For the past decade, Seattle’s Fred Beckey has watched the rest of the world become more and more infatuated with what’s been his passion for close to 60 years.
Getting up in elevation.
“I never thought I’d see this many people in the mountains,” says the 70-something Beckey, a Northwest climbing legend and author whose three “Cascade Alpine Guides” are considered the definitive climbing guidebooks for the Cascade Mountains.
“Climbing and hiking have become the ‘in’ thing. Now you see people going into Fred Meyer dressed like they’re going to climb McKinley.”
Beckey recently touched on his vocation when he presented a slide show, “Journey to the Top: The Mountains of North America,” at Western Washington University. The 100-minute show covers climbs that Beckey has made in mountain ranges from northern Alaska to the American Southwest.
“I focus a lot on climbing in Alaska, which I’ve been to about 30 times over the years,” he says.
Beckey was the first known person to do many of the climbs featured in the show. Such climbs are called first ascents and are Beckey’s specialty.
Others have climbed higher or more dangerous routes, but nobody has made more first ascents than Fred Beckey - more than 300 - many of them in the Cascade Mountains.
“Beckey is amazing,” says fellow Seattlite Ed Viesturs, who’s summited Mount Everest five times and is the featured climber in “Everest,” the much anticipated IMAX movie that opened March 13 in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The world goes on around him and he’s like this explorer doing all these explorations of these little nooks and crannies of the Cascades.”
In “The Good Rain,” Timothy Egan’s 1990 award-winning book about the Northwest, Egan devotes a chapter to Beckey and his climbing prowess.
Legend has it that Beckey, who tends to be secretive about where he’ll be climbing next, keeps a little black book full of first ascents still to be made. In the February issue of Rock and Ice magazine, writer Dave Nettle devotes a whole story to the search for Beckey’s black book.
The existence of which Beckey denies.
“A lot of people just like to make up stuff about me,” says Beckey, sounding a little grumpy.
He sounds no happier when discussing just what it is about the mountains that attracts him.
“Some people just get fanatical about different things,” he says. “I’m not big enough to play football so, for me, it’s always been the mountains.”
While Beckey has written several books about, and done most of his climbing in the Cascades, that mountain range is not necessarily his favorite. Beckey says he prefers the coast range in western British Columbia.
“It’s very wild and there’re a lot less people there,” he says.
But after some hemming and hawing, Beckey reconsiders. “I don’t know though, picking a favorite mountain range is like, ‘Which was your favorite girlfriend?’ “