Will Gadd's great Greenland glacial adventure
Canadian ice climber extraordinaire tackles his greatest challenge: climate change
Yes, Will Gadd is the guy that climbed up Niagara Falls? It was frozen at the time. Ahem.
But, for his latest project, Gadd wanted to put his talents to work for the betterment of the planet. And in so doing, he encountered some of the hardest and riskiest adventures of his career. Beneath the Ice is the Red Bull multimedia project that saw Gadd and U.S. scientist Jason Gulley exploring beneath the Greenland Ice Cap itself with the aim of collecting crucial global warming data to help battle climate change.
“Meltwater raises sea level and changes the climate, and Jason’s research looks directly at how Greenland is melting,” says Gadd. “It’s critical research for anyone who wants to know more about the future.”
The planning and training period before the trip took two years, but as Gadd says, “really a lifetime working with ice.”
“I’ve been helping scientists do research on local glaciers, and one of them connected me to Jason Gulley,” Gadd explains. “Jason is a very active glacial hydrology researched and could use some help. But it turned into something bigger fast!”
The plan was to travel to Greenland and climb down the vertical shafts in the ice cap called moulins and explore the floor of the ice caves with the intent of diving further beneath the ice cap, further than anyone has gone before, once the water table was reached.
The task, Gadd says, presented numerous challenges. But when the cave started dropping chunks of ice down and the stability was seriously questionable, the hardest thing to do was pull the proverbial plug on the project, at least temporarily.
“Physically just operating in Greenland is difficult, and the climbing and caving were also super physical,” he says. “But staying alive in an incredibly complex environment takes a lot of strategies. Some of that strategy is pretty technical, but in the end, we employed the basic risk management strategy: Running away.”
One thing Gadd says he did start to understand was just how massive the Greenland Ice Cap really is.
“It’s absolutely amazing, and it’s melting really fast. We are going to have some pretty radical changes coming our way, and it’s too late to stop that happening,” says Gadd. “So we need to expect and manage that change personally and as countries. I also understand climate change does not recognize national boundaries. It’s a problem we’re all going to deal with together or alone, but it sure would be better if countries and politicians would get their heads on straight and actually work together. It has been done in the past, and will need to be done in the future.”
For Gadd, the entire experience was fulfilling on a number of levels.
“It’s the hardest, most complicated trip I’ve ever done. I had to learn so much, study so much, just work and work to get it all together,” says the Canmore, Alberta native. “I’m incredibly appreciative that Red Bull was willing to back the trip!”
Gadd spends most of this life in the mountains, and a lot of that time on glaciers climbing ice. So, he’s seen the impact climate change is having first hand, and he knew he had to do something about it in his own way.
“Everything is changing, and globally. The mountains in the Andes, Alps, Himalaya, Alaska and Canada all have these massive bathtub rings where the glaciers used to be a short time ago,” he explains. “How I access and climb mountains as a guide has changed dramatically. For me, climate change isn’t a theory any more than gravity is: I see and experience it every day I’m in the mountains, from rockfall to wildly erroneous maps. This has, of course, all happened over glacially slow periods before, but now it’s happening at extreme rates. Fast change is a lot harder for everyone from sea animals to us to survive.”
Gadd says that, yes, he will continue to work on climate change.
I have kids,” he says, explaining that he’s already planning another Greenland expedition for next year with Jason.