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Given that he’s only 48 and still very actively climbing, you could easily argue that Will Gadd is too young to win a “lifetime achievement” award. But he has crammed so much into that life: international gold medals in ice and mixed climbing, Canadian national champion in sport climbing, first ascents of the hardest dry-tooling routes and ice climbs in the world, and equally high-level prizes in kayaking and paragliding.
But much more than his competitive or numerical achievements in climbing, it’s Gadd’s ceaseless creativity that prompted us to say it was time. After radically pushing the development of bolt-protected mixed climbing in the late 1990s and 2000s, he upped the ante in ice climbing with the wildly overhanging “spray ice” routes of Helmcken Falls, giving the world its first WI10 route. (Never mind that there hadn’t yet been a WI8 or WI9!) He has climbed floating icebergs and underground ice deep in abandoned Swedish mines. He pioneered sea-stack climbing on the wild coast of Newfoundland. He once climbed 194 pitches in 24 hours in the Ouray Ice Park.
And in 2015 he was still at it: He did the first known ascent of frozen Niagara Falls, and toward the end of the year made very quick repeat of an M14 route in Vail, Colorado, then put up what he calls his hardest mixed route ever, Instagrade, high above the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies. “I’m sure it’s the hardest route in North America, by a fair amount,” he says. “It has huge fall potential on the ice at the end, like 80 feet on hollow, detached ice. The ice isn’t physically hard,. but it sure does get the brain frying! [You] need those experiences occasionally to clean the junk out.”
With two young children and a host of professional responsibilities, Gadd’s peripatetic pursuit of mountain sports is also his recipe for staying hyper-fit in middle age—advice he readily shares with other athletes in blog posts and other writing. Just “go do stuff,” he insists. “Climb, run, ski, hike, chase kids, lift weights, but fundamentally do something every single day you can, preferably outside and involving a sport you love, whatever it is.”
Will Gadd previously won a Golden Piton for ice climbing in 2011.