The Sunday Magazine

Three Canadian climbers discuss the risks and rewards of extreme adventure

Sharon Wood, Laval St. Germain and Will Gadd are three Canadian adventurers who test human limits on extreme landscapes. They speak about about the risks and rewards of their incredible feats — and some of the world's most forbidding, yet vulnerable places.
Three of Canada's extreme adventurers in conversation with The Sunday Edition guest host David Gray on the deck of the Alpine Club of Canada hostel in Canmore, Alberta. From left to right: Will Gadd, David Gray, Sharon Wood, Laval St. Germain.

Three Canadians, all extreme adventurers, are among the first and the fastest to have braved the world's highest mountains, climbed untamed and treacherous ice faces, and crossed the ocean in a one person rowboat. 

The Sunday Edition's guest host David Gray spoke to them to find out just what makes them do it. Are they thrill-seekers, or are they driven by higher motives? Why do they put themselves at risk, over and over again? 

For Will Gadd, selfishness or narcissism is an extricable part of being an adventurer. 

Gadd is an ice climber, world-record paraglider pilot and kayaker. He's climbed some of the most treacherous ice in the world — and he is the first person to scale the ice-covered rock wall beside Niagara Falls. 

"This is the life I've chosen," Gadd said. "I've worked very hard to be able to live my life in the way that I find the most meaning. It's the Socratic Oath of, you know, 'The unexamined life is not worth living' and that self-examination is in some ways a little bit narcissistic."

"You have to go, 'What do I actually want in life and how am I going to make a life that gives me that?' So, yes, of course it's self-centred," Gadd added.

I think it has to be all about you in some ways, to achieve that level of mastery and that level of skill.- Sharon Wood

Sharon Wood agrees: "It started out for me as being incredibly [self-]centred ... all about me, especially in my twenties."

Wood is an alpine guide who's been climbing for more than 40 years. In 1986 she was the first North American woman to summit Mount Everest — and the only woman in the world to do so via the difficult West Ridge, and without Sherpa support. Her new memoir, Rising, will be available this September. 

"I think it has to be all about you in some ways, to achieve that level of mastery and that level of skill," Wood said. "You have to have that level of focus and you put a lot of things aside to do that." 

"[That's] an excellent point about the things that you eliminate in order to do this … the things that you don't do in order to do this," Laval St. Germain added. 

He is a pilot and the only Canadian to have climbed Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. St. Germain is also the only person to have climbed and skied Iraq's highest peak. And he holds the record for the fastest solo crossing of the North Atlantic by ocean row boat from mainland North America to mainland Europe.

"I had an uncle who died at a young age of a heart attack — great guy, life of the party, loved his beer, his fatty food, his poor diet — and he died before he was 50," St. Germain said. "That to me is a far higher-risk lifestyle than the stuff that we do."

In this May 22, 2019 photo, a long queue of mountain climbers wait to reach the summit of Mount Everest. (@nimsdai, Project Possible/AFP)

David Gray also spoke to the adventurers about an astonishing photograph that went viral this spring, in which hundreds of colorfully-clad climbers are seen standing cheek by jowl, awaiting their turn to summit the world's tallest peak, Mount Everest. 

When he saw the photo, Will Gadd said he thought, "Wow, what a similarity between a feedlot and a mountain. What are they doing up there? Why are so many people there? What is the point of that?"

"And the next thing I thought was, 'Gee I really hope they all get down,'" Gadd said.

"It's hard to feel any shock about what goes down on Everest these days." Sharon Wood added, "because it's been sneaking up on us for years … this change from an adventure era to what is the commercial era on Everest." 

To hear the full conversation, click 'listen' above.


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