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Gadd Speaks Out on Spray On

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,,