Andrew Boyd has been establishing some of the hardest, boldest free climbs in Canada for decades, but many climbers have never heard of him. He’s not one for the limelight, preferring to climb for himself. Boyd still maintains an unwavering set of ethical standards against rebolting existing routes and chipping holds.
“I’d say Andrew is the constant explorer. You go to any cliff in the Sea to Sky Corridor and chances are there’s going to be a Boyd route somewhere–and there’s a good chance it’ll be terrifying,” said Will Stanhope, a friend of Boyd’s who is also known for bold climbing that includes a free solo of The Zombie Roof (5.12d/13a) in Squamish and the first free ascent of the Tom Egan Memorial Route (VI 5.14) on Snowpatch Spire (3063m) in the Bugaboos, British Columbia.
Now in his late thirties, Boyd first started climbing in Squamish when he was fourteen years old. Within a couple of years he was free climbing beautiful Squamish lines–many of them aid lines from a previous era.
He holds a strict ethic that climbs go unaltered by the addition of fixed hardware, thereby acknowledging the vision and efforts of the first ascentionists. It’s a rule he picked up during his early days in Squamish while living in Rat Rock, a cave among the Grand Wall Boulders.
“You can make any piece of rock climbable to anybody, but that’s not climbing to me,” he said. “[The rock] gives you what it is and I don’t change it. It’s my ethic. All I did was do it in a different style. Most of these routes were found forty years ago and somebody did it in another style. In my personal, humble opinion, you don’t have the right to go in there and change it and then call it something else.”
One area standing as a testament to his style is the Leviticus Crag, across the highway from Murrin Park. Each of the three routes he freed here are serious pieces of climbing–the 2012 edition of Squamish Select denotes them as: Leviticus (5.12d), Sixty-nine (5.13b), and Shadows (5.12c). Each is accompanied with a ghost symbol, indicating runout climbing with sparse protection. When Boyd was through climbing them, they remained unaltered. He climbed these in the years from 1998 to 2001, noting that back then the highway traffic was less of nuisance than it is today.
“These routes were really the start of it all,” he said. “They were all previous aid routes with names that stayed the same. Leviticus had pins that I couldn’t get out, Sixty-nine was all gear and Shadows had one existing bolt that I replaced.”
Boyd freed numerous other routes in the Smoke Bluffs and on the Chief. His free ascent of the first three pitches of The Opal (5.13a) in 1998 garnered a particular renown and produced stunning images, one of which was featured on the cover of Alpinist 43.
“He definitely has a knack for picking out these really proud beautiful, daring lines,” Stanhope said, pointing out The Broom (V10) on the Grand Wall Boulders as a quintessential Boyd route. “It’s really high, incredibly insecure and it’s only seen a handful of ascents, and not for lack of trying. It’s the most insecure, spooky boulder problem I’ve ever done, and it’s gorgeous.”
In 2011 Stanhope and Boyd put up a line on the Adamant massif in the Northern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia that they dubbed Turret’s Syndrome, a 600-meter 5.11+.
“I just remember getting creamed by a little storm at the top and getting mildly hypothermic,” Stanhope said. “He’s just one of those incredibly competent guys who has been climbing forever that you have the utmost trust in.”
Stanhope, an accomplished Squamish climber in his own right, says that Boyd’s ability to climb off-vertical granite is unparalleled.
“He’s got really flexible ankles and incredible belief,” he said. “He’ll just stomp the most micro feet and put absolute trust in them. When we were climbing together a ton, I was always just shaking my head in awe of what he could stand on. I’ve never seen anything like it, ever.”
Boyd recalled his early inspiration with Squamish and the process that lead him to the pursuit of old aid routes: “When I arrived here, I wasn’t looking at first ascents. You’ve got to test your mettle first. I remember lying on Psych Ledge with the moon on the Chief and seeing all the corners left and right of the Grand Wall. It’s like these shallow flakes up the middle of the wall and they’re pretty beautiful, especially in the moonlight. I aid climbed a lot, too, back then. When I looked up at those routes, those were A3s and A4s, and so I didn’t see those as free routes. Whereas now, I see those as potential free routes.”
At the heart of his climbing he is after unique experiences–routes that seem unlikely or don’t look like they’ll be free climbs. For example, Boyd explains a distinct move on Never Never Land, a seven-pitch 5.12a, a John Furnell route on the North Grand Wall: “On the end of the second pitch, there’s an 11c slab traverse, over to a corner and then there’s a small triangular ledge there. I figured I could get into the crux of it and I could jump to this ledge. It was ten feet to the corner, ten feet down to the ledge. So, you know a good distance. With a weird foot kick, I got enough slack to launch out…”
Boyd said the value he finds in discovering new, unclimbed routes or routes that have yet-to-be freed is that “only you get to experience it. That’s what makes it special, it’s what will make me remember it for a long time.”
These days Boyd continues his pursuit of unique climbing experiences and pure lines. Lately he is spending more of his time climbing off of the water, from the deck of his boat, The Sea Flea.
He is still compelled by old Squamish aid lines, and is always sure to tread carefully in the wake of the first ascensionist. Boyd gives credence to their routes by working with “nothing more than what they left you: this beautiful vision.”