“If pirates got up these towers, they certainly were good climbers,” says Canadian climber and paraglider Will Gadd, seen with partner Sarah Hueniken on Skerwinkle Rock, a sea stack rising out of the ocean near East Trinity in Newfoundland, Canada.
Climbing the sea stack in Newfoundland
Legend has it that pirates left their treasure on top of the isolated rock formations by leaning their boat masts against the spire and if that is true they must have had the longest masts ever seen!
There are sea stacks all around the world, but those at East Trinity represented unchartered territory for climbers which was part of their allure to Gadd and Hueniken. With 30 years of experience under his belt, Gadd wanted to try something new and the sea stacks looked like a worthy challenge. “These are terra incognita – nobody has climbed these things,” he said. “We don’t know how to get on them, we don’t know how to get off them… we don’t even know if they’ll stay standing!”
Gadd had selected the site after discovering it on Google Earth. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be. ‘Sea stack… climb it! How hard can it be?!’ That’s what I thought. But there was a lot going on and we had to consider a path through. It’s all about figuring out how to work with the hazards and the environment and get where you want to go.”
Will Gadd and Sarah Hueniken climbing a sea stack near East Trinity
From land sea stacks look relatively small, but with a human being up close and personal and looking positively ant-sized you realise how formidable they are.
The unfathomables were what the climbers had to get used to. Climbing out of water was one of them. This presented a whole new dimension from climbing off terra firma. And then they discovered that the rock was very very friable. “It was some of the least predictable, scariest rock that I’ve ever climbed!” Gadd later commented. Much of the rock was loose and crumbling, with, as they climbed, large sections breaking off entirely. “This climb had by far the worst rock I’ve ever climbed. It was more like climbing rotten ice than rock… Nothing’s ever easy… if it was then somebody would have done it already!”
Pressing on determinedly the pair relied on close teamwork to get up four sea stacks. An extraodinary site was waiting for them on the top of one of them – a huge colony of ants surviving and thriving on a 20-by-20-ft summit. “I have no idea how they survived for so long, as there was no way for them to reach the mainland,” says Gadd. “We felt like we were the only food they had seen in decades and had to run for our lives!”
Photographer Christian Pondella took these wonderful photos. He has worked with Gadd for many years. “Will and I have been on many great adventures together, and this was pretty similar to most,” he said. “We had an idea of what we were getting into but had no idea of how it would unfold when we got there.”
Pondella used rope to hang over the edge of a cliff adjacent to the sea stack and photographed from there. “Fortunately the sea stacks were close to the shore, so I was able to shoot them from the sea cliffs. It was a perfect vantage point, I was the same height as the top of the sea stack.”
Photographs courtesy of Christian Pondella, Red Bull Content Pool