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