If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest and aren’t a climber, you might not know who Guy Edwards is. For the rest of us he’s a goddamn hero.
Unassuming and humble, with Sideshow Bob-esque hair and a fashion sense best described as “freegan,” Guy routinely slips under most people’s radar. I once witnessed an over-earnest girl at a local climbing gym give Guy an impromptu lesson on his “improper” foot technique, for which Guy was absolutely thrilled. “Oh…wow, OK, thanks!” Little did she know that Guy was the current speed record holder of The Grand Wall + Roman Chimneys route in Squamish (10 pitch, 5.11d), climbing it with his improper technique in 1 hour and 44 minutes. He also holds the speed record for Pigeon Spire in the Bugaboos (II, 5.4), 18 minutes up and down, soloed naked for extra style points.
He’s got numerous alpine first ascents, from Aconcagua to the Himalayas. He’s skied a record breaking 2015 km from Vancouver to Skagway, Alaska. When he was done his only comment was “I wish it wasn’t over.”
Perhaps my favourite story of Guy comes from Christian Beckwith, recalling an incident in the West Kokshaal-tau range on Kyrgyzstan:
After completing a solo enchainment of an unclimbed peak with a new route on an only once-before climbed peak, Guy proceeded to head out in the middle of the night to bring food and water to Christian, Carlos Buhler, and Mark Price who had an epic day on another new route. Shepherding the tired trio safely back to the tents at advanced basecamp by dawn, he mentioned something about being “too wired and awake now” so he propelled himself in the early morning light up the 2000 ft east face of the Ochre walls, not only making the first ascent of the wall but also traversing over two more unclimbed summits before descending.
Other mountaineers, on their last beleaguered efforts up a remote peak, tell tales of a “weird curly haired guy” who sprints past them on his third of fourth ascent of the peak that morning.
What have you been up to so far this summer?
I went to Devil’s Thumb for a month and a touch. Mid May to mid June. It’s halfway up the Alaskan Panhandle. It’s kind of like the North American Patagonia, bad weather and all. We had two good days out of twenty one, and the forecast was calling for more bad weather, so we bailed.[Read more of Guy’s Devil’s Thumb climbing here: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP01/climbing-note-edwards]
So you went buildering last night?
Yup, but this interview is about you. When was your last time buildering?
I suppose the Radical building with you, but I’ve been looking at the Chan Centre lately. It’s been on my mind for years since I last tried it in ’98.
The roof has a 5 ft outcropping of glass preventing you from topping out. I’m going to bend a coat hanger around some webbing, and use it to reach out and loop the webbing around the little bars that extend from the glass. Then I’ll just pull off the coat hanger, and clip in a piece of gear. Sound like the right idea?
Aren’t you afraid the glass will break?
It has to be strong. It’s meant to withstand heavy snow loads and wind.
Don’t you find the metal tiles really slippery?
Yes, but you can get some stuff to put your hands and feet in so that they won’t sweat.
No not chalk, something that actually prevents you from sweating. Like underarm deodorant, only you put it on your hands and feet. There’s a lot of surfaces on buildings where it’s important that you don’t sweat. Like glazed tiles and well-made brick.
What have you climbed off-campus?
I usually go for aesthetic things like Science World or Sun Tower (100 W Pender). That building isn’t easy to climb any more because they took the good stairways off.
What about the Macmillan Bloedel building?
Oh that big chimney? It’s an unclimbed chimney, the ultimate buildering challenge in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure that it still has not been done.
There were legends that Greg Cameron climbed it. He was the guy who soloed Pipeline [Squamish, 5.10c offwidth]. He came down to Vancouver with Tom Gibson, Rod Groen, the Squamish climbers that first climbed freeway, and Perry Beckham. They were all out drinking in Vancouver one night and as rumor has it Greg soloed the MacBlo chimney and then had to knock on the door at the top to get security so he could get down. But it’s not true. The truth is he went up six or seven stories, which is a fair ways, but the building is 33-35 stories high. So yeah it’s an urban myth that he climbed it.
Another good local buildering story: Greg Fowraker climbed a handcrack between two buildings in Victoria, but the buildings were glazed ceramic blocks, and he had protected the crack with cams. He fell and all his cams ripped out. He landed on his back and had to be taken to the hospital.
Have you climbed the Lions Gate Bridge?
I’ve been up it a few times. You can walk underneath the far end of the bridge and climb up a ladder inside one of the pillars, or you can walk up the cables. Definitely the most aesthetic way is to walk up the cables. They are phenomenal. It’s like a Via Ferrata [an Italian/Spanish climbing phenomenon where rock routes are equipped with ladders, cables, even bolt on holds].
As far as bridge climbing goes, in Quebec City they often climb Le Pont De Quebec and they climb it without any problem from the police. It’s not as exposed as the Lions Gate. The Lions Gate is more exposed than a lot of things that a climber would do. In Australia they guide people up the Sydney Harbor Bridge. For $50 anyone can go up there.
Matt Buckle, Jacqui, and I drove out to the Lions Gate recently. It’s quite a bit brighter now due to the new renovations. You’d want to do it early in the morning sometime when there is less traffic.
When did you graduate from UBC?
Were you involved in Varsity Outdoor Club?
I was always associated with it in some form, but didn’t always pay my fees. I was really keen, but I never did a Longhike [the first and biggest VOC event of the year]. I remember having some good buildering sessions after the instructor meetings for Longhike. I used to go to the meetings just to go buildering afterward.
Who do you builder with?
Dave Vocadlo, John Sims, mmm…actually when I first started buildering, the first year I was at UBC [91-92], I climbed with an old friend named Kai Pajet. Kai and Guy, we were quite the team. He was into smoking pot and skipping school to do yoga. I slept in the Geology building that semester and he’d come out at night to go buildering. I remember we did the big roof on the War Memorial Gym together.
That’s in the old guidebook. Did you aid up the electrical conduit?[laughs] No that’s crazy! I’d never do that. We just climbed out a window onto the lower roof. The main roof is tricky though.
[Route as described in Dick Culbert’s 1968 Cragrat’s Guide to UBC:
Route This is one of the more classical artificial routes on campus, and its solution demonstrates how even the most unlikely looking buildings may sometimes be climbed with a little ingenuity.
Lower Section 1st asc. 1965 A. Purdey, R. Culbert
Begin from western end of porch on north-west corner. Just beyond the railing here a conduit pipe runs up wall to sub-roof overlooking pool. There are cross-grooves every so often in the cement, and pitons may be jammed in grooves behind pipe. Now as a rule, when weight is put on these pitons, the pipe warps and the pins rotate — flipping out. Hence it is best to put on only partial weight and then then slip a prussic knot on conduit as it pulls away from wall. In this fashion proceed to roof.
Upper section 1st asc. 1963 – G. Headley, B. McKnight.
The party recorded above originally solved the problem of the summit overhang, reaching the forementioned sub-roof by coming out windows from inside the building. From subroof ascend these windows to ventilators under final overhang. Using sling tied on the ventilator struts go straight out, hanging free in etrier. From outer edge of ventilators reach up and hook claw-hammer of fifi-hook on edge of roof. This last movement is somewhat tricky.]
Any buildering first ascents?
Oh I’m sure. We did the first ascent of the new Koerner Library. It wasn’t quite finished yet, we had to go over a fence to get into it. That was really good — one of my favorites.
So do you have any specific equipment that you use for buildering? Any high friction or low friction t-shirts? Do you always wear black? Or does it just kind of happen?
I think gray is better than black. It depends on what you’re climbing. Last night I wore khakis with a brown shirt on the Children’s Hospital’s smokestacks, which are brown. But back to you…
I have to tell you ArdArvin, I think I’m a has-been builderer. I definitely appreciate you giving respect to the people who came before you, as you can always build off their knowledge, but I think I’m a has-been.
Your bold climbing style fits the buildering mold perfectly. You are definitely not a has-been climber.
No not in climbing, but in buildering. It takes a special kind of determination to builder. Maybe I’ll have a second wind. I think I need to go back to school, buildering requires downtime.
You need friends to do it with. Buildering isn’t a very fun solo activity.
Yeah maybe, but then there is also the buildings you climb for the spiritual aspect of it. Like during sunset time when you just want to get high up to watch the sunset. Scarfe [UBC education] is a good one for that. That’s a goodie.
Up the I-Beams?
Yes. I remember when they put those I-Beams in. That was a good thing. Very nice of them. I think they put those in with the mindset of creating a new buildering route.
Did you ever play in the UBC steam tunnels?
I’ve been in the steam tunnels, which are all locked up now, and in the vortex. The steam tunnels are utility passages where the steam is transferred from building to building. The vortex is the storm sewer system, or flood water actually, not sewage. One of my most memorable nights buildering was spent in the storm system.
Kai and I were looking for the entrance to these steam tunnels, so we were checking all the manhole covers on campus. There was one manhole behind the biology building, actually about 50m from your Oceanography dyno problem. Anyways, we lifted the cover and it was the entrance to a huge underground water tank. A storm runoff type of thing, I think they pump it out when it gets to a certain level. So we looked around and found a refrigerated big suitcase type thing and a bunch of rope. We lowered it down into the tank — now we had a boat. We boated around inside these underground caverns, in this gross water. It was great.
I went back this spring with Kenny Frazz. My rope was still tied up to the boat, 9 years later! The boat had sunk but we pulled it up and re-floated it. But we didn’t go down and go boating.
I heard you used stand at the back of the classroom and open and close your hands repeatedly, for rock climbing training.[laughs] That was when I used to go to school at Simon Fraser University. There is some really good buildering at SFU, but it’s a little more exposed and such. I hurt my back that year and couldn’t sit down very well, so I used to stand at the back of the classroom and I would train. In a couple classes the prof had written the textbook, so you didn’t need to take any notes, just listen.
Any naked buildings ascents?
No. I’ve done the first naked traverse at a couple climbing gyms but no buildings.
One in Cranbrook, the other at UBC.
If I make a “Concrete Nudes” calendar, can you promise to model in it?
Oh yeah, but I don’t think I have a nice enough bum.
I was thinking more of a top down cleavage shot.
There we go. You could distort the angle so it looks like I have really thick arms and thick legs…and a small penis. That’s what keeps people in the mountains and not into buildering you know. If you have a really small penis and balls that retract, you are good for mountaineering. Otherwise you’d better go buildering. That’s been my theory for awhile.
Do you have a list of classic buildering problems?
How about a list of UBC classics:
- The Student Rec Centre is definitely classic. The layback up the T-beams, it’s fun and easy. Like going and doing Penny Lane [Squamish, 5.9] or something.
- The Buchanan traverse is definitely a classic. That’s a ridge wandering walk. Good views down at night time. You can do it at any time really, without having to worry about people calling security.
- Main Library, but I’ve never climbed it, have you?
Nope, the gutters fell off. It’s definitely a classic route from olden days when the gutters were still on there. I think they broke off from people climbing on them.
Other good classics in Vancouver are the planetarium…just pulling the lip. That is really good. Really, really good. You climb the easy wall to get onto the roof, mantle up the first ledge by the windows, and then you reach out and there is a big jug on the lip. It’s quite exposed. You pull the jug and mantle onto the slab. I’ve never been up the slab, I think you need to aid it. I think you’d have to nail pins into a knife-blade crack. And then you have to deal with the overhanging wave at the top. I want to launch my paraglider off the planetarium roof, but it’s broken right now.
100 West Pender, the Sun building, that’s pretty classic. It’s a heritage building, but now it’s hard to get up the first six stories.
I’ve always wanted to get a grappling hook and do BC Place. There are so many things, and so many yet to be done. We are in the Golden Age of buildering really. One person, if they were really keen, could get a lot of classics.
What do you know about crane swinging?
Well that’s a bit scarier than walking the Lion’s Gate Bridge. It’s kind of like bungee jumping. I’ve done a crane swing with Kai…right over there actually [points to an apartment building across the street]. Right beside the Big Bam Boo [local supremely trashy bar where I once witnessed a couple having sex in the alley, the dude saying “come on baby, let me put it in just once.” Not sure where or which had been used before. Either way, she wasn’t having it.]
A crane consists of the shaft and the boom. You can set up your swing two ways. The first is to tie your rope to the end of the boom, and you jump from the boom. The problem is it’s rare to get enough clearance because they usually park the boom over a building, not out into space. So what you have to do is tie your rope midway on the boom, and then jump from lower on the shaft.
So Kai and I were set up to jump from the shaft on the crane near the Big Bam Boo. We had a tag line so that the person from the shaft could pull you back in after swinging. When you swing out you need quite a bit of slack, and then you pull the tag line to stop swinging. Well there were these power lines with bright orange flags for the crane person. And sure enough, the tag line hit the power lines. The first time it hit, I thought “Oh God, that’s the end. We’re dead”. But nothing happened so we kept doing it.
Someone was watching us the whole time, and called the cops. It took an hour for the police to come. We were already at the base, packing up and leaving when the cops arrived. And Kai’s brother was there who was only 12 years old or something. We got in more trouble for bringing a minor than for swinging.
But the best crane swing I’ve ever done was going off of the boom. I went to do a boom swing once with a guy named Andrew Port. He had never done it before so he was keen on just going for it. He went first. I always build up this internal fear when it’s something like that.
We tied a 25m rope close to the end of the boom. Andrew had another rope with him so that he could rappel. He just walked back 25m and went for it.
When he jumped the crane just started swinging like crazy. It was incredible. I was freaked because I was just hanging onto the boom, and the whole crane was shaking back and forth. The amount of force that you create is incredible.
So I had to go next, cause I’d never done a boom swing before. It was great. The crane was rocking like crazy but you don’t notice when you are the one swinging.
Shifting gears, your speed ascent of the Grand Wall + The Roman Chimneys [1hr 44minutes], how did you do it?
Sean Isaac and I simul-climbed the whole thing. We had a 30m rope, which is the perfect length because that’s about the height of the split pillar. And that’s the only section where you don’t have a bolt except for Apron Strings but that’s not too bad. With a 30m rope you don’t have much rope drag. We did it in 3 or 4 pitches.
It took 40 minutes just to walk along the top of the Grand Wall and then climb up the Roman Chimneys.
Bert vs. Ernie in a fistfight. Who would win?
Ernie definitely if he didn’t run away. Ernie could negotiate the blows. He’s kinda the Kenny Frazz type, short and stocky, quick twitching muscles. Yeah he’d be a good builderer. Bert is more of a mountaineer, just out there for the experience.
But why do you really care about a fight? You should be a pacifist. You live in here surrounded by all these other people. Where are your beliefs, where are your morals?
These are things people want to know.
Who are these people? Are you the media that cares about the reality of the world, or the creative made-up ridiculous world?
Well I guess I’d have to pick the latter. I’m trying to give the reader a sense of who you are as a person. That said… Fast Eddie [aka Guy Edwards] vs. Spiderman in an arm-wrestle?
Oh my. I think Spiderman would win. He’s the real hero. Fast Eddie is an antihero, a non-hero. Plus Fast Eddie would let Spiderman win, because he needs to win for the good of mankind. Spiderman is morally correct, he’s like the John Millar of superheroes.
Any final words?
When buildering, carry a water bottle to wash your hands. You never know what you’ll get on your hands. Iron Oxides and paints and whatnot.
Also, it’s quite easy to talk your way out of sticky situations with security. The key is to bring it down to their level. Start talking about hockey or baseball or something really trivial.
Oh and another really good climb in Greater Vancouver is the radio towers on Mt. Seymour. Really good. Really high.
I think I read somewhere that climbing antennas is bad for you. It gives you cancer or something.
You should look into that, because you need to keep your audience informed. Or you could just live for the thrill of the moment.
Guy Edwards and John Millar disappeared April 14th 2003 on a return trip to the Devil’s Thumb in Alaska. They were attempting the unclimbed northwest face when a massive avalanche hit the route. Their bodies were never found. The face is known for its enormity and unstable conditions, and is still unclimbed to this day.
To say they were an inspiration would be cliché and an understatement. Guy and John: we miss you sorely. Your example of lives lived beautifully will be with us forever.