An Interview with the Legendary Will Gadd

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Editor's Note: On January 29th, for the first time ever, the frozen section of the mighty Niagara Falls were successfully ascended by one of National Geographic's Adventurers of the Year: professional climber Will Gadd. Last November, we were lucky enough to sit down with Gadd to find out what drives him to continue seeking out, and preparing for, these amazing adventures. 

The word 'fearless' comes to mind when talking about climber, kayaker, paraglider, guide, coach, speaker, author and general badass Will Gadd. You may have caught him in a Reel Rock film a few years ago climbing icebergs or seen him win gold medals in ice-climbing in the X-games, but whatever it was, it's safe to say that Gadd has accomplished more at the age of 47 than most of us could hope to do in our entire lives.

With a lifetime of mountain and outdoor experience, Gadd has a lot to share and great stories to tell and does so through speaking engagements, clinics, and guided tours. We were lucky enough to ask him a few questions at one of these clinics:

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What originally got you into climbing and when did you first start climbing mixed routes?

I originally started climbing with my dad when I was a young kid. I started climbing on my own as a teenager to reach inaccessible portions of caves, which was pretty nutty when I look back on it. I started ice climbing while still a teenager too, then got really into mixed climbing while living in Colorado in the late 90s.

What is your most memorable and proudest completed challenge to date, climbing, kayaking or otherwise?

I don't look back too much to be honest, it's always about the future. Once I've figured out how to do something or completed a goal I tend to look forward again. I've done lots of beautiful and cool trips, I'm very lucky! To see the world in a natural way is what I've always wanted to do, and I've worked hard to make that happen. I'm probably most proud of the fact that my trips have a really good safety record, and that I have created a life I wanted to live rather than fitting into someone else's plan.

In regards to safety, what moment or experience in the past was the most terrifying to you, that you yourself learned a lot from?

Probably running away from so many climbs, rivers, flights. I just run away a lot, then really think about what was going on and why. Even when I succeed, or maybe especially when I succeed, I do the same. I really believe in examining both successes and failures over and over in my head, it's almost like risk-analysis OCD or something.

How do you prepare physically and mentally for any of your objectives?

Do as much of the activity or the closest thing to the activity as I can. I don't have a ton of time to train, so I get specific and go hard. General training is great if you just want to be generally good at nothing, but I want to perform well for each of my goals.

What inspired you to start climbing without heel spurs?

Ha, I haven't thought about that in a long time! Mostly climbing with heel spurs felt like cheating to me, and it was boring. If you can climb anything, as you can with spurs because you can hang like a bat and rest, then why bother? It was a fun experience to cut 'em off, a lot of people were really upset but with time it was clearly the way to go.

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Here in the south, 30° Fahrenheit is frigid and almost unbearable to some people. How do you handle sub-zero temperatures during ice climbs and for extended amounts of time?

It's all about systems and strategies, and understanding your body. I have to be just as careful when I'm in the south during the summer as I am when I'm in Canada during the winter. In fact, it's a lot easier to be active in the winter at -10°F than it is to be active in the summer when the temperature goes above about 90°. I can always put clothes on, but if you get hot wearing a pair of shorts there's not a lot of room left to adjust your systems. The big idea with cold is to dress for your heat output level ten minutes into the future. I run and chop wood at -30°F in a light sweatshirt, no gloves, hat for my ears, no problems. But if I try to do that wearing a big down jacket, fat gloves, etc. I'm going to get it all sweaty and then I'll be cold. So I'll walk or run out of the house dressed in almost nothing. But if I know I 'm going to be standing around for a while in the cold, then I have to put my big jacket on while I'm still warm or I'll be cold...

How does your extended travel and high risk profession affect your family life?

I try not to travel as much as I once did — only about 25 percent of the time. Then, when I'm home I can put a lot more time into my kids than most people, which is great. I love taking them out into the mountains, and they love it too.

What drives you to keep finding new challenges?

It's just how I'm wired. I'm no good sitting at a desk for more than a few weeks straight, I just have to get outside at least an hour or two every single day, with occasional big chunks thrown on top of that. I definitely bust ass organizing trips, writing (I have two more books coming out), being a dad, but I have to get that exercise and motion in some way. Sometimes that can mean a really big climb, and sometimes it can just be a hike in the woods with my kids, but I need it.

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Needless to say, we're excited to see what Gadd conquers next. If you haven't seen the video of the Niagara climb, it's worth watching. And if you have questions you'd like to ask Will, check him out on Reddit's Ask Me Anything forum that he is currently taking part in.

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