Photos: A totally insane climb under rock and ice

Super-climber Will Gadd attacks the world's most challenging mixed climb: Canada's Helmcken Falls.

Will Gadd rarely disappoints. For the last 20 years he's been doing some of the wildest climbs on rock and ice. A return to Helmcken Falls was to be his swan song — one last all-out blast before the 46-year-old moved on from purely athletic feats to more 'sedentary' exploratory challenges. (We suspect Gadd's version of 'sedentary' varies from the average human being's.)

There was one line in particular he had his sights on. “It's the gnarliest mixed route in the world – a line I've long wanted to do but couldn't figure out how,” he told us prior to setting off. He prepared by training harder than he had his whole life, but the climbing wasn't the only hard part. There was also the very real danger – of massive icicles falling on his head. Check out the images below to see how he got along.

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Dream achieved
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Dream achieved

“I first saw the line years ago when Tim Emmett and I visited Helmcken for the first time,” shares Gadd. “At that point I was interested in spray ice, but swore I'd be back for the wildest mixed line I had ever seen, even after traveling the world doing mixed climbing for nearly 20 years.”

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Action overhead
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Action overhead

“This is, in my view, the best, hardest, most fun, most full-on all-around get stoked rad multi-pitch mixed route in the world,” says Will Gadd.

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Prepping the climb
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Prepping the climb

Free-solo? Not on this route. “Just organizing the route to climb even with it bolted is a multi-day effort. We put 15 days of work into getting it done,” says Will.

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An alpine attitude
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

An alpine attitude

“I'd say this is the most complicated environment I have ever climbed in,” says Gadd. “This place can kill you faster than most climbing areas if you don't bring a solid game to the table. But the climbing is so much fun that it's worth it!”

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Ice volcano
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Ice volcano

One of the unique features of Helmcken Falls is the 'ice cone' that is formed around the base of the waterfall. During cold, snowy winters, the cone can reach 50m high, halfway up the waterfall, before it collapses, usually sometime in March.

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Wet and wild
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Wet and wild

The water doesn't stop flowing all winter. The climbers had to seriously monitor the weather conditions to stay safe.

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Just hanging out
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Just hanging out

“A 100m rope is a nice safety feature as you can lower to the side of the spray cone from the top of the fourth pitch with a 100m rope,” says Gadd. “After that you're on your own.”

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A liquid pitch
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

A liquid pitch

Says Gadd: “To climb this route takes not only the climbing effort, but also just unearthing the holds, scraping the new rime and spray ice off the upper pitches, belaying for hours in the spray while a waterfall thunders just over your shoulder!”

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Cold and dark
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

Cold and dark

The long days of climbing often ended “in the headlamp hours”, according to Gadd.

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A hazardly happening
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

A hazardly happening

“Overhead Hazard is in a really serious environment – you have to be very award of the daggers lurking overheard (hence the name). It's more like an alpine big wall than a standard mixed or drytooling crag,” says Gadd. “You need to constantly monitor hazards, temperature, rockfall, and water flow.”

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White thunder
Will Gadd climbs Helmcken Falls

White thunder

“If you got hurt on the upper wall, a rescue would be very complicated,” says Gadd. “There isn't a manual on how to long-line someone off from behind a large waterfall.”

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