January 10th, 2012

Fred Beckey 100 Favorite Climbs ManuscriptThere are many stories of Fred Beckey, considered one of the most prolific alpinists of our time. He is constantly in motion from one climbing trip to the next, the quintessential “dirt bagger” and master of living cheaply. He is an icon in the mountaineering community.

Nearing 89 years of age, he has established first ascents across the globe and authored, among other books, the definitive climbing guide to the Cascades; three volumes essential to any Cascade climber’s library. And now, Patagonia Books published Fred Beckey’s “100 Favorite North American Climbs.”

A hybrid of coffee table and guide book, it is large format, with narrative and climbing route topographic maps. It is meant to inspire and, as I heard last night, imbue pride in climbers when they see Fred included their favorite route. I also understand it was hard getting him to whittle it down to 100 climbs!

My Fred stories are limited. I’ve gotten lost by misreading his sometimes vague route descriptions (like “trend up and right past the white block to the second corner and onto the ridge”). While working outdoor retail, I’ve accepted his well-worn down sleeping bag for washing. I’ve successfully avoided his propositions for climbing and ski trips, I think more out of fear than anything else, as I understand they are enriching experiences in and of themselves. But with no shortage of Beckey Tales, I’ve been able to appreciate his endeavors from the safety of the published word and the stories I’ve heard from many others.

Fred Beckey 100 Favorite Climbs at MountaineersWhatever those experiences are, I will always see Fred as the epitome of single minded focus and drive, of commitment to a lifestyle, and look to him with admiration for his climbing exploits and methodical documentation. I have no doubt his guide books enriched my climbing experience and it is in awe that I have stood on many summits and thought “Fred, and his many, many partners, did this when there was no access road, in leather boots, with woolen shirts and hemp ropes. Damn. That’s a hard man.” (at left, book signing by Fred, photo by my lovely wife Luciana).

My last Fred story is of a phone call and emails (he’s persistent). He wanted a photograph of Ptarmigan Ridge for his book and someone told him I had one. We met at a coffee shop; he bought a black coffee “cheapest thing you’ve got” but when I offered to pay, he turned me down. I ordered my usual americano and we commenced a conversation loud enough for everyone to hear. He’s hard of hearing and, apparently, refuses to wear his hearing aids. With his gnarled hands, he showed me the manuscript he and Patagonia were working on. I was impressed. (below: at the coffee shop)

I’m proud to have a photo included in the book, just as I’m proud to have suffered up the route (for me, climbing at altitude is like riding a stairmaster, with a pack and a hangover, while still drunk). Below is the image, on Ptarmigan Ridge of Mt. Rainier.

Fred Beckey portrait at book signing

When the Mountaineers held a book signing last night, I knew I would regret not standing in line. And it was good to shake the man’s hand again.

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  1. Tim- I’m guilty of reading too fast sometimes and in this case it makes for a funny story. The first time I read your post I assumed that Fred’s quote about the “cheapest thing you’ve got” was his request for photo rights.


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