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Gadd and Emmett Suggest WI10

Aiding up the wildly steep ice of Spray On (WI10), a new benchmark in the world of ice climbing. Will Gadd and Tim Emmett bolted and climbed the route last week behind Helmcken Falls, in Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia. [Photo] Gadd/Emmett collection

Years ago, Will Gadd saw a photo and heard a rumor online about the potential for a futuristic ice route on an incredibly steep wall behind Helmcken Falls, in Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia. Though the idea intrigued Gadd, he didn’t believe the cave would be so tall–460 feet. Nor did he think that a line of pure ice could form on such a steep wall–overhanging 45 degrees.

But last week Gadd, along with partner Tim Emmett, found the impossible to be true. After rappelling into the amphitheater behind Helmcken Falls, they discovered the very back of the cave, the bottom fifth or so, was coated in strange globules of frozen spray. On his blog, Gadd said they were “the most insane ice formations I’ve ever seen.”

However, huge, fragile ice daggers guarded access to the lower wall. To clear the hazards, Gadd and Emmett tossed balls of ice at the multi-ton chandeliers, sending them crashing to the ground. When they reached the back of the cave, they discovered unusual, unstable ice. Not only would the steep hoarfrost not take ice screws, but to climb it would require impeccable tool placement and careful weighting.

Unprotectable otherwise, Gadd decided to bolt the line. That first day he installed four bolts, aiding off his tools. The next day he and Emmett returned and put in another eight bolts up to an alcove that marked the end of the spray ice. The result was a route 90 feet long with anchors only 40 feet off the ground. Now equipped, Gadd led what he called “the coolest ice I’ve ever seen or climbed, anywhere in the world.”

But also some of the most tenuous. “Just mental,” Gadd said of the route. “You had to be really careful to swing accurately in the blobs of ice, and test the placement each time. This is incredibly strenuous when hanging locked-off on a 45-degree wall. Poor placements would rip, which was funny if you were belaying but not so funny on the lead.”

Spray On climbs the 40 vertical feet of icy globules visible at the bottom-left of this photograph. It is likely the most overhanging pure ice route ever established. [Photo] Gadd/Emmett collection

Gadd most recently made headlines last month when he climbed about 25,000 vertical feet in 24 hours at the Ouray Ice Festival (read the January 13, 2010 Feature). Though very fit in terms of endurance, Gadd said that his power was nearly not enough.

“I got so damn pumped my forearms are still hurting,” he wrote, “but a combination of desperate tricks (hooking an elbow on my ice tools) and a really wild stemming rest at the mid-point got me to the anchor, and then Tim had a nice battle but pulled it off.”

Though Gadd and Emmett had difficulty grading the unconventional route, they have suggested the almost unimaginable grade of WI10. They named it Spray On.

Less than a month ago, two Austrians climbed Centercourt (read the January 22, 2010 NewsWire), a 300-meter route given the world’s hardest water-ice grade at the time: WI7+. Only a couple other routes have been labeled WI7+, including Gadd’s own Second Choice in Norway. But Spray On’s three-grade jump to WI10 suggests that the short, bolt-protected ice climb is in a new category of its own.

“It is a whole hell of a lot harder than anything I’ve ever climbed on ice,” Gadd said. “The only thing I could compare it to is M10 or harder drytooling, but you have to swing for placements instead of just hook. WI10 is the lowest grade I can give it with a straight face; many people who can drytool M10 will find the ice climbing a lot harder I think, it’s real, honest, cuts-on-your face ice climbing.”

Sources: Will Gadd,,