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A Tribute to Guy Edwards by Sean Isaac

One of Canada's boldest climbers who soloed the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, naked, in 18 minutes up and down

Guy Edwards and John Millar went missing in Alaska in April 2003. The following is a tribute by Sean Isaac.

When Guy Edwards left my house in Canmore a week before departing for Alaska and his planned attempt on the infamous and still-unclimbed northwest face of the Devil’s Thumb, I felt an urge to caution him, “Be careful please. That’s a big, dangerous face.

Only two weeks later, after driving for three days to the Utah desert, I finally got a chance to check my email. My in-box was full of tragic news. Guy and his partner, John Millar, were missing. I stood dazed in the Moab library as tears welled up in my eyes. I had always thought of Guy as being invincible. The exotic adventures, the necky solos, the open bivies, he climbed and lived at a louder volume than the rest of us. I had always strived to emulate Guy’s example. I instantly felt lost knowing he was gone.

Guy Edwards
Guy Edwards

I first met Guy Edwards over 10 years ago in the Pines campground of Mt Arapiles. “So, your from Canada too, eh? Do you want to go bouldering?” a hyperactive, curlyed-haired version of the Energizer Bunny blurts enthusiastically at me. It was early evening and Guy had just burned out two partners already that day but he was still chomping at the bit for more. I would soon learn that the word “rest day” did not exist in his world and that every waking moment he spent being passionate about life.

When I first met him, he was already an accomplished all-round climber at the age of 20. The next ten years, he would put those skills to the test on the mountains of the world: thin air of Aconcagua’s south face, splitter granite of Patagonia and Kyrgyzstan, ice and snow of the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca and New Zealand’s Southern Alps, quartzite of Mali’s desert towers. These and many more were always done on a shoestring budget in classic dirt bag style.

Guy prided himself on being competent in all climbing disciplines: ice, snow, sport, cracks, aid, boulders, and even plastic. Solid on 5.12 trad and sport, grade 6 ice and M9 mixed, there was nothing he couldn’t ascend. He was a bold soloer too, with many alpine and rock climbs under his belt completed alone. This 3rd class style suited his hyper, spontaneous personality well. The Becky-Chouinard in the Bugaboos, north ridge of Mount Stuart in the Cascades (speed record), and the central pillar of Baichichi Key and the first ascent of the Ochre Walls in Kyrgyzstan were just a few of his solo ticks. Speed ascents were yet another forte for Fast Eddie. From Squamish to the Garhwal, from the Ak-su to La Esfinge, he shattered records wherever he went.

However, it was the foolish antics that Guy was known for throughout the world. Wherever he went, locals were left with entertaining yarns of the Canadian called Guy. My favorite of these “Guy Stories” is when he was determined to beat his old record on the classic west ridge of Pigeon Spire in the Bugaboos. In order to achieve a sub-twenty minute time, he decided he needed to go as lightweight as possible. This meant bringing nothing but the “bare” necessities: rock shoes and a chalk bag. That’s it. Picture the stunned expressions of guides and their clients as Guy streaks past them butt-naked. Needless to say, the tactic worked and he achieved his new record.

Not only a climber, Guy was the consummate Coast Mountain adventurer. Bred on British Columbia bush and lengthy trail-less approaches, he sought the pure method of environmental mountain travel, shunning helicopters and all other forms of the combustible engine including cars when possible. One such excursion was when Guy and Vance Culbert climbed the northwest summit of Mt Waddington from their homes in Vancouver. They sea kayaked up Bute Inlet and skied the 55-mile wilderness approach to the peak. After climbing it, they bushwhacked to the logging roads and tried to hitch hiked back home.

This, however, was a wee stroll in the hills compared to their tour de force. In the winter of 2001, Guy and Vance, joined by John Millar, completed the longest technical ski traverse in the world. Again departing form their homes in Vancouver, they began the compete traverse of the Coast Mountain range all the way to Skagway, Alaska taking five and a half months.

It was this trip that Guy finally met someone that, as he puts it, “moves faster than me in the mountains.” John Millar and he struck up a partnership that led to a string of incredible alpine first ascents.

Last year, Guy had a season that would read like the lifetime resume of a lot of professional climbers. In six months, he completed 10 major alpine routes, 6 of which were news worthy first ascents: A new 500m M7 mixed route on Mt Joffre in the Coast Range; two new alpine rock routes in the Devil Thumb’s area; an unclimbed 1400m rock rib on Mt Tiedemann in the Waddington Range; an unclimbed spire in the Bugaboos; followed by an expedition to Indian Garhwal.

In India, he and John made the first ascent of the remote 1500m-west face of Swachand 6721m (the second ascent of the mountain), over 5-days via a M6 WI5 mixed route. As if that was not enough, they ran up Shivling in a 10-hour push from highcamp to highcamp. Motivation was not lacking as Guy raced into his third decade of an already jammed packed life. Next on the agenda, polish off the unclimbed North Face of Devil’s Thumb then off to Jannu in Nepal. When asked once were he gets his drive, he simply stated, in his typical nonsensical manner, “from my curly hair!”

Without question, Guy was Canada’s best, albeit unknown, mountaineer. Not only a climber though, he was an accidental entertainer. He made people laugh were ever he went. His choice of dress was always an attention getter, the brighter and more obnoxious his garb, the better. He stood out wherever he went. Blending in was not Guy. Day-Glo shirts and pants were his attire of choice. Add a little fluorescent toe nail polish and he needless to say, he was easy to recognize, whether it was downtown Squamish or the streets of Huarez. He lived for the silly and the absurd.

Within Canada, Guy’s name was well known even though avoided the spotlight and the trappings of the media. He impressed everyone with his climbing prowess and incredible humility. I mean true humbleness. He was liked and respected by all, making instant friends and new partners wherever he went. Wouldn’t matter if you were a 5.8 beginner or a Himalayan expert, he was always eager to share a rope. I know many unassuming new partners who have found themselves on epicing on hard FA’s just because they innocently responded with a “yes” to Guy’s “Do you need a partner?”

His kind spirit impressed all. Christian Beckwith recalls one particular incident in the West Kokshaal-tau range on Kyrgyzstan that will forever be his memory of who Guy was. After completing a solo enchainment of an unclimbed peak with a new route on a 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 commented something about being “too wired and awake now” so propelled himself in the early morning light up the 2000-foot 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. Impressive you might say, but really just another day in the life of Guy.

Guy was also an intellect. Growing up in a household without television, he was spared the brainwashing effects of pop-culture. Instead, he read and read and read. Guy would charge through books absorbing like a sponge in his need to quench his thirst of knowledge. Having completed his geological engineering degree in between expeditions and road trips, he worked part-time doing landslide stability research and evaluation for logging and mining companies saving just enough coin to cover next adventure. Transcending social expectations, he avoided the “normal” life and its securities for unhindered freedom and the pursuit of passion.

Climbing was his life but also his addiction. He spoke to me many times of quitting and getting a steady job but I knew that would never happen. Guy would never be content with status quo. He was far above average in all he did.

In mid-April, Kai Hirvonen, John Millar and Guy skied up the Baird Glacier from Thomas Bay and established camp at the foot of the face. Within two days of arriving, the weather stabilized so they approached the face with 5 days worth of food and fuel. At the base, Kai turned around while Guy and John committed to the climb. After 3 1/2 days and a major storm, Kai saw no sight of them on the face. He skied out alone and summoned a rescue. An exhaustive helicopter search revealed nothing as to their disappearance and was eventually called off.

I couldn’t help but think that Guy, being the resourceful adventurer he was, would show up on some logging road trying to hitch hike a ride home after firing this alpine prize and descending some unknown way. This scenario would have suited him very well but it was just an unrealistic fantasy that would not materialize. He and John were not coming back.

Guy was not only my climbing partner and friend but much more. To many like myself, he was also my mentor and hero. His praise meant so much to me. His criticisms were always honest and helped me to grow and mature. I learned lots from Guy: spontaneity, thriftiness, friendliness, and above all silliness. He was the ultimate Dharma climber, doing it for the experience and the people.