Will Gadd and EJ Plimley climbed more than 300M of cascading frozen ice-- the biggest single frozen waterfall in Canada
Renowned as one of the top adventure sports athletes in the world, Will Gadd has spent the last three decades exploring the world's wildest places through paragliding, rock and of course, ice climbing. From conquering icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland in 2006 to climbing spectacular underground ice in Sweden in 2007, it's sufficient to say that Will Gadd has climbed a lot of ice. On February 17th Gadd and Plimley succeeded on a huge new challenge: Hunlen Falls, which Gadd says is, "The wildest frozen water I've ever seen in the world!"
Located in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park between Bella Coola and Williams Lake, in British Columbia, the 300-plus metre drop is listed as the world's 25th tallest waterfall in the world, but Gadd's opinion is that it's the tallest single-drop waterfall in the world with any hope of freezing. The waterfall plummets from the north end of Turner Lake in a spectacular cascade that Gadd described as, "The most dangerous and exciting climb he's ever seen." Gadd and Plimley camped in temperatures as low as -25C for five days to get the perfect conditions. Gadd said, "Tweedsmuir Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world; very few people visit the area in winter, so it was special to not only climb Hunlen Falls but also see the park in full winter splendour. The cold temperatures made the climb more difficult but also just barely possible."
To envision the vastness of this wonder, imagine five to six ice hockey rinks and then stack them vertically so they tower into the air. It's the biggest single-fall waterfall in Canada, and in winter, possibly the largest single-fall piece of ice in the world. To succeed Gadd and Plimley dodged house-sized blocks of falling ice, dangerous snow conditions and climbing that Gadd described as, "Horrendously difficult. I hope I never see ice like that again."
"In ice climbing there's a global quest to climb the biggest frozen waterfall. Hunlen is massive, it's gorgeous, it's remote and it's my dream climb" said Gadd about the Hunlen Falls - his expedition took place from February 13th to 18th. From the dangerous impact zone at the bottom to the very top, Gadd and Plimley climbed over 1000 feet in approximately 8 hours of high-intensity effort. "Accessing the falls was a big challenge as they are really remote, about a 30-minute ski-plane flight from Anahim Lake, BC. Also, the falls have to freeze and it doesn't always happen." said Gadd. Even with the cold temperatures large portions of the falls weren't frozen, which made the climbing much more difficult. Gadd felt he was in a race against global warming and said, "Everywhere I go in the world there is less ice. These falls may never form enough to climb again in my lifetime. This was the coldest winter in a very long time, and to hit the right conditions took two trips and a lot of time studying weather patterns."
In order to successfully climb Hunlen Falls, Will trained four to five times a week. Gadd led a team of four experienced ice climbers, cinematographers and photographers for his and Plimley's ascent of the, "The wildest route I'm ever likely to climb!"
To execute the expedition safely, Will and EJ needed a consistent cold weather window to find optimal climbing conditions in the British Columbia backcountry. Archived climate data for the last 20 years indicated that January and early February is usually the coldest time of the year in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. This remote location was accessible only by cross-country ski or airplane in the winter.
ABOUT WILL GADD
Gadd grew up mountaineering with his family in the Canadian Rockies and scaled his first waterfall at age 12. “I think climbing is one of those fundamental human things,” Gadd muses. He has played a big role in channeling that human drive into the ever-more-popular sport of ice climbing.
Gadd has won numerous ice climbing titles from the World Cup to the Winter X Games to and broke the world distance record on his paraglider not once, but two times.
Gadd came to prominence in the winter of 1997-1998, when he established the world’s most difficult ice routes. He followed that up by dominating the competitive scene in 1998-1999, winning every major event. In 2003, he participated in the toughest paragliding contest of all time (Red Bull X-Alps), stayed aloft 10 hours and 38 minutes to set a new single-flight distance world record of 263 miles (423 kilometers), and also joined Red Bull Air Force team member Chris Santacroce to fly across the backbone of the Andes from Chile to Argentina.