the catwalk. They warned us to watch our language, as Joanne would be recording video from a small camera mounted on her helmet. And then we walked outside.

Canada’s Biggest City at My Feet

Below us, Lake Ontario expanded to the distant horizon. On our right, small planes rose from and glided down to Billy Bishop Airport. In front of us was the white-domed roof of the Rogers Centre, home to pro baseball and football teams. On the Gardiner Expressway, the dregs of rush hour traffic crawled toward the western suburbs where I grew up.

Moments after encountering this eye-popping view, I was poised on the balls of my feet, leaning backwards.

I was surprised this pose was Joanne’s opening request; it seemed more like something to be saved for a grand finale. I suppose she wanted to start off with a bang. The acrophobic among us were seriously thrown by this turn of events, but eventually they all managed it.

Admiring the sunset over Toronto (photo courtesy of the CN Tower EdgeWalk).

Admiring the sunset over Toronto (photo courtesy of the CN Tower EdgeWalk).

The middle part of the tour was a fairly pedestrian (pardon the pun) stroll along the catwalk, as Joanne pointed out various landmarks and took our photos in various poses. On the northern side of the building, the wind whistled so loudly we could barely hear her, but it didn’t really matter; the view didn’t need sound.

After almost half an hour, we tackled our last trick: leaning forward into the wind, pretending we were Supermen.

Souvenirs of the EdgeWalk

We headed back indoors to get unclipped from our tethers. Back at Base Camp and relieved of our harnesses and jumpsuits, we received a souvenir video, a printed photo and a “certificate of achievement.” Most of us also ponied up for a CD of extra stills. (A word of warning to those with long hair: don’t do the EdgeWalk with freshly washed locks, or you’ll end up looking like Medusa in all your photos, no matter how many hair elastics you use.)

So is the trip worth the hefty fee? If you’re an adrenalin junkie with no fear of heights, you’ll likely find it rather tame. On the other hand, you won’t find this sweet combination of fresh air and 360-degree views anywhere else in Toronto.

Practicalities

  • EdgeWalk participants have to be 13 or older. Teens aged 13 to 17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
  • Participants must weigh at least 75 pounds but no more than 310 pounds, and must be at least 42 inches tall.
  • Check the EdgeWalk website for a list of medical conditions that may preclude you from walking.
  • No one under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be allowed to walk.
  • The whole tour, from your arrival at Base Camp until you get your souvenirs, takes about 90 minutes.
  • Book as far in advance as possible.
  • The EdgeWalk is available from spring through fall, weather permitting.

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