5 Things You Didn't Know: Will Gadd
From first ascents on massive alpine walls to the podium of the Freeskiing World Tour to the world's hardest onsights, Black Diamond athletes are no strangers to the spotlight. But oftentimes a newsworthy accomplishment, whether it be in the alpine, at a ski resort or at the sport crag, is only half the story behind our world-class team of climbers and skiers. In this ongoing series of posts, we'll chat with Black Diamond athletes to give you an inside glimpse at their lives behind the headlines.
This month we talked with Canadian climber Will Gadd, who is one of the pioneers of modern ice and mixed climbing and has put up cutting-edge first ascents around the world. In the past few seasons, Will has been investing tons of time in the spray ice cave of Helmcken Falls, British Columbia—click here to check out a rad video of Will and a crew of fellow BD athletes establishing new routes in this amazing venue.
People always think I'm a "natural" athlete. This is not true. I am just a serial obsessive compulsive about learning sports, and this is the secret to any success I have ever had. When I learned to really climb at age 16 I did endless laps around a huge stone fireplace in my school. By "endless," I mean so many I almost got thrown out of school for being late to class so much. I did the same thing on my dorm in college, and spent more days climbing than I ever did actually at college. I obsess hard about sports until I get sort of good at them, but they don't come easily. When I started paragliding I didn't climb for a year, but I flew almost every single day, even when it was stupid conditions. Blind obsession and religious training will trump raw talent any day.
When I was in college I took the examination to become a lawyer, the LSAT, and did well. I started figuring out which law schools I was going to apply to and prepared myself for a life of heroic courtroom battles and saving the environment. But first I took a semester off to work for a really smart federal district court judge. He was a real inspiration to me, and we spent many hours in his chambers talking law, life, love and of course my love for outdoor sports. He gave me some absolutely incredible opportunities to see the real guts of the criminal justice system, as well as some of the corporate side of things. And then he gave me a great gift. He said, "Will, you're smart enough to be a good lawyer, but you'll never be truly happy as a lawyer. Go outside and do something there." Thank you Judge Hall, you were right.
I have out-lived many of the people I started climbing with. If I ever quit climbing it won't be because I dislike climbing, but because of the carnage I have seen the mountains wreak. I often think of the quote from Camus:
"But whether or not one can live with one's passions, whether or not one can accept their law, which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt—that is the whole question."
Climbing is a passion that simultaneously burns and exalts my entire being. The answer to the question of whether or not to climb has always been yes to me, but it is a continual uneasy examination.
I climbed my first major waterfall with my dad when I was 16, the Weeping Wall. I wore big mitts, a construction helmet, a Don Whillans Ball Crusher harness, and a soaked pile fleece, as Gore Tex hadn't been invented yet. On top I remember thinking, "Well, that was nice, but rock climbing is definitely more fun." Thirty years later I'm not so sure about that; I love both, but there is just something so viscerally satisfying about sinking a tool into solid ice high on a blue streak into the sky. But I sure do go through a lot of chalk. I often wonder what that 16-year old boy would think of me if he saw me today; I'd tell that boy to at least bring more gloves on his next climb, and to get a real helmet.
The most important thing in life for me is is to see life as it is. Whether I'm in a relationship, climbing, skiing, building a set of stairs, working on a video, anything, that's the goal for me. To strip away all my own filters and those I have been taught and to try and see things as they truly are. To be an attentive, caring, and switched-on human being. In the mountains I often feel like I operate close to this ideal; I never come close to it in the city, it's just too energy sapping and mentally spinning. Time outside slows me down, filters my blood of aspirations and junk, and leaves me less cluttered both physically and mentally. The mountains don't respect nonsensical prayer or cherished rosy beliefs, they just are. To see them cleanly and clearly is as close to the divine as I'll ever get.