This Will End Well
Our greatest daredevil stares down middle age
The premise is simple. A man embarks on a quest. Before him, a waterfall, forty-three storeys high, frozen solid. It’s a gut-rattling gamble. If he can scale it in one push, he’ll emerge victorious. But that’s a big if: the weather is warming, darkness is falling, time is running out. The hero’s name is Will Gadd. He’s in the far reaches of British Columbia, his face turned up at Helmcken Falls, which taunts him with its unclimbable crags. Ice chunks drop like anvils from the overhanging cliff as his team, in sub-zero temperatures, drills bolts into the climbing route Gadd will use — seven pitches, or sections, linked by rope. The goal is to manoeuvre up the fragile lattice in a more or less straight line, using crampons, pickaxes, and brute strength. Gadd is in the limelight for a reason. He’s one of the world’s most accomplished athletes. He’s also a firecracker, an ideal protagonist. During the leadup to the climb, the temperature drops to minus-thirty-five degrees. The air is choked with mist that bonds to the ropes, and thousands of frozen pounds threaten to pull the bolts clean from the rock. Below, ice spikes shoot up from the valley floor, a sinister reminder of what Gadd is risking each time he kicks in a cramponed foot or notches his pick a few feet higher. Still, he climbs on. “This is the shit fucking conditions of all time up here today,” he shouts into the radio. “Just shit.” After eight hours, he’s swearing, yelling, hypothermic. And just when it looks as if he’s not going to make it, he’s over the lip of the falls: purple fingers, frosted red jacket, eyelashes crusted white.