In the climbing world, Will Gadd has been crushing for over two decades. He has been at the forefront of the mixed climbing scene for years. Will Gadd became a mainstream household name a few months ago when he ice climbed a frozen Niagara Falls. He made history as the first to do it and the attention he got was well-deserved. It was an epic feat.
Not long after his historic climb I got to hang with Will on a shoot in Alberta. To call Will a versatile adventurer is an understatement to say the least. He’s an ice climber, rock climber, paraglider (he once held the World Record for longest flight),skier, kayaker…but he’s also a super humble guy with a badass work ethic and a unique perspective on life.
I caught up with Will (if such a thing is possible) for a short interview in an effort to peel back some of the layers of this Renaissance adventurer.
You’ve gone on record that you feel you’re at a point where you have less to prove — that you’ve done enough and won as much as you need to. Where does that leave you? What’s driving you at this point?
I’ve pushed hard in a few different sports, but it’s always about the unknown. For the last 30 years I’ve been focused on performance; now I want to perform well, but really get father off the known zones of the world, and share the stories of the wildest places on earth. It’s going to be great—really challenging, fun, and new. I like new.
If you could choose to be remembered for one thing, what would it be?
That I tried. We’re all going back to the mud, but I showed up and gave it most days of my life.
What’s the gnarliest situation you’ve ever been in?
So many… Probably realizing that I was in a mountain wave while flying my paraglider, and having no idea how high I was going to get, or when I was going to pass out from Hypoxia. I went to over 24K while totally unacclimated. It was sketchy.
Gear plays a huge role in your sport. What are some of the biggest ways that gear advancements have changed ice climbing since you started?
LED headlamps for sure—the night just isn’t as dark anymore, and we can move much faster and farther as result. GPS has changed the character of everything—we really know where we are and where we’re going. Smart phones with GPS means I always have the right topo on my phone, and can navigate in real time without bullshit compass and map stuff. Big stuff—29 inch wheels, fat skis, fat bikes, oversized tennis racquets, this is all great stuff. Better gear that we can stay dry and functional for longer in. My winter gear weighs half of what it used to, and works way better. Specifically for ice climbing, well, the ice screws go into the ice with one hand. Ice tools stick with a swing or two instead of ten. Ice screws may actually hold a fall. Ropes don’t freeze up as much… So many improvements!
You’ve had a few months to digest your epic climb up Niagara, which pretty much made you a household name. Any new distillations on that achievement?
Often the hardest part of any goal isn’t the moment where you realize the goal. I keep having that realization… Once you commit and start training and organizing for something then the goal becomes more or less likely based on how much work you put into getting there. On Niagara I and the team worked our asses off for months, and the result was a solid climb in really tough conditions.
How would you like to see the next generation of ice/mixed climbers carry the torch for the sport?
It’s theirs, they should go farther in their own way. I could never have seen where ice climbing wold go when I started, and I don’t know where it will go but somebody is going rock it, and that’ll be grea!
What sort of mental checks do you perform before giving yourself the green light on a climb?
Avalanche conditions, weather, how I feel, systems, partner, terrain, hundreds probably. But mostly at an unconcious level now, I’ve been doing it for so long.
You ice climb, paraglide, rock climb — you can see how folks might mistake you for an adrenaline junky. But that’s not the case, is it?
If I just wanted adrenaline I’d go run back and forth across a highway while blindfolded—that would for sure cause some adrenaline! No, what I want is to execute really cool ideas amazingly well. To make dreams real. To think, “What if we…” and then go do it, well. Execution is cool, going hard stupidly will get you on Youtube but isn’t satisfying.
You know, the world is an awesome place. The goal is to experience it, dig into, roll in it, and just scream with the pleasure of being alive!
You’ve talked on your blog about being honest about the effort. Can you dig into that a little here?
I’ll keep it focused on the adventure sports world. Here it means, “Don’t bullshit.” If you claim to complete a traverse of the Rockies under human power then don’t ride in a car for 100 miles of it. If you claim to have climbed a route free then that means doing it without hanging on the gear. This is really basic, but I see more “Well, we mostly did it so we’ll say we did” BS, and it’s wrong. If you claim to climb 5.15c but hang on the draws then that is clearly lying, but it also takes away from the efforts of everyone who did climb 5.15c. I blame it on this sort of “T Ball” version of life, that it’s the effort that counts. No, you gotta get to the top or you didn’t. It’s also related to style—claiming to climb Everest while sucking oxygen was legit when HIlary did it, but the style has been oxygen free since at least Messner.
To put it a different way, if you show up for running race and do it with a bicycle then you didn’t win a running race. Don’t claim you did. There are a lot of people claiming shit in the adventure sports world who used a bicycle and just don’t mention that. That takes away from the Honnolds, Chins and other people I really respect.
What are some activities that you WON’T do? What’s off-limits for Will Gadd?
BASE jumping. It’s over so quick, I like things that go on for a while. Glad I quit that while I still could.
Somehow Will also finds the time to blog about his life as an adventurer. Totally worth checking out.
Or follow him across his other channels:
Gear used on the Travel Alberta shoot (thx BorrowLenses!):