Q: how much of the evolution of your climbing has been planned progression? and how much has been random opportunity?
WG: I’ve always just wanted to go climbing. When I was in high school I climbed as many days as possible during climbing season, and that’s still true today. I never thought about it as a career or way of life really, just pushing and doing the forms of climbing I wanted to do. I am interested in new areas, new forms of all my sports, but that’s interest rather than a master plan.
I’ve had some good opportunities through winning competitions, working in publishing, and working with some great companies including Red Bull, Arc’teryx and Black Diamond. But those opportunities came about through interest and intense focus on doing what I found fascinating, not a master plan. Niagara Falls was a random opportunity in a way, but it happened because I’d spent ten years learning how to climb spray ice, managing film crews in crazy environments, and pulling off big ideas safely. Without that climbing background, track record and long-standing crew of great people I work with over and over again I couldn’t have climbed Niagara Falls.
I’m a lucky guy for sure, but try to reduce my reliance on that luck to go forward…
this is the first post in a series of ten with Will Gadd. the rules were simple: no editing, no word limits, no punches pulled, no need to even be coherent. shoot from the hip straight to an audience who want to know. as usual Will delivered 110%.
Q: where was ice and mixed climbing 10 years ago, where is it now, and what’s happened in between?
WG: Ice and mixed climbing are both healthy and going strong. Not a ton of development there in the last 10 years, just a lot more potential globally. More climbers, more areas, more farmed ice, more towers, it’s going great! I’d say it’s another golden age for ice and mixed, just tremendous opportunities globally, from China to South America, just lots to do!
What has changed is dry tooling. Ten years ago it was headed toward being its own sport, now it is its own sport entirely. Ice tools are used, but increasingly it’s done in steep caves on drilled holds, or with bolt-on logs and other features. Drtoolers have gotten good enough to hang onto ice tools for hours at a time even in a flat roof, which is awesome, but if you can hang on forever in a flat roof it’s hard to make routes harder. The grades from about M12 on are basically meaningless these days, more about ego and length of horizontal climbing than difficulty. Some of the harder routes are hard, but a lot of them are just endurance events without any hard moves, especially in Colorado’s Vail area.
To make the drytooling routes harder we’re cutting off more points. Back in the day we cut our spurs off because it made the routes boring and easy, but now some people are cutting off the “rake” points to make it harder to get rests, leaving only a single frontpoint. This actually doesn’t make things tons harder if you can hang on forever, so we’ll need to cut some more points off to make it harder again… At some point it’s going to make sense to just use rock shoes, and then that will probably get too easy so we’ll just have to use our hands again with a chalk bag. So I think drytooling has gotten to the point where it’s basically rock climbing with hooks. I’ve lost interest in this game. I also don’t like the chipped nature of the harder routes, just seems odd to me even though I’ve done a lot of it…
wanted: amazing women for amazing climbing
Sarah Hueniken, the archetype for elite women climbers, establishing Fun Chimes M9 on an exploratory trip with Will Gadd in Japan
after a lot of interest from both inside and outside iran, we will be running a special trip to connect women ice climbers. radical, meaningful and an extension of goodwill, this trip will combine frontier ice climbing across several locations in iran, great food, amazing places, outstanding ice, and a place in climbing history. climbers of any level are encouraged, all logistics including visa support are included, all questions about iran and the region will be answered and an incredible experience is guaranteed.
men, as either partners or individual, are of course invited too. these trips will be run together, as a kind of road trip thru iran’s best ice areas, climbing the classics and putting up new ice and mixed lines. vast potential exists and our local friends are highly motivated to show us around with their famous persian hospitality.
expedition climbing differs from alpine climbing by how much the day to day stresses effect the outcome. on an expedition youre as likely to get hurt or run down by the loads, the approach and the way you sleep as you are by the actual climbing. you need to be fit and resilient to pull the moves AND to survive the general process, often exposed to altitudes regular alpine climbing may not entertain which means recovery is compromised.
strength for expedition climbing isnt just the obvious bulk capacity to carry stuff upwards. by developing the deeper, unseen elements like breathing musculature, body tension, load bearing musculature etc you can go far beyond what just endurance and climbing training can cover. Dan DaSilva arriving at 4600m with a 30kg load – he may look like a male stripper but he climbs like like an orangutan.
training for expedition climbing needs to address the specifics often glossed over with regular alpine climbing, namely: the load bearing muscles, the diaphragms and the ‘sleeping muscles’. lots of climbers get very good at the general and the climb-specific elements only to find that endless pull ups and hill intervals havent prepared them for the workhorse stuff. these exercises address that by making stronger max function and increasing range of motion to help prevent injuries.
‘deep’ exercises are ones that develop stuff you cant really see and address weaknesses you probably dont know you have, making them powerful when integrated with the usual climbing training. these sorts of things pull together the rest of your training and increase overall energy efficiency but they are not quick fix only-10-minutes-a-week vanity exercises. these exercises may be targeting things you have never consciously trained before so may find surprisingly weak and deserve to be a fundamental part of any training regime. other types of these sorts of exercises exist, these are just ones that require little/no gear and have direct applications. remember these are all strengthening exercise – do them at about 3-6RM.
1) Lung Lifts
the drop in diaphragmatic efficiency as you gain altitude is startling – the other muscle groups that see such double-digit loss of capacity get huge attention but are peripheral by comparison. just as groups like leg and thorax musculature require a blend of max strength and base endurance to optimize, so does the diaphragm. running etc provides the basic base line, but Lung Lifts target the max strength.
hold 2 x weights (combined weight about 90% of 1RM overheard press) at chest level, pushed together to focus the load onto the sternum area. breathing should obviously move the load.
stand against a wall or horizontal bar to prevent leaning back and shifting the load onto the lower back and hips. you should feel a forward pull.
exhale and allow the abdomen to collapse, dropping the shoulders forward to allow the diaphragm to retract as much as possible.
inhale, using the expansion of the lungs and strength of the diaphragm to raise the load and straighten the body against the wall/bar. hold for 4 or 5 seconds.
repeat for the usual number of strength-oriented reps (3 – 5) and sets (3 – 5).
2) Tension Push Ups
being able to maintain body tension in a prone or reclining position is key to resting in grim bivvies, long drives on bad roads, miserable belays and cramped tents. its usually a matter of holding a static state of tension from the shoulders to the feet, length-ways AND across the body. Tension Push Ups build the recruitment to body needs to know what is doable and the range of motion necessary to engage it across a spectrum of forms. if you thought you have body tension down, think again.
place hands on floor, arms extended as for regular push ups.
place the soles of the feet flat against a wall with no support aside from friction (no toe holds, no smears etc). height same as shoulders to create a horizontal bridge of the back.
raise your back and use tension to hold feet against the wall. perform push ups. reps as usual (sets up to 12 before adding resistance)
raising feet or placing hands further forward makes it easier.
3) Plate Stretches
carrying serious loads (>25kg) for serious time (>5hrs repeated daily) requires strong hip connections and lateral strength, plus a strong range of movement to keep it safe over uneven terrain. standard core strength focuses on forward -back strengthening that also compresses or fails to elongate the musculature (front squats, front levers etc), limiting the range of movement and overlooking the direction of real-world loading. Plate Stretches are an old school gymnastic exercise used to strengthen the waist for things like pommel horse that require lateral strength to keep the legs and shoulders aligned – sound familiar? they combined several functions linking static holds with stretching and core strength. start light to get the movement before risking lower back strain ie <5kg to begin.
sit with legs splayed as wide as possible, hamstrings to the floor, feet pointed at the ceiling, both ass cheeks evenly seated.
raise load (plate, KB, DB etc) above head, arms straight, body straight.
lower to each side in alignment with legs, aiming to touch elbow to knee and hands to feet. bend by compressing one side and lengthening the other NOT by raising the ass/hips. keep the body straight.
raise the load by lifting compressed side and retracting extended side NOT swinging load upward with momentum.
5 or 6 reps to each side before adding weight.
4) Squeeze Bridges
bridge exercises are good because they develop the muscles along the spine (ie the stuff thats often weak because they cant be seen in a mirror…). this helps with heavy packs, hanging in a harness, bad sitting positions and steep or awkward moves. but – like sit ups, dips etc – once threshold is reached its easy to keep doing them mindlessly with diminished results and as the rest of the body gets stronger it becomes a weakness again. Squeeze Bridges combined the dorsal development with the lateral development useful for all those climbing moves that require pulling the body into position, perhaps most obvious on ice when climbing pillars and delaminated features where capacity to simply position the body may be undeveloped. lots of exercises strengthen the ability to push with the legs, but in the ugly, gnarly climbing common the mixed alpine pulling and torquing with the body is common.
lay on floor, hands positioned as for a regular reverse bridge. raise feet and position either side of an object thats about twice shoulder width, feet are unsupported aside from friction between them and the surface. exercise balls are easy, sides of a squat rack are hard.
feet should be placed about same height as shoulders when arms are extended into full position. squeeze inwards with the feet and push torso upwards into bridge position with abdomen raised as high as possible. hold until capacity starts to diminish. lower to floor.
get to 6 reps before adding weight (plate on abdomen etc). similar to Tension Push Ups, Tension Bridges are a progression of this exercise.
5) L-sit Levers
we all know L-sits. we all know Front levers. both are usually employed as static tension exercises which is great for hard overhanging moves (and so should be kept) but have little base level function for the other 90% of expedition climbing that isnt at the hard sharp end. L-sit Levers take the body tension of these exercises and combine controlled movement, joint rotation and core connection across a spectrum of function that develop the shoulders for carrying, the waist for moving and the body connection for balance and the stresses of awkward belays/bivvies. the classic gymnasts version is done on rings or a pommel horse, here hexbells (that wont roll) or push up bars will do. dip bars work once you get the motion. hands flat on floor may compromise wrist movement so use bells etc or knuckles to floor if you have the training or even fingertips if youre Bruce Lee.
raise into the L-sit position; legs straight, arms straight, active shoulder.
from the L-pose raise the hips and waist, straightening the body. keeping hands under center of balance, rotate shoulder joints so arm angle to floor drops. at maximum extension return under control to start position.
from start position push waist back and raise knees towards chest. angle of arms to floor opposite to previous stage.
get to about 6 reps of extensions in both directions where the angle between arm and body exceeds 45o. increase angle and/or add weight by putting weight in the lap and moving out along legs with progress.
6) Weighted Hip Rotates
hip rotates are stock-standard warm up exercises usually not thought much about. Weighted Hip Rotates are a way to develop the sort of leg-waist connection strength and quality range of motion that assists with carrying loads, prolonged periods sitting on belays and in tents and athletic moves requiring wide steps and stems. beyond just increasing the function motion of the hip joint, this exercise develops the inside of the upper leg and the static tension of an extended leg – this is the panacea for disco leg.
lay on the floor, shoulders, ass and hamstrings evenly flat against the ground. raise one leg so knee to chest. raised foot weighted (use a leg weight, Bulgarian bag etc).
starting clockwise with right leg (for the point of discussion, it doesnt matter) extend raised leg across the left leg until straight, keeping ass and shoulders evenly against floor. keeping extended, move leg in a wide arc till out from body, foot as close to ground as possible. continue arc, bringing knee to chest.
5 reps each direction, each leg, before adding weight.
these exercises may look like esoteric gymnastics stuff, but they are all doable like any regular movement and have arguably more real world function that much of what gets done in the name of climbing. done as strength exercises means twice a week is optimum, or once a week if other strength/power work is being done. the effects of this stuff wont be seen as cool abs or vanity muscle but it will be felt when climbing or carrying under load, especially at altitude where its like a plug for energy leaking out of a body that looks strong but actually has unseen weaknesses.
2015/16 was a strange winter. conditions were strange, the atmosphere was strange, the locations were strange. it may be part of a greater cycle…or maybe its not.
to go with the strangeness, we spread ourselves over a large spectrum this winter. avoiding being too focused in a season that had a large degree of unpredictability from the start. we avoided some places we usually focus on and spent a lot of time in areas with a lot of untapped potential. we didnt get everything done we had planned, but we did set in motion the wheels for the next phase. fresh back from Tibet, we entered the winter with a bigger perspective and with trips to Iran on the horizon we had another objective to channel things towards.
unusual weather meant some places had easier access as the streams froze. a rare convenience.
we really consolidated things on Fuji this winter, with a lot of trips over a very short period. at the peak of it we did nearly 13,000m of ascent in 11 days in winter conditions.
some people called it a ‘bad ice year’. we thought it was excellent. late arrival meant no trash ice in the mix, so what formed was lean but clean. in some regular places no ice formed at all, whilst other icefalls formed the best weve ever seen them,perhaps due to the widely oscillating temperature variations.
we also worked hard on the ice we had, fortifying what we could do with straight volume sessions. this winter we were simply better climbers.
Will Gadd’s WI7 route Frozen Gold in Sendai. setting the new bar high for the possibilities in Japanese winter climbing
modern mixed is where japan’s biggest winter potential lays. effectively so little has even been thought about the possibilities are unlimited, no less as the season is also longer and the summer can be spent working the hard bits.
the big event here was Will & Sarah coming over to prove the point, putting up the two hardest routes in the country while they were at it and identifying dozens more. this is exactly what Japanese winter climbing needs before it sputters to a halt.
Espresso Wall at Kaikomagatake. the short, sharp, powerful dose of mixed climbing Japan needs.
as a low snow year this was the time to head to places like Tanigawa-dake’s more esoteric aspects. having been away from the area for a few years it was valuable to return with a fresh outlook and get into places wed overlooked before. what we found was big, daunting, quality and profound and will become a new focus for us, tho it will take time to get it right.
the faces at Mitsutoge became one of our favourite mixed alpine locations.
this was the winter to reset directions and launch into new ideas, tho it took several years of accumulated experience to make it go. as expected we proved to ourselves that motivation and derring do backed up with preparation made it work. new frontiers and climbing goals are needed in Japan and we have done what we could to get things rolling – and the right people have responded.
winter 2016/17 is already falling into blocks. get on board fast.
a hell of a lot gets said about Tanigawadake – but almost none of it about this part. away from the constant stream of skiers, snow shoe groups and snow holers, way up another valley system altogether, are arguably the mountains premier pure ice routes. the confines of the topography and the lack of traffic make access less straightforward than the Ichinokura side, but being colder and less prone to collecting snow its maybe safer. maybe….
Japanese serious climbing at its most Japanese – crazed mixed stuff in quintessential style on an icon of risk. dont say you werent warned.
the 2 striking ice lines this year are strong but lean – getting on to them both requires a significant prowess at dry, mixed and alpine skill on the usual bizarro old school Japanese in-situ gear. a decent array of cams, beaks, pitons and wires will help a lot. in better years the ice extends to the ground, tho note its at the top of a large slope of potentially slipping snow. this is one place you want to get into and out of before things warm up. climbing-wise, these routes are not easy – little traffic doesnt pick them out and they are steep. regular years they apparently go at WI5. this year the ice alone might add a ‘+’ to the grade – along with the M-whatever it takes to get on them.
several other potential routes exist, mostly iced up crack systems, overhanging and grungy mixed. if you like your climbing on the wild side this is the place.
note: the objective hazards and lack of beta (even the old guide books barely mention this place) make this a serious place to go on an already notorious mountain. the Mikuni range is NOT like the Southern and Northern Alps and needs to be treated accordingly. any climber needs a lot more beta than whats here – weve intentionally kept things spartan – and should expect to have to find a lot out for themselves, just as we did. its not the place for everyone.
4 years ago we stood in the base of a volcanic valley in North East Japan, stared up at dozens of ice lines that dripped down the weird volcanic flutings, and knew in the hands of the right climbers it would work. we knew a smattering of routes had been done thereabouts, but we also knew huge sections of the valley walls had nothing done on them. asking around told us that decades before during a peak in Japanese climbing the hard mixed climbers of the day had done what they could for the era, putting up steep routes onto connecting ice with leashed tools as part of the wave of mixed athletic climbing. several M8 lines – test pieces for Japanese climbing – went up before things fizzled out and interest went elsewhere. What was done became obscure classics, novelties mostly forgotten, repeated rarely. meanwhile mixed climbing elsewhere surged and a core of hard climbers lead from the front, pushing both abilities and concepts ever-higher.
when iceclimbingjapan came into being we soon found limitations in the well known ice locations in Honshu and Hokkaido. interaction with international climbers in places like Shuangqiaogou and Hyalite, and discussions with Japan’s top climbers showed the idea was worth pursuing and over the intervening winters iceclimbingjapan made a series of trips up there, putting up new lines, mapping the blank areas and trying to make sense of the weather anomaly that allows ice to exist there at all. despite some uncommitted interest, nay saying and disbelief, those who actually went there all saw the potential and it was obvious it was much more than just throwing a rope up – most route possibilities were huge, bold and with a lot of objective issues – and it was clear this place would not be for everyone. during tent-bound and espresso-fueled pipe dream discussions we chewed away at ideas, and always one name kept coming up.
Will Gadd, the godfather of stoke, and Sarah Hueniken, the pillar of womans hard mixed climbing, gambled a big chunk of their winter to head into a part of Japan even most Japanese climbers know nothing about. their capacity to climb hard, develop lines, see potential where others dont and fuse possibilities into realities are the foundation that frontier climbing is based on. Will and Sarah both know they are ambassadors of the sport both to its adherents and on the industrial stage, and both get that coming to Japan will trigger more attention than simply putting up new routes in already well-know places. Will had been to Japan several times before and had a handle on what could be done. We threw ideas and logistics about but it took time to coalesce with the right people and an angle from the industry to see the value.
having a hotel with hot springs to return to each day keeps the psyche higher longer than a frozen tent
over 8 winters the idea ebbed and flowed, thru tragedies, tsunamis, changes in life and dozens of other projects. in late 2015, just as we stepped off the first winter attempt of Tibet’s Se’erdengpu big wall, Will’s email came thru; ‘This winter it’s on!’ and that means all systems into overdrive. Will knows the risks and variables that go with these things. several trips to Japan and a lifetime of trips to obscure places means that the vision warrants the uncertainty. like Spray ice, Niagra, Kilimajaro and the frozen mines deep under Sweden show when the work ethic, concept and risks align the results are always game-changing. to be part of the Gadd-Machine is to be strapped into a torpedo of potential that fuses insane ability with the alchemy of energy and inspiration that makes possibilities emerge where before none were obvious – at a rate even Red Bull barely keeps up with.
Raising the bar in so many ways is about more than just the climbing and demands quality documentation for all sorts of reasons. the climber-photographer interaction needs to function seamlessly far beyond the final act of just shooting the magic moment. compressed into the process of obscure locations, tight schedules and serial unknowns, capturing the process realistically demands an eye and a work ethic unwavered by the intensity of frontier climbing – a sense of humour and pragmatism is mandatory. when picking the team Will Gadd makes attitude the defining factor and everyone involved has to be 100% switched on the entire time and all channels need to be open, making John Price one of the handful of photographers up to the task. hooked on Japan long before this trip, John’s capacity to balance and integrate what others may find distracting allowed the perfect combination of his Rockies ice composition with Japan’s very different conditions.
to clarify the swirl of possibilities the plan was distilled simply: climb the most radical new routes possible. away from the expectations of well established mixed areas, in this case ‘radical’ meant the old school version of the term – fundamental and drastic changes from the root of the process. and with a resume covering ice bergs, spray ice and years at the leading edge of the grade game Will is the best guy to know what that means.
Tohoku as the location was the perfect stage for Will and Sarah. obscure and far from the well trodden ice locations of central Honshu they could get on with the job without the attention and complications their climbing celebrity brings. aside from a single day at Zao, we saw no other climbers the entire time. beyond climbing, Will’s connection to the region goes even deeper, back to the 2011 Great North Eastern Disaster where his immediate interest resulted in critical telecommunication equipment being sent over that directly impacted a wide spectrum of response applications and had very real outcomes. to be up in the region with Will had a lot more meaning than just putting up new routes, especially as we passed thru former nuclear exclusion zones, Sendai’s once destroyed airport and the quake-scarred Tohoku freeway. tourism of any sort hasnt been exactly thriving in that area recently so foreign visitors are already well outside the cube.
in Miyagi we met up with Aiichi Chiba, the name associated with climbing up there and author of the chapter for the area in the long-out-of-print guide to Japanese ice and mixed climbing. immensely strong, welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, Chiba-san resolved a lot of unknowns that set the course from which the final routes emerged. the connection between the old guard locals and the new wave linked things culturally, ethically and profoundly with a lot of positivity, and Chiba-san‘s connection became the element we needed to anchor things amongst the Japanese community both in Tohoku and Tokyo.
Chiba Aiichi, John, Sarah & Will in one of many morning car park gear up sessions
compared to central Japan, Tohoku is quieter, less populated, less commercial and wilder. forming a plan was dictated as usual by weather forecasts and predictions based on wind direction, altitude and travel time – nothing unusual aside from the fact barely any specific data existed. as true frontier climbing dictates, you cant just look on a website to answer all the questions so we had to get deep into the valleys to verify what was going on. initial recon in Futakuchi showed huge potential but the weather anomaly needed to catalyze the ice hadnt quite stabilized and the symphony of crashing ice was far from enticing. hours in slush, wet from warm snow, jet lagged and wondering if the gamble was worth it things became gloomy, buoyed only by possibilities in the forecasts and Chiba-san‘s optimism for other areas on the other side of the range. it wasnt what we came for but till conditions settled the idea of somewhere new was the best option.
the approach to Zao Ice Garden
long established as the place to go in Tohoku, Zao Ice Garden has enough stunning vertical ice lines for the potentials for overhanging mixed to be overlooked. despite an easily accessible cave with wild lines itching to go, none had been done. the obvious feature is a beautiful 30m blue pillar whos beguiling presence belied huge objective dangers that almost put an end to the trip and seriously affected group psyche. when things slip under the Gadd/Hueniken radar the shock waves are real and dont settle quickly, but the potentials opened up by the process of analysis and rethinking are amazing. in hindsight, the process of adjusting our perspective – as hard as it was – became fundamental to the routes that were done. without this the chance of just copy-catting the process and results of the Rockies may have been too easy. Japan deserves its uniqueness and to see how Will and Sarah switched the paradigm was as big a deal as watching them sequence the moves.
Sarah Hueniken making the step onto the hanging dagger on Fun Chimes M9, 40m, Zao Ice Garden, Yamagata
Fun Chimes (40m, M9) went up as the first route out there to engage the hanging ice and the roof of the cave. placements into the roofs iced-out cracks is true 45o overhanging ice climbing and the signature move out onto the suspended dagger is the set up for the thin frost, earth and ice above. its a Canadian-style mixed line reworked with Japanese features and doable enough to set the potential for the rest of the crag into motion. with a healthy Yamagata scene, chair-lift access and Chiba-san’s thumbs up, for the Ice Garden to become a Mixed Garden would be a straightforward and positive thing. from this our psyche started to lift and the temperatures stabilized, and this put our original ideas for Futakuchiback on the table.
Will’s idea of a rest day
that Futakuchi ever comes in is a result of a weather pattern that in normal years is solid but this winter was hard to predict. when it happens it happens and if youre not good to go it can pass you by. hourly scrutiny of the forecasts showed the pattern emerging later than usual and entering the final days available we scraped in at the start of the main cold plunge. literally overnight it all tightened up, froze and consolidated and the ideal lines could be tried, proving doable. its one thing to walk from the car and get on a world class vanguard route, its totally another to pull together the wherewithal, experience, attitude and work load and jump into a weird weather window and make it happen. its not just athleticism that sets great climbers apart from the rest.
Frozen Gold WI7, 100m
at the other end of the spectrum from Fun Chimes – which went up as a cool, fun, direct line linking charismatic features – Frozen Gold was the product of intensity, guile and vision. at over 90m and deep inside a volcanic flute formation, its an imposing line however you look at it. bizarre golden mantles are linked by small blobs that get smaller and line up directly beneath a large suspended icicle with nowhere to hide. at 75m you pull 2m out over air from the underside of the ice. situated at the valley head of a large buttress, dozens of these huge flutings exist, most with ice formations in the back and many much bigger. that none have been done previously is testament to the psyche needed to make them reality.
Will between the ice tiers on the first pitch of Frozen Gold WI7
neither of the 2 new routes came easily yet both went up in record time even with the extra levels of diligence put into making them safe. the nature of the underlying geology meant bolts were used where screws couldnt be, and the first ascents of both went unrehearsed and were photographed – profound for an M9, off-the-scale for a WI7 and an indication of the tightness of the whole operation. when Frozen Gold was done we stomped out, got in the car and drove directly to Tokyo. blitzed on coffee as we soared thru the tunnels and suspended freeways across Tokyo, Will jumped straight into his Arc’teryx presentation 6hrs after pulling the icicle on the FA of Frozen Gold. John had edited the images in the car on the way and the impact on the small audience was direct. Will didnt mince his words when telling them what was possible.
Will Gadd at the Arc’teryx store in Tokyo, 6hrs after doing the unrehearsed first ascent of Frozen Gold WI7
Sarah getting into the transition from frozen wilderness to digital wilderness on the Yamanote Line, Central Tokyo
in the end the world is left with 2 mixed routes that push the edges of skill, composition, location, style, vision and definition. these are not standard mixed lines where a sequence of dry moves end with a few moves on ice. harnessing the unique conditions and formations we found in Japan, the boundaries between ice and mixed are blurred and in flux. as Will stated at the Arc’teryx presentation, they are among the top routes he has done and the potential for more is vast. both routes exist in places with dozens if not hundreds of options right around them, and with the lid off the possibilities, both present the development of a unique type of ‘Japanese mixed‘. after a long time at a ceiling of old school M9 and WI6, Japan now has the doors open to what lays beyond.
so after a long time transmitting requests to help resolve Japan’s ice climbing deficiencies the wheels are now in motion; 2 new world-class routes put up by A-list athletes, dozens of new options thrown open, approval from the heart of Japan’s climbing scene and documentation by one of the best photographers for the job. repeats will be welcomed and new routes encouraged.
japan, asia & the world now have 2 new routes, both unique in their style, concept and location. with minimal working, maximum work ethic and a frontier mentality, Will Gadd & Sarah Hueniken forged both lines under crazy pressure during an express trip to the Tohoku region. with nearly zero beta and under dangerous conditions both routes were put up ultra-fast and climbed unrehearsed. both routes are on thermally affected geology that demand a blend of fixed and natural protection. both routes were done in a period of strange conditions with very lean ice at the start of the season.
FUN CHIMES 40m, m9, bolts and natural, Zao Ice Garden
Sarah Hueniken stepping onto the hanging dagger of Fun Chimes
weird spray features, thin pillars, hanging daggers, overhanging iced cracks and frozen earth; Fun Chimes runs the true spectrum of ‘mixed’ climbing. a 15m frozen crack links a short ice section to 15m of delicate vertical picking via a frozen crack and hanging feature. bolts reduce the risks of nasty falls, vocal ice and otherwise-unprotectable icerockearth.
FROZEN GOLD 90m/3 pitches, WI7, bolts and natural, Futakuchi
Frozen Gold: 100m of vision, gall & skill
a monster route with a monster vision, Frozen Gold earns its WI7 grade by blending bizarre skills, extended stress, lean ice, grim fall potential and objective uncertainty. years of ideas distilled into a vanguard route that Will rates in the top 5 he’s done. thin and globular ice in slightly overhanging sections, initially punctuated with narrow mantels and before a long pitch on decreasingly sized blobs then a final swing out onto a big frozen squid and some easy fat ice to the top.
OLD YUWATADO BRIDGE IM7 (INDUSTRIAL MIXED), 30m
weird weather, strung out and feeling fat? Industrial Mixed could be the answer to many first-world-problems.