Weekend Warm-Up: The Last Ascent

In 2014, Canadian ice climber Will Gadd, 52, made several first ascents of Kilimanjaro’s dwindling ice towers. As the glacier rapidly disappears from climate change, he returned in 2020 to make one last ascent.

Will Gadd on the Furtwangler Glacier on Mt Kilimanjaro, 2020. Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull


In the film, Gadd and his team explore the ice sculptures around Kili’s summit and ascend the ancient volcano via the iconic Messner route, something he didn’t do in 2014. Reinhold Messner first climbed the 90m ice wall in 1978 and still describes it as the riskiest thing he has ever done. Since then, only one other team has successfully climbed the route. Gadd is aware that he might be the last person to attempt it.

Will Gadd on the Northern Icefield of Kilimanjaro. Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull


The first thing that strikes them is how different the ice is from 2014. From a distance, they can see rockfall and far less ice than they would like.  So instead, Gadd and and his partner Sarah climb a section of wall that is at the same altitude as the Messner route but positioned in the shade. As they climb, they realize that the ice is already melting, even though in the early morning, it is in the shade. Then the sun hits. In short, the Messner route’s days are numbered.

Will Gadd comparing 2020 with 2014 at the Eastern Icefield. Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull


Throughout the video, you see the scale of ice decline. In 2014, Gadd left in awe of the massive ice sculptures he had climbed and amazed by the idea of ice climbing in Africa. In 2020, it is a much more sombre affair, as it becomes clear that the ice on Kilimanjaro will disappear completely. “We are robbing ourselves,” says Gadd.

Below, a six-minute teaser. If you like that, follow the link to view the full 45-minute film on the Red Bull site below that.