July 7, 2014
Will developed a taste for the outdoors at a young age when his dad strapped him into some crampons and took him to climb a classic Canadian Rockies peak at the age of eight. Will went on to explore caves, traverse ice fields and start kayaking, all before he’d even left school.
Thirty years later, he still enjoys the thrill of extreme sports and has turned his passion into his career, winning numerous national and international sport climbing competitions along the way. Will has won three gold medals at the X Games for ice climbing, he took home the world cup for ice climbing and came second at the 2013 North American Championships. Will also found time to become the only person to twice set the world paragliding distance record (more than 423k) and win the US and Canadian Paragliding Nationals.
Competition is where the posing ends and things get real,” says Will. ” I love competing and have done so in a lot of sports ranging from basketball to running and climbing; so it was natural that when ice climbing comps appeared I did them.
Will is now based in Canmore in Alberta, Canada – a place he chose for the adventure sports lifestyle. “Canmore is the North American Chamonix, minus the cable cars and crowds,” says Will. “There’s great paragliding, rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing, mountain biking and hiking: really any outdoor activity you can think of. I love it here; I can live anywhere in the world but this is home.”
For Will it’s the improbable nature of ice climbing that makes it such a fun sport. “If you think about climbing ice, it’s really ridiculous that it works at all,” he says. “But it does – and that’s amazing to me every time I go out. Often an ice climb is the only way through an otherwise impassable rock wall; a thin strip of blue ice leaping into the sky is beautiful – a frozen waterfall – and to be able to climb that is one of the best things I know in life.
Will’s favourite places to ice climb can be found in his native Canada – especially the Weeping Wall in the Rockies, a shield of south-facing ice that is often bathed in sunshine. “When it’s minus 30 you can climb there in just a light jacket, at least until the sun goes away,” says Will.
He thinks that Helmcken Falls in British Columbia is home to the most amazing ice climbing in Canada, and the world, despite having a near-death experience there: “During my last trip to Helmcken Falls I nearly died when a piece of technical gear malfunctioned, it was minus 30 with spraying water and the climbing was absolutely at the limit,” Will says. “To find a high-performance state in that environment was incredibly challenging but my team made it happen. All my adventures are done with a team of people and I’m lucky to have a really strong team that I trust. We bring the best out in each other.”
Will is also the holder of a world record for long distance paragliding and has wanted to fly since he was a young child. “When I was a kid riding on jets I’d look at the window and wonder what it would be like to hang off the wing, or soar through the clouds above the landscape,” says Will. “I took up hang gliding but that felt too restrictive so I got into paragliding. We are incredibly lucky humans to be alive today; there has never been more opportunity to do more in more amazing ways. We can fly, truly fly, and that’s a first for humans.”
To train for the world record, Will spent months in southwest Texas – the brutal heat meant that many days he failed early and ended up with heat exhaustion. “It feels magnificent to put all that work, time, suffering and energy into a goal and then realize it’s beautiful: a celebration of creativity, flying and life.”
Will enjoys sharing his love of ice climbing and has plenty of tips for anyone who wants to get into the sport. “Go with a good guide or class the first time. Bring lots of light warm gloves, a big down jacket, a sense of fun and adventure and never be afraid to swing or kick harder,” says Will. “Ice climbing always feels slightly medieval; you’re dressed in a suit of cold-weather armour, swinging these battle axes into crystal structures. It’s awesome fun!”
Will sees ice climbing as an accessible sport that everyone can enjoy. “You don’t have to be an uber-athlete to enjoy it; it’s a bit like skiing – you can get the gist of it on terrain suitable for a novice or take it as far you want onto really steep terrain,” says Will. “And women are great at it – some of the best ice climbers in the world are women.”
Header Image: A cool way to see the world – Will Gadd tackles an ice climb in Eidfjord, Norway © Red Bull Media House
Have you been ice climbing in Canada? Would you consider trying the sport for the first time? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Amy Watkins