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First Ascent Friday: Will Gadd Sends Amphibian in 1990s

Watch Will Gadd make the first ascent of Amphibian M9 WI5 in Vail, Colaorado in this rough-edit from the 1996/97 season by Freddie Snalam.

The two-pitch route was one of the earlier modern mixed routes in North America and the first M9 in the world. Gadd bolted it with Helgi Christianson and later wrote in a story that you can find here, “Helgi and I wanted to call our route Amphibian, after the evolutionary leap that allowed animals to live in water or on land, but neither of us could figure out how to manage the supernatural pump we found when tool steel met rock.

“We desperately over-gripped our tools, terrified that each creak of shifting metal on rock dust or mud would send us plummeting. Then the inevitable happened, and we discovered that on really steep terrain you could fall off safely. Nothing but net! Our grip relaxed a little, and soon we were climbing halfway up Amphibian before falling off.

“We invented an entire new way of using ice tools, first stein pulls, and then inverted stein pulls where I ripped the head off an ice ax while pulling on it as hard as I could with both feet planted on the wall.

“Tools evolved, as did we. And all the while, we were learning to relax our grip, little by little, getting farther and higher. I’ve had a lot of fun climbing in the last 30 years, but little approaches the childlike joy of unfolding the huge box of mixed climbing movement.

“Finally I learned to relax on my tools just enough to send Amphibian. I remember the joy of a wobbly tool placement into the thin ice smear at the top, and looking down between my heavy boots with traditional crampons on them, seeing nothing but air for 150 feet. I wasn’t any stronger than I had been, but I had learned to relax, open my hands and my mind, and to stop thinking so much.”

Gadd went on to establish many of the world’s test-piece cave-style mixed routes, climb new remote ice routes and make first ascents around the world.