This Will End Well

Our great­est dare­devil stares down mid­dle age

The Walrus - - FEATURES - By kather­ine laid­law pho­tog­ra­phy by Jeremy Fokkens

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.

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