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Video: Ice climber makes first ascent of Niagara Falls

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CLIMBING — Wet and wild might describe the first ice-climbing ascent of Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canada Border.

As 150,000 tons of water a minute poured over the crest and pounded the earth beside him at speeds of more than 62 mph, Will Gadd of Alberta, Canada, became the first climber to ascend the frozen sections of Niagara's Horseshoe Falls on Jan. 26, 2015.

Gadd, 47, has traveled to the ends of the earth to find the world’s most challenging climbs, but Niagara Falls, one of his home country‘s iconic landmarks, was a lifelong mission that he previously thought impossible. Cold weather formed ice this season to give him a shot.

After working with New York State Parks Department and park police, Gadd and his team created a comprehensive plan to ensure the climb could be done safely and the necessary precautions were taken to protect the natural environment.

“It's one of the most visited places in North America," Gadd said. "We have to treat it as a jewel, or it won't work."

Only natural protection was used in the climb. Nothing was left in the ice, he said.

The line – which sits on the American side of the Horseshoe section of Niagara, near what's known as Terrapin Point – is about 147 feet from bottom to top.

He said Niagara's ice is tricker than some of the fabled climbs in Alberta.  "The ice is formed in layers," Gadd said. "That means there's a layer of ice, then snow (with a lot of air), then another layer of ice. It's unstable, for sure.”

He estimated the grade at WI6+, as hard as it gets for this style of climbing. Tools he used include ice axes, crampons, and a specially-designed Black Diamond prototype "ice hook."

The day before the climb, Gadd dropped in from above to clear the route of dangerous hanging ice that could break off during his climb. "I was taking off pieces the size of small cars," he says. After a full day in front of the route, it was ready."

After a hairy icy traverse to the base of the falls, he made the first ascent in about one hour of climbing.

About the climber

Will Gadd is a renowned ice climber and paraglider from Alberta, Canada. He started winning climbing competitions in the 90’s and is still a pioneer in the sport. A Red Bull athlete, Gadd recently named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, with the past 12 months being perhaps the best of his career.  Before last week's ascent of Niagara, he reached these notable heights.

  • In February 2014, Gadd climbed a new route on Helmcken Falls in British Columbia, considered the toughest and wildest ice cave in the world.
  • In September, he became a National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year for paragliding across the Rockies.
  • In November, he ascended the rapidly melting ice glaciers of Kilimanjaro.
  • in January 2015 he took home the top prize at the highly prestigious Ouray Ice Festival competition.

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Lisa Benson/Washington Post Writers Group