SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- He has been dubbed Captain Adventure by his peers, and in the wake of his latest outing it is easy to understand why the nickname has stuck.
Will Gadd became the first person to scale a wall of ice spray along the edge of Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls. The 47-year-old climber from Canmore, Alta., worked his way up the U.S. side of the falls this past Tuesday in a quest recorded by National Geographic.
Freedom taken to the extreme
Gadd told the magazine the power of the falls was “staggering. It vibrates your intestines and makes you feel very, very small. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Gadd has experienced plenty as an ice- and rock-climbing daredevil. He was recently honoured as National Geographic’s 2015 adventurer of the year for a series of challenging events. Dating back a year, Gadd climbed Helmcken Falls in B.C.’s Wells Gray Provincial Park; set a paragliding record with teammate Gavin McClurg by flying 800 kilometres from the Canadian Rockies to the U.S. border; then climbed what is left of the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
It’s all about one man’s need for extreme adventure, and how well he manages the risk. Three times, Gadd has won a gold medal in sport climbing at the Winter X Games. The medals go nicely with the World Cup ice climbing title he also won.
Beyond those events, Gadd has twice scaled icebergs in the Labrador Sea and climbed down into underground mines in Sweden.
The adventuring first began when a 12-year-old Gadd and his family spent a winter at the Hilda Creek Hostel between Jasper and Banff. When his father Ben tried ice climbing, Will tried, too. He built a wall of snow a metre wide and high then borrowed his dad’s crampons and ice picks to practice for hours.
His parents were always worried by Will’s need to test his limits, “I remember when my wife and I took the two boys [Toby Gadd, the youngest son] to Carbondale River,” Ben Gadd recalled. “Will hadn’t learned how to swim but at one point he gets out of the water and walks to a place where he jumps into the deepest, swiftest part of the river. When we got him out, his first words were, ‘Did you see me swimming?’ He didn’t say, ‘Did you see me drowning?’”
Ice climbing is not a forgiving pursuit. Many experienced climbers have taken that one little slip and fallen to their deaths. At the website Climbing.com,there is an In Memoriam section filled with the names of men and women who have died climbing. One of them is Guy Lacelle, a former Canmore mountain guide and renowned ice climber. He died in 2009 when an avalanche in Montana’s Hyalite Canyon swept him away.
Ten years earlier, American Alex Lowe was considered the finest mountaineer in the world by Outside Magazine. He was killed by an avalanche in Shishapangma, Tibet. His body has never been found.
Both Lacelle and Lowe are on The List, as Gadd calls it: a collection of 27 adventurers who have died dating back to 1982 and Winnipeg’s John Lauchlan. He was killed by a slope collapse on Cirrus Mountain near the Columbia Icefields in Alberta.
“When I teach courses, I usually start the lecture saying these sports are dangerous. I’ve lost 27 people in the last 30 years,” said Gadd. “These are people I’ve known and climbed with. I put the list of names up on the screen … This is the downside [to climbing]. It’s very real. I need to carry those people with me in my head.”
Sarah Hueniken, a fellow mountain guide and ice climber, said Gadd is not a risk taker and that he’s “one of the safest climbers I’ve ever seen.”
And that, Gadd acknowledged, is what keeps him climbing.
“It’s not an adrenalin thing. If I wanted that, I’d run across streets in Calgary [dodging traffic],” he explained. “The fascination is to do these things in the mountains. You plan it, you do it and it excites … That’s what motivates me.”