Gadd Speaks Out on Spray On

Posted on: February 11, 2010

About to begin Spray On (WI10, 90'), a steep new ice route by Will Gadd and Tim Emmett that is sparking controversy in the climbing world. [Photo] Gadd/Emmett collection

Two weeks ago, Will Gadd and Tim Emmett established Spray On, an ice climb in British Columbia unlike any other. Probably the world's steepest pure ice line—it overhangs by more than 45 degrees—it's also becoming the world's most controversial. Spray On is protected by a string of bolts, placed every few meters, and has been given the wild and unprecedented grade of WI10. (Read more about Spray On in the February 1, 2010 NewsWire.)

Gadd wrote to Alpinist with more information about the new line, the potential in Wells Gray Provincial Park and the controversial nature of Spray On, which he said represents "the future of ice climbing."

Gadd first heard about the steep, undeveloped amphitheater about 10 years ago. Upon visiting in January, he and Emmett had such a unique experience that Gadd regretted not visiting earlier. The future, however, is wide open. Gadd said the potential for similar overhanging spray-ice routes is vast: at least a hundred more uber-hard lines could climb out the amphitheater. If ice blanketed the cave's 460 vertical feet from top to bottom, dozens of outrageously overhanging and committing multipitch lines could be established by the world's best.

Most ice climbs are not protected by bolts alone, but Spray On is. Gadd and Emmett decided to bolt the line when they found no options for traditional protection due to the friable nature of the ice.

"The inch or so of clear ice next to the wall is very well-bonded and strong, with somewhere been no and six inches of 'foam' spray ice on top of this," Gadd said. "Sometimes the foam ice is strong enough to hold, sometimes it rips. You've got to really climb it carefully."

Beyond a lack of natural protection, the pair said that bolting would be the only safe way to mitigate ground-fall potential. Since the climb overhangs more severely than even the hardest conventional icefalls, a ground fall—even from higher on the route—remains a possibility.


Their decision to bolt has stirred controversy. Some believe, despite the potential dangers, the line should not have been bolted at all. Others have said that a hard water-ice grade also expresses the climb's inherent danger, so the grade of WI10 may accurately reflect the climb's difficulty but exaggerates its danger. Still more have suggested that Spray On represents a different sport entirely and/or warrants a new grading scale. An ongoing debate can be found on Gadd's forum:

Gadd said that ice grades at the high end are highly subjective, moreso than rock grades. "The grade is more about the lead experience, which of course changes dramatically for every leader with every ascent and what's going on in their heads... Looking at ice climbs based on their grade is just really missing the point. Ice is about beautiful formations, delicate movement, more surfing aesthetics than pulling really hard."

He added that Spray On "requires really good ice climbing skills, as well the power of M10 climbing. WI10 seems as legit as any water ice grade ever is, but again the grade is sort of irrelevant. The terrain, line and sheer 'Hell yeah!' of it all is what makes this route so damn cool to me and to Tim I think, the rest of it can be argued by others."

While the climbing community tries to classify their accomplishment, Gadd and Emmett are planning their next adventure to Wells Gray. They hope ice will form to the amphitheater rim next winter, presenting the possibility for a continuous line from bottom to top—all ice, Gadd hopes, or minimal drytooling.

"I'm as excited about this as I was when I realized you could climb rock to get to icicles," Gadd said. "It was a logical evolution in thinking. Or totally stupid, but it sure is fun!"

Sources: Will Gadd,,

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i know, lets all sit round and not climb anything because bolts are so damn evil. no more first ascents anywhere unless on natural pro, and if that means years between progressive, hard ascents lets all revel in the mediocrity.

sure, retro bolting free stuff is uncool, as is bolting anything with a long run out unless its lethal - but lets not put the cart before the horse.

bolts dont destroy a line, they only rev up the ethic police now and then. theres more metal in the bear proof bins that fill the picnic grounds than in wills new line.

of course we shouldnt go drilling and filling everything, that arguments too old to bother with. but we do gotta progress and that will at times need bolts. no doubt some day some whiz kid will come along do it without and the nay sayers can rest easy and say they told us so. but till then make room for progress.

2010-02-20 09:02:46
Lou Dawson

Fun level is definitely a valid criteria for how great a sport is. But if so, how about a different rating system, say, Fzero to Fhysterical? Now that would be activism...

2010-02-18 21:55:21
Will Gadd

The people who actually go and climb there, laugh at the madness of it, fall off when pumped silly, bleed from the facial cuts, move with the beauty of the place and love the climbing will know what's true and real. The rest? Electrons in the ether.

You've gotta go there and try the climbing out. Really, it's stupid fun, amazing, over-the-top fucking madness! I keep writing responses to the questions above, but it keeps coming down to the place and the climbing. If anyone wants to hold this discussion over a beer in the Helmcken Falls Lodge next February I'll be totally up for it, you will NOT regret the trip! But you better start training 'cause keyboard fitness won't do nothing for you there.

2010-02-18 21:39:11
Lou Dawson

Some of this is pretty simple in my view. First, a sport gets a reputation as being core because the practitioners challenge personal danger levels by going beyond ego and tapping into their creativity and spirituality. Then another sport takes the same name and to the average consumer and PR folks has the same appeal. It happened with rock climbing. I respect the new sports and certainly do think they're cool, but clipping a bolt ladder is not the same thing as leading a trad ice climb — no matter the angle of the climbing. Indeed, so far from it, the sport in my view should have a different name. But it unfortunately won't. So, my main thought is I'd challenge athletes such as Will to differentiate the two sports.

At least the photographers are doing some direct communication, as despite the dramatic lighting that connotes high levels of bravery and athletic skill, the photo above shows the rope going through an engineered artificial rock anchor _down_ to the climber as they rest on level ground. Perhaps the climber in the photo is gazing at the bolt in wonder at modern technology?

Again, I still respect the athleticism in this sort of stuff, but.

2010-02-16 04:46:20

Its called local ethics, decided locally, by local climbers. The other piece of the ongoing discussion that you, Nobody's Fool, seem to have ignored is respect for the style of the first ascent. Ames was climbed without bolts to begin with...thus climbers respect that style and don't place retrobolts, preserving the quality of the experience for those who come after. If you are a local climber to the area, you should have a voice in the process...locally. That's what we do where I live. On calling the scarcity of resources argument, you might be surprised to realize that a lot of climbers who place bolts are active environmentalists.

If you want a one size fits all argument, yours works pretty well, Nobody's Fool. In a world where everyone believes the same thing as you, that would make the discussion short. Thankfully, other climbers out there have examined their presuppositions more carefully before speaking, and have determined that 'climbing ethics' are a continuing discussion, not right/wrong, black/white, or your opinion/my opinion. If you have a more thoughtful argument to make, perhaps one that contributes a new way of thinking about this discussion, I hope to hear from you.

2010-02-14 01:59:56

F YA!! Lets bolt it all.. bring that future!! We might have to if the spray ice covers the bolts next year...

2010-02-13 11:08:44

The future of narcissism!!!

2010-02-13 05:01:12

The future of marketing!!!

2010-02-13 04:57:56
Nobodys Fool

Nope. Now I'm calling bullshit.

This isn't alpine? It's a wilderness area, why is it any different from an amphitheatre at 4K meters? What difference in definition makes it okay to scar the rock here but not on the Ames Ice Hose and for the very same reason! Someone thinks it needs protecting!

Blah frikkin' blah. There's not going to be a shred of pristine rock left ANYWHERE simply because someone can rationalize his choices and get everyone else to buy into it.

2010-02-12 10:34:44

The last thing the world climbing scene needs to do is stagnate. I say explore the potential of pure ice climbing in the least destructive manner possible while continuing to explore. It seems that, barring antigravity technology, that this was the only sensible method of protecting this crag route. If someone starts bolting something like this in the alpine I am going to have to call bullshit. However, this is a crag route, and it is quite possible that now, and in years to come, others will wish to explore the potential of pure ice climbing on this route and others which Gadd and others may wish to develop. There are plenty of pure ice routes out there that take a few pieces of rock pro, why argue about this one?

The WI10 grade? Who cares...grading is subjective to be sure. Look at the Alpinist mixed grade. Works for the sport routes at Haffner, but the fact is there are many quite technical pitches out there that don't fit in the 'pumpiness and reach' definition of mixed climbing, please toss that while we are having this discussion! Let's get a few folks like Lichtfried or out for the repeat and then decide based on their amalgamated opinions what the truth may be.

2010-02-12 06:29:30

Name the next route, "strap on" for those who want to dicker about the rating

2010-02-11 08:40:56

Cool and open minded! Bring the future on guys it what counts at the end of the day.

2010-02-11 06:17:22
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