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Fred Beckey, Climber, 1923-2017

[Editor’s Note: Fred Beckey died yesterday at the age of 94. He was a pioneer in the sport of climbing and mountaineering. His accomplishments in the mountains begin in 1939, and they are far too numerous to list. His contributions to the history and community of climbing cannot be overstated, and will never be forgotten.

Here, Blister Climbing Editor, Dave Allie, shares some of his thoughts and memories about Fred.]

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I can’t claim to have been a close friend of Fred, but the handful of times we spoke in 2009 have stuck with me, and I find myself thinking about them often.

My good friend and climbing partner Matt Upton and I met Fred on the hike down from the Liberty Bell area on Washington Pass. Fred was stopped for a break, but he was carrying a pack with all his own gear and the rope. He was 86 at the time. He was looking for fresh partners, and left a note on our car in the hope that we would rope up with him on some alpine routes in the North Cascades so he could gather beta for a guidebook he was working on.

After that, he and I met for coffee a few times at a spot he liked (a restaurant that can only be described as a Mexican McDonald’s) to talk about the climbs he wanted to do; life in Seattle and Colorado (I was on the cusp of moving to Colorado); dating; and writing. For reasons that now seem small and pedestrian (like scheduling and weather), our plans to head to Mt Stuart or Mt Assiniboine never left the runway.

But I’m grateful for the time I had with Fred. We weren’t talking because I was interviewing him or doing a profile. We were having an interaction that now feels somehow universal, and essential to the climbing experience — bullshitting and excitedly talking up the big routes we would attempt in the future over a steaming cup of the worst, cheapest coffee in the Western Hemisphere. All the while, restaurant goers stared too long, no doubt wondering what a pair of 28 and 86 year olds, neither with any obvious signs of having showered recently, were doing drinking scandalously bad coffee in a Mexican joint in the heart of good-coffee country.

While Fred’s legacy and climbing resume will surely be at the heart of our remembering him, I think his real genius is apparent over coffee as much as in the Mountains: he lived all 94 years of his life looking forward, not backward.

He was so fully engaged by life and the world that you could forget you were talking about a big, committing alpine route with someone who shares a birth-year with Louis Armstrong’s first recording, the opening of Yankee Stadium, and the Establishment of Turkey as a Republic.

As climbers, we understand why the mountains are so magnetic; we’ve all obsessed over routes, drooled over photos, and ranted in front of campfires. But Fred’s single-minded focus on climbing, inspiring as it is for us climbers, contains a broader, more important lesson that has little to do with climbing:

Do what you love with your whole soul, for your whole life.

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