Before last week, Will Gadd had never visited Niagara Falls. Within an hour, he had scaled a 150-foot frozen section of Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls along with co-climber and alpine guide Sarah Hueniken. Such a feat had never before been accomplished in history.
With a nearly constant flow of six billion cubic feet of water per second, Niagara Falls rarely freezes over, making last week the perfect opportunity for an adventure previously unheard of. Preparations had taken eight months, from training to permitting to staffing, and, although the climb was short, Gadd described every moment as “unbelievable.”
Gadd, 47, is a professional climber from Alberta, Canada. He was dubbed National Geographic’s 2014/2015 “Adventurer of the Year,” and has been ice climbing, rock climbing, kayaking and paragliding for over 30 years all over the world, beginning his career at age 16 in the Canadian Rockies and returning from an ice climbing expedition at the top of Mount Kilamanjaro only a month ago.
“By the time I started climbing Niagara Falls, I had [already] spent so much time thinking about how not to die doing it that I was just focused on the climbing and where I was, making sure that each time I threw the ice pick it was absolutely solid and good,” Gadd said. “It was awesome, I was standing halfway up Niagara Falls, and it really doesn’t get any cooler than that.”
Normally, any attempt to climb the Falls is considered illegal. Gadd, a Red Bull Athlete, was able to receive funding and publicity with the help of the company in addition to access to a U.S. Parks Service permit giving legal permission to make the ascent of the Falls.
“Niagara is by far one of the coolest, most iconic waterfalls in the world,” Gadd said. “When I was at Kilamanjaro, everyone was talking about ‘Niagara Falls’….it’s really a global thing.”
Even with the commercial aid, his feat was by no means inspired by the company – Gadd’s desire to summit the frozen falls was entirely his own.
“This was just straight ‘I would love to climb Niagara Falls,’” he said. “I don’t get paid anything extra in my contract, this is just the coolest waterfall in the world and Red Bull just helps make it possible. It freezes just enough to climb it, and I had just thought ‘game on, I’d love to do that.’”
Even though climbing is an extremely individual activity and Gadd does not feel that publicity takes away from the experience. Having a film crew present allows him to show his adventures to the world.
Gadd’s passion for the sport is not purely a result of the physical adrenaline rush he experiences.
“It’s a great way to see the geography of the world,” he said.
“All these sports are a really great way to get out and pay respect to nature, but also to really feel it… That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life: go and document the places in the world that are disappearing very quickly.”
Douglas is a member of the class of 2017.