Daredevils of Niagara Falls

Daredevils of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls refers to three waterfalls, in close proximity to one another, which are located on the southern end of Niagara Gorge, on the border of Ontario and New York. From smallest to largest, these three falls are named Bridal Veil Falls, American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The combination of these three falls has the highest flow rate of any other waterfall in the world with a maximum vertical drop of 165 ft and an average flow rate of 85,000 cu. ft. per second.

horseshoe falls

Horseshoe falls alone accounts for approximately 90 percent of the water flow coming from the Niagara river, making it the most powerful waterfall in North America. Having such a powerful force, it is no wonder that Horseshoe Falls has attracted adrenaline junkies of all sorts over the years to perform daredevilish acts at the falls. Some of these daredevilish acts include jumping into the falls, plunging over the falls in a wooden barrel, tight rope walking over the falls and, most recently, ice climbing the falls.

The pioneer of Niagara Falls daredevils

The first famous american daredevil was a man by the name of Sam Patch, also known as The Yankee Leaper, and became popular for his jump into the Niagara River at the base of the horseshoe falls back in the fall of 1829. The reason for his jump was to draw visitors to the falls which was quickly becoming a major tourist attraction.

Sam Patch did not jump directly off the cliff into the falls, instead jumping off of a 125 foot ladder which was placed over the river below goat island. The jump was successful but unfortunately it did not draw the crowd that he had expected so he returned to do it once more a few days later drawing a crowd of nearly 10,000 people.

This was just the beginning of many daredevilish acts that would follow on Niagara Falls.

Plunging over the falls in a barrel

Possibly the most popular stunt that has been accomplished at Niagara falls is packing oneself into a wooden barrel and plunging over the falls to the river below. The first person to ever try this was an unlikely suspect by the name of Annie Edson Taylor. Taylor was a 63 year old Michigan school teacher who decided to pack herself into a barrel and go over the falls as a publicity stunt. She had a custom made barrel built out of oak and iron with a mattress inside for padding.

Everyone thought this was a suicidal endeavour and resulted in no one wanting to assist her in guiding the barrel over the falls. That is until she did a test run using a cat on October 19, 1901, and to everyone’s surprise, the barrel was not damaged and the cat survived unharmed.

barrel plungingFinally on October 24, 1901, Taylors 63rd birthday, she climbed into the barrel which was placed over the side of a rowboat and sealed shut with her inside. The journey took a total of 20 minutes until she was re-captured by her helpers, relatively uninjured with only a minor gash on her head.

Since Taylors historic stunt, there have been 14 people that have willingly gone over the Horseshoe falls in a custom built device. Not all of them have been so lucky as Taylor with some of them drowning and others being severely injured. Those who did survive all received severe fines for doing this act as it is illegal in both Canada and the US.

Tightrope walking over the falls

Tightrope walking over the falls occurred, for the most part, in the late 19th century when there was an obsession with wire-walking in North America. The wires that these stunt devils walked across did not go over the falls themselves, but instead were suspended over the Niagara Gorge near Rainbow Bridge.

The first person to walk a tightrope over the gorge was Jean Francois “Blondin” Gravelet in 1859. Blondin was a french tightrope walker who did many impressive walks over the Niagara Gorge, drawing large crowds every time. There were three walks that he did where he carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back.

tightrope walking

The first and only women to ever cross the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope occurred in 1876 by Italian tightrope walker Maria Spelterini. She crossed the gorge 4 times over a period of 18 days, adding an extra element each time. On her first walk on July 12 1876, she had peach baskets hanging from her feet. On her second walk she decided to do it blindfolded, and on her third, with her ankles and wrists shackled.

Tightrope walking over the Niagara Gorge became illegal in 1896, surprisingly with only one death in the over 30 years of its existence. It wasn’t until 116 years later, on June 15, 2012, that someone was legally able to attempt the stunt again. Nik Wallenda received permission from both Canadian and US governments to cross a 550m tightrope closer to the Horseshoe falls. This was recorded as the longest unsupported tightrope walk in history.

Ice climbing Horseshoe Falls

Ice climbing such a powerful waterfall is not a very common feat considering that temperatures need to be extremely cold for the ice to solidify enough for climbing. Luckily for daredevil ice climber Will Gadd, the winter of 2015 gave him the perfect conditions needed.

On Jan 27, 2015, Will Gadd became the first person to ice climb the Horseshoe Falls. He said it took a lot of planning and the pure power of the falls made it the most difficult climb of his life due to all the moisture that was accumulating and freezing on his climbing gear as he ascended.