Canadian adventure sportsman Gadd first to climb frozen Falls

Dan Almasi, Sports Editor

Canadian adventure sportsman Will Gadd recently became the first person to scale a frozen section of Niagara Falls.

Gadd, a 47-year old native of Alberta, Canada, has held the paragliding world distance record, climbed sea stacks in Newfoundland and climbed to the icy peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Gadd, one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year for 20e15,  chose a life path that has taken him to amazing places all over the world. He credits the incredible opportunities that have presented themselves to him in large part to his roots in journalism.

“I worked writing for my school paper for two years,” Gadd said. “And that’s what got me my jobs in journalism and adventure sports, and one thing led to another. It’s my ability to write proposals to big companies like Red Bull, and say, ‘hey, I’d like a big wad of cash to do something ridiculous,’ and make it sound half-decent.”

Gadd, now a renowned professional, doesn’t have to type up a piece of persuasion so often. Companies like Red Bull now often sponsor and reach out to him on their behalf.

“One of the guys at Red Bull was like, ‘hey, how about that Gadd guy? Maybe he can climb it.’ They called me up, and I was like, ‘yeah, of course, I’m in.’”

But it wasn’t that simple. No one had ever climbed Niagara Falls, for more than one reason. On top of the fact that extremely cold temperatures must be sustained for an extended period to create the right conditions, it’s also illegal.

“The idea of climbing Niagara Falls has been around forever,” Gadd said. “It’s just such an obvious thing. Parts of it do occasionally freeze, but you’re never going to get permission.”

It took Red Bull and Gadd’s team eight months to become the first to get permission to climb the Falls from local authorities and the New York State Parks and Conservation Department.

“It’s such a carefully preserved place,” Gadd said. “The park staff have got a pretty tight lid on things that happen there. We had eight months of meetings. The park had to realize that it’s not a stunt like going over the Falls in a barrel. This is what I do, I’m a professional at it, and I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It took them a while, but they definitely, fully came on our side and made it a great project.”

On Jan. 27, after months of persuading authorities and careful planning, Gadd and his team took to the Falls and accomplished what had never been done before. Gadd climbed a northern section of the Horseshoe Falls on the American side. The climb itself only took about an hour.

Gadd knew from the start that climbing the Falls would be no easy task, but he was surprised even still once he realized what he was in for. Gadd was greeted by a vertical obstacle course of natural abstract ice sculptures and loose ice sheets.

“There’s so much spray in Niagara Falls that it really coats the rock and makes the ice form in these kind of sequential onion rings, like the inside of an onion,” Gadd said. “The pieces aren’t well-bonded together. It doesn’t form like a hockey rink or something more traditional in ice climbing, it’s definitely bad ice. There’s so much water around there that it forms in shapes that it could never form in any other place, just these wild gargoyle shapes and stuff.”

Each and every one of the millions of people who visit Niagara Falls every year understand the powerful nature of Niagara Falls, but very few have the incredible perspective of Gadd.

“I mean, Niagara Falls, there’s nothing else like it in the world. It’s the world’s largest waterfall,” Gadd said. “There’s more water going off the lip of that thing every second than you can imagine. It’s crazy there. At the bottom of that, it’s loud, it’s violent; it’s a powerful place.”

Gadd does not consider himself an “adrenaline junkie,” but rather, a professional that takes pride in accomplishing challenging tasks in a proficient way. And, of course, he has a lot of fun doing these things as well.