National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Will Gadd has completed his ascent on the last remaining and rapidly melting glacial ice atop Mount Kilimanjaro. This climb marks Gadd’s rise to the absolute highest point in all of Africa and stands as a reminder that these natural wonders will disappear in a few short years.
In October, after months of planning, Gadd embarked on his trip to Tanzania. Faced with the daunting first task of acclimatizing to the altitude, he reflects, “at 6,000M it’s challenging to even walk. Even before we reached the glaciers, I was gasping for air like a fish out of water. We would have to collapse just to breathe sometimes.” After a week of hiking, Gadd and his team caught the first glimpse of the rare ice formations, which he describes as “fins of ice sticking out of the hot sand…they look like icebergs on a tropical beach”.
A native of Western Canada, Gadd is used to glaciers retreating in his home mountain range of the Canadian Rockies. This African ice, however, has melted over the course of up to 12,000 years leaving enormous ice crystals that are more difficult to latch on to, with even the most advanced and lightweight climbing equipment. Will recalls, “some of the ice pieces I climbed one day had fallen apart and melted the next. It’s changing so fast up there that you have to be careful to choose a solid enough piece that isn’t going to just fall over onto you.”
A milestone in Canadian sport and in Gadd’s own personal adventure repertoire, he describes the climb as one of the most challenging and meaningful of his career. “I’ve climbed a lot of ice,” he says, “but this was special and extremely important because it was the last ice of its kind. I felt so very lucky to be there – these glaciers are just small remnants, they’re truly in their last gasp”.
Will Gadd has long been on a quest to climb ice on every continent in the world, and had decided to climb Tanzania’s ice glaciers years ago. He hadn’t set an urgent deadline to do so until he learned that more than 90 percent of the ice on top of Kilimanjaro had already melted. In fact, the entire 20-square kilometer peak of Africa’s tallest mountain was once covered with ice, but intense melting has left behind all but a handful of rare ice formations that will likely be completely gone in as little as five years.