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The Alpine Club is deeply saddened by the news that AC Honorary Member Fred Beckey has died at the age of 94. A climber who had an unparalleled number of first ascents to his name, right across the US.

''But in the end, its really the selection of climbs that tell us the most about the world's most accomplished climber. Beckey's favorite climbs are defined by purity of line, position, and quality of movement - not difficulty. Fred's new book makes me really appreciate his innate ability to choose nature's most beautiful lines'' Mark Kroese writing in both the AAJ 2012 and the AJ 2013.

Members are invited to send their tributes to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  so that they can be posted on the website.

Tributes  

#3 Richard Llewellyn Nadin 2017-11-04 12:47
I had the great privilege to do the 2nd ascent with my my partner, Alan of the Becky/Mather route on Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos. This was, at the time a major undertaking as the game of "BIg Wall Climbing" was only just being invented in 1959. We found the original wooden wedges that they had left behind on the large overhang at pitch 6 [?] We were very fortunate to have a set of very early cams lent to us by our lovely young friend Alex Lowe [sadly missed]. These remarkable [at the time virtually unknown] devices helped us through the A2 territory & enabled us to climb much quicker than Fred B & Hank M.
The line was just in Freds inimitable style & a testament to the greatest American climber. Visionary & beyond his time, just like his other great partner Chouinard. Sadly I never had the chance to thank him personally.
Richard Nadin
#2 ac_administrator 2017-11-01 15:41
Back in the 1960's, we all idolised Fred when I was a student at the University of Oregon and not too far away in Washington. But our paths didn't cross until I had the pleasure of editing his interview for Mountain Magazine in 1975.

The last time I saw Fred was at the Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket where he gave a talk to the Hesket Spiders in 2013. As AC VP, I had the pleasure of introducing Fred and announcing to everyone that Fred had just been made an Honorary Member of the Alpine Club. With a wide grin, he stood up and shook my hand; "Well that's really swell. I'll put that straight on my CV." And what a CV! Fred undoubtedly was North America's most prolific alpinists with too many routes to remember. His was a life lived in and for the mountains.

John Porter
President
Alpine Club
#1 ac_administrator 2017-11-01 15:39
FRED BECKEY – PIONEER OF THE AMERICAN NORTHWEST

In November 1996 I was speaking at the annual gathering of the American Alpine Club in New York. At midday I escaped the conference room to find some food, and found myself in a Manhattan sandwich bar chatting with another speaker at the conference – a grizzled, wiry, septuagenarian with a stubbly face as deeply furrowed as the canyons of the wild west. Dreaming aloud in a gravely croak, he reeled off names of all the Himalayan mountains and valleys he still hoped to visit. Then, pulling out a wad of grubby greenbacks, he paid for my lunch and beer.It was only afterwards that it dawned on me just how privileged I had been. This was the man who never had any money – the original climbing bum, the mountain tramp who had spent seventy years on the road, scrounging and making do, living out of the back of cars, staching odds and ends of possessions at friends’ houses all over the USA. This was also the man who had made more first ascents than anyone else in America. In fact he had probably made more first ascents, than anyone, anywhere in the world. And he had bought me lunch!

Fred Beckey was born in Düsseldorf in 1923. When he was three his parents emigrated to America and settled in Seattle. From an early age Fred and his younger brother Helmey were drawn to the wild mountains of the Northwest – particularly their local North Cascades. At their parents’ request, they joined the Boy Scouts and later the august local climbing club, The Mountaineers, but they quickly outgrew their tutors, forging home-made gear out of scrap metal to pioneer new climbs.

One of their earliest first ascents, in 1940, was of the appropriately named Forbidden Peak. No one knows how many first ascents Fred Beckey has subsequently made in the North Cascades of Oregon; they run into hundreds, and now, in his eighties, he is still exploring new ground. However, Beckey is known best for what he achieved in the bigger, wilder mountains north of Oregon. Ambitious from the start, in 1942 he and Helmey made the second ascent of Mount Waddington. This difficult, complex peak in the remote Coastal Ranges of British Columbia had been one of the great mountaineering prizes, first climbed in 1936 by Bill House and Fritz Wiessner. Wiessner was one of the best climbers in the world and almost reached the top of K2 in 1938. Now a couple of unknown young lads from Seattle had repeated his greatest climb. Perhaps it was the common German origin, but Wiessner and Beckey hit it off, and Wiessner suggested that the brothers head further north to the BC/Alaska border to try a spectacular ice-smeared tower called the Devil’s Thumb. In 1946, they did it, making the first ascent of the hardest peak yet to be climbed in Alaska.

By now Fred Beckey had graduated from the University of Washington, but had opted for part time work as a truck driver, leaving plenty of free time for climbing and starting work on the first of several historical guidebooks to the mountains of Oregon and Washington. In 1954 he returned to Alaska to pull of an extraordinary hat trick. First, with the German climber Henry Meybohm and a team from the University of Alaska, he climbed a new route up the North Peak of Denali. Not content with that, Beckey and Meybohm then went on to the untrodden Mount Deborah. On the way, in Fairbanks, they bumped into Heinrich Harrer, the Austrian veteran of the first ascent of the Eigerwand, so they invited him along too.
Deborah, with its summit of 3,822 metres, had none of the giant scale and altitude of Denali; but it was still a big, wild, heavily glaciated mountain, with similar problems of cold and bad weather. The final half-mile section along the South Ridge gave the party the most sensational ice climbing they had ever done, climbing up and down of a series of cornices – overhanging turrets of snow and ice – with no possibility of evasion on the steep slopes below. The German-American threesome then travelled back to the Denali region to make the first ascent of the immense Mount Hunter.

With that kind of record, Fred Beckey would have seemed an obvious choice for the American Everest expedition of 1963, but he was turned down and, instead of achieving glory in Nepal followed by a hero’s welcome at the White House, he consoled himself by making 26 first ascents in Oregon. He just wasn’t the kind of biddable team player they were looking for. Now, still climbing in his eighties, he remains an awkward, cussed original with a legacy of exploration probably unequalled in the history of mountaineering.

Stephen Venables

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