Will Gadd climbed his first waterfall at age 12 – and he’s felt at home in steep places ever since. “I grew up in a family that was outdoor-oriented, and we went to the mountains on weekends,” says the Colorado-born adventurer and filmmaker. “The mountains feel more natural to me than any other setting.”
Now 40, Gadd has criss-crossed the globe to climb mountains, kayak wild rivers, bike rough mountain roads and scale moving icebergs. “I spend 200 days a year climbing, kayaking, biking and doing the sports I like to do,” he says. “I don’t have an off-season. I just switch seasons.”
The Canmore, Alberta, resident also does television stunt work, poses for commercials and produces film documentaries chronicling his adventures. In fact, you’ve probably seen him camping at the top of a rocky cliff in a car commercial or scaling a wall of rock in a magazine ad. The sports documentaries he produces have aired on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel and television networks worldwide.
Part of his passion for adventure comes from a simple love for the outdoors. “I respond to the outdoor world. I think all humans do. Anybody who has ever gone into the woods can relate to that feeling – it just feels good. Writer Barry Lopez has said that humans are hardwired to appreciate beauty in the outdoor world and respond to it on a very deep level, and I agree with him.”
But Gadd knows that many of the wild places he frequents are threatened by development and climate change. “That’s why I work for conservation,” he says. “People have [this] idea that we have unlimited wild space here, but we don’t. There is less and less of it. What’s going to make the biggest difference is when enough people start caring about these spaces that saving them becomes part of the political consciousness.”
Gadd’s documentary films are designed to spark awareness. “I hope everybody who goes to my film or slideshow thinks, ‘These are wild spaces and I would like to visit them one day,'” he says.
Gadd particularly encourages people to get involved in changing policy:
“Write your senator; write your representative. Just do it. It might not seem like much, but collectively it adds up to a lot.” In Gadd’s view, conservation issues are more important now than they’ve ever been: “Policies of the past several years have done a lot of damage, but with awareness about climate change at an all-time high, this is our opportunity to turn things around.”
Gadd’s most recent documentary project filmed him as he scaled ice walls in Swedish caves. And with the planet warming, Gadd sees underground ice climbing as the future of the sport. “In the last few years, when [I’ve gone] somewhere where, historically, there’s been a lot of ice – from icebergs in the North Atlantic to ice peaks in Nepal – there isn’t as much ice as there used to be. The ice in the caves will be there for a long time, and Sweden, especially, has a lot of abandoned mines for climbing.”
So how does the “extreme adventure” aspect of Gadd’s work fit with his mission to raise awareness about the fragility – and necessity – of wild places? “I really enjoy doing these sports; I find them deeply meaningful. They are the best way to engage the world,” says Gadd, an avid blogger who chronicles his adventures at www.gravsports.blogspot.com.
“If you stand on the lip of the Grand Canyon, it looks fantastic,” he says. “If you walk down in it, you get an even better sense of it, and if you raft it, you get a better sense of it still. The more involved you become in the place, the more rewarding the experience of being in it. Involvement deepens your understanding of the power and the beauty of the natural world.”
As he’s gotten older, Gadd (who became a first-time dad in June) says he’s been paying closer attention to keeping his body limber and resilient by incorporating yoga into his training routine. “This lifestyle is great, but it has occupational hazards,” he says, laughing. “Yoga keeps my body loose and functional, and I get injured less now than I did before.”
He pays attention to what he eats, too. “Regardless of straight sports performance, I just feel better when I eat better. I enjoy good food – I like cooking it, eating it and using simple ingredients. I also try to eat organic and local as much as I can, because that’s better for the planet.”
While Gadd’s travel and training schedule can be hectic, he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t really have vacations in the normal sense of the word, because I’m doing what I want to be doing [every day],” he says. “Being outside with friends, doing something fun and having an adventure – it’s about the best thing in life.”