Will Gadd

Will Gadd’s Journey to Niagara

Photography: Christian Pondella

On January 27, 2015, world-champion ice climber Will Gadd defied gravity to become the first person to climb Niagara Falls. And he did it mid-winter. His photographer, Christian Pondella, recounts the pivotal climbs over the years that led Gadd there. 

At 47, Will Gadd has decades of adventures and achievements under his belt, from climbing the world’s most rapidly disappearing ice on Mount Kilimanjaro to conquering floating icebergs off the eastern coast of Canada and beyond. The veteran of the sport continues to push limits and break records and has won every major ice climbing title from the World Cup to the Winter X Games. An all-around extreme sports legend, he was also the first person to cross the U.S. by paraglider in a grueling seven-week trek in 2011. 

Christian Pondella, a renowned action sports photographer who has accompanied Gadd on most of his climbing endeavors, narrates the athlete’s most important climbs that helped prepared him for frozen Niagara Falls.

Banff National Park, Canada (2005)

“When Will was putting up this new mixed climbing route [a combination of rock and ice climbing that typically requires crampons and ice climbing tools], it was considered one of the toughest in the world. Back then, he was leading the charge on mixed climbing and still is today. The ice tools are more specific for this type of climbing than just pure water ice, but for the most part, it’s ice climbing gear on rock. At the time, most climbers had heel spurs, a pick on the heel that sticks outward. You could hook that in a pocket to hold yourself. Will  was one of the first to do away with those, because he saw them as cheating. Now, I don’t think anybody climbs with heel spurs.”

Will Gadd

Labrador, Canada (2005)

“These icebergs come down from Greenland and can be up to 100,000 years old. They are floating about seven miles out to sea; we spent a week out there on a boat, hunting icebergs that we could climb on. This type of ice reacts differently [than ice on rock]; it’s very brittle and cracks easily. This particular iceberg actually split in half after Will got off of it. They can roll over at any moment. Getting off and on the boat in the open sea with the waves is pretty difficult and dangerous as well.”

Will Gadd

Mine Shafts, Sweden (2007)

“Will had heard of these old mine shafts in Sweden that had ice in them. We spent 10 days exploring two different lines, repelling 500 feet under ground to where the ice was in these caves. Logistically, it was a fairly involved project because we had to bring generators and lights down into the caves to shoot the climbs.  It was like being inside a huge amphitheater. In this shot, I’m a couple hundred feet away, shooting Will from another part of the cavern.”  

Will Gadd

Eidfjord, Norway (2010)

“This trip was about discovery. It was big ice climbing. The premise of this trip was to go to a place we hadn’t been to and explore new ice routes. To our knowledge, he was the first to climb this particular waterfall. We based ourselves in a small town on the Fjords and drove around for 10 days looking to discover new waterfalls. We would go hike up to it and figure out the logistics of climbing it, then go back the next day and climb it. This waterfall he is climbing is about 650 feet high.”

Will Gadd

Helmcken Falls, British Columbia (2014)

“This is Will on the fourth highest waterfall in Canada. He was the first to pioneer this place,  and it was the first time anyone has climbed overhanging ice like this. It was this huge overhanging amphitheater cave that the waterfall cascades over. All the snow and ice is the mist from the waterfall that clings to the side of the cave and then freezes. This particular route was a combination of ice and rock, about five pitches [sections] long. This is the world’s hardest mixed ice climbing route to date and has a 45-degree horizontal overhang.”

Will Gadd

Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa (2014)

“For this climb, we hiked up to the summit of Kilimanjaro [at 19,341 ft.] and spent 10 days on the mountain. This is a freestanding structure of ice that’s about 70,000 years old. It’s very brittle and it cracks easily. Because it’s free standing, there is a chance it could just fall over or split down the middle. There definitely is some potential danger involved with something like this.”

Will Gadd

Look out for the April edition of The Red Bulletin magazine to read about Will Gadd’s climb up Niagara Falls in detail

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