Ever wonder what it might feel like to climb the frozen, icy walls of Niagara Falls in the dead of winter? Up until Canadian adventurer Will Gadd pulled off the feat on Jan. 27, nobody had a clue.
“There’s something like 4,000 semi-trucks worth of water going over the falls every second and all that water was going right past my head,” Gadd tells PEOPLE. “It’s such a dynamic environment with everything smashing down around you. You can literally feel it in your stomach. It’s this low-frequency bass thump that vibrates your intestines.”
It took Gadd an hour to ascend the 150-foot-high strip of unpredictable, often fragile ice that had accumulated from the mists and spray coming off the edge of Horseshoe Falls, the largest of Niagara’s three sections. “This type of ice was viewed as unclimbable for a long time,” says Gadd. “It’s literally frozen clouds that stick to the walls with the consistency of Styrofoam.”
The 47-year-old Gadd, who is also a world-famous paraglider, admits that there were only a couple of sketchy moments during his ascent of the planet’s most powerful waterfall. Early on, he had to navigate his way past a treacherous ice-rimmed pit of explosive rapids. “I nicknamed it, the Cauldron of Doom,” says Gadd, whose girlfriend, climber Sarah Hueniken, 34, made the ascent after her beau. “It’s like the most savage blender in the world. Normally, if you fall off during a climb, you’re going to get hurt. But if you fall into the Cauldron of Doom, that’s pretty much it for you.”
Halfway up the frozen wall with Niagara’s raging waters roaring past him at almost 70 miles per hour, Gadd’s ice tools – that he uses to grip the ice – froze over. “They got coated in ice because of the spray coming off the falls,” he says. “It was like hanging from a set of iced-over monkey bars. I had to thaw them out with my hands before I could continue.”
The energy drink maker Red Bull sponsored the climb that was originally intended to be kept secret until after the Super Bowl. But once word leaked out, Gadd’s feat quickly made world headlines – something that he wasn’t quite used to. “Normally I climb in such obscure locations with a partner and maybe the occasional goat that might watch us,” he says. “But now it feels like the whole world was watching.”
What does Gadd have planned for his next big adventure? “I’m taking my kids to a wave pool this weekend,” he says.