Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fred Beckey: 90 And Still Climbing

PJ-BD708_beckey_DV_20111109195435Fred Beckey. If you’re a climber you know the name. At least you should. But how to convey his legendary status to the non-climbing world?

“He’s Cal Ripken or Gordie Howe, one of these guys with amazing longevity. If there were a climbing Hall of Fame with ten people getting in on the first ballot, he’d be one of them,” says Don Mellor, a well-known climber  himself and an English teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid.

Beckey will soon be making two appearances in the region. On Sunday, he’ll be signing copies of Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs from 3-5 p.m. at the Mountaineer in Keene Valley. On Monday, he will give a slide show at Northwood School, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for that event are $10 at the door.

Beckey, who grew up in Seattle, started climbing when he was thirteen, and seventy-seven years later he’s still at. That’s right, he is ninety years old and climbs cliffs.

Over his career, Beckey has racked up more first ascents (rock-climbing and mountaineering) than anyone in the Western Hemisphere. “He probably has the most first ascents in world history, but no one can say for sure,” said Mellor, who has written several climbing books.

One of his conquests is named after him: Mount Beckey, an 8,500-foot peak in Alaska climbed when he was only seventy-three. There are also numerous rock-climbing routes named for him, scattered throughout the continent.

Beckey is the avatar of dirtbag climbers: he has never owned a home or pursued a conventional career. He spent countless nights sleeping on friends’ couches. Despite his peripatetic life, he managed to write several books on climbing and mountains, including a three-volume guidebook for his beloved Cascade Range in Washington.

His 100 Favorite North American Climbs, published in 2011 by Patagonia Books, is a knockout, beautifully illustrated, designed, and written. Most of the classic routes he describes (both mountaineering and rock) are in the western United States and Canada. The only two in the East are Pinnacle Gully, a winter route in the White Mountains, and the Nose on Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina. The hardcover coffee-table book has a list price of $79.95 but can be found cheaper online.

You can learn lots more about Fred Beckey on the Web. Good starting points are profiles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Photo of Fred Beckey from Patagonia’s fall catalog in 2004.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

One Response

  1. Wow! I hope I have Mr. Beckey’s energy when I’m 90! This is what it means to live life to the fullest. We could all take a page from his book. Thanks for sharing, Phil Brown and Adirondack Almanack. Cheers!

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