mounaineering

Remembering Fred Beckey

The above trailer is for a documentary: Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.

Fred Beckey died on Monday, he was 94. Beckey was one of the greatest mountaineers of all time and he was also quite a character.

Robert McFadden at The New York Times does a great job of summarizing Beckey’s amazing life in climbing: Fred Beckey, Conqueror and Chronicler of North American Peaks, Dies at 94.

In the late 1970’s I went to a presentation/slide show that Beckey gave at REI in Seattle. It was amazing, less for the number of first ascents he’d done at that point (and since then he’s done a lot more), more for his lifestyle which was the epitome of the climbing bum, known among climbers as a “dirtbag” lifestyle.

At that point Yvon Chouinard and Royal Robbins, two other pioneers from Fred’s era had already moved away from climbing into business startups (Patagonia and Royal Robbins clothing). But, Fred was all about climbing. He wasn’t a people person either, he was rather gruff during the Q&A after the slide show I went to.

These days climbing is a totally different sport than the sport Fred Beckey took part in: he didn’t compete, he had no sponsors, and he didn’t really care if he was well known beyond the world of serious climbers. He definitely was well known in the world of serious climbers who know the history of their sport and he will be sorely missed.

Here’s Fred Beckey’s Wikipedia entry.

Update: I heard from my friend Chris Jones who shared a Beckey story:

I once got one of Beckey’s famous I-need-a-climbing-partner calls, while he was on his way from Seattle to Smith Rock. This was one of his things – he’d head off somewhere with a climb in mind and go through his call list on the way, and by the time he was there he’d have at least one (sometimes several, just in case) partners lined up. I somehow ended up on his call list for Smith Rock, and he wanted to climb Monkey Face by the Pioneer Route (he would have been 82, though at the time I thought he was closer to 70).

I met him at Smith, but it started to snow. As it started to snow, he asked “What do ya think about the weather?” This was exactly one of the lines he was famous for, heard by many climbing partners through the years. I had read about his penchant for this particular line, and recognized it as he said it. But oblivious that I might have this recognition, he was just asking (for real), what I thought about the weather. We decided the weather was too poor (I pretended this wasn’t completely obvious), so we didn’t do the climb. Right about then a second potential climbing partner showed up, so he had arranged a backup in case I didn’t work out (or maybe I was the backup and I just got there first).

So, I didn’t actually get to climb with Fred, nor did Fred get to climb Monkey Face that day, but I did get to hear him say “What do ya think about the weather?”. And that was better than doing the climb.

Ueli Steck dies on Mt. Everest

Swiss climber Ueli Steck was killed in a fall on Mt. Everest today.

Steck was one of the greatest mountaineers and all-around climber-athletes in the world. He was skilled and experienced enough so that an accident like this would be unlikely for him, however, free solo climbing (climbing alone without a rope) is dangerous, even for someone as skilled as Steck.

I’ve followed Steck’s career for a while, mostly because he’s an interesting guy, and also because those of us who were or still are climbers know what The Eiger North Face is and Steck not only free soloed it, he did it numerous times in under 3 hours. This is an incredible achievement because of the skill and daring involved but also because of the endurance involved. Steck was called “the Swiss machine” for a reason: he had tremendous endurance.

I posted about him here in 2011. Below is the video from that post.

747 Pass in the Ruth Gorge

747 Pass

Flickr member and climber Eric Dacus posted this excellent image of the Ruth Gorge in the McKinley Massive, Alaska taken with a Canon 5D.

Many years ago a few friends and I flew through and landed in that gorge with the famed bush/glacier pilot Doug Geeting. It was incredible. The Ruth Gorge is one of the deepest on earth: the rock walls on each side rise over 5000 feet off the glacier and the ice of the glacier is thousands of feet thick in the gorge. It’s an incredible place.

Fred Beckey in the Dolomites

A short piece on the climber Fred Beckey who, at 89, is the grand old man of North American mountaineering having made more first ascents than anyone living or dead.

And, the Dolomites (Italian Alps) offer spectacular scenery as a backdrop to this great little piece.

Here’s a nice little piece on Beckey in the Wall Street Journal: The Old Man, His Mountains

[via Gary Sharp]