Fred Beckey, a living legend in the climbing world, gave an interesting and often humorous slide show at Northwood School in Lake Placid last night.
At one point, he showed a photo of Fishhook Arete, a narrow, curving ridge on Mount Russell in California. At 14,086 feet, Russell is one of the highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada, so you wouldn’t expect an eight-pitch rock climb that ends on its summit to be a walk in the park. Indeed, the climb itself takes five to seven hours. With the approach and the descent, the trek can take fifteen to twenty-one hours, according to the SuperTopo website.
Beckey allowed that he hasn’t done the whole route. “It’s still on my tick list,” he remarked.
This is where we point out that Fred Beckey is ninety years old.
Beckey, who grew up and still lives in Seattle, started climbing as a teenager, and he’s still at it. He is thought to have put up more first ascents—both rock-climbing and mountaineering—than anyone in history.
His slide show covered his climbs in the Sierras, the Rockies, Cascades, Tetons, western Canada, and Alaska, among other places. In one video, shot before the advent of sticky-soled climbing shoes, he is shown ascending a steep route in Keds sneakers. “They really worked pretty well,” he said.
The presentation was loosely based on Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite Climbs, a gorgeous coffee-table book published in 2011 by Patagonia Books ($79.95). It’s beautifully designed, with large color photographs and hand-drawn climbing maps. Beckey is a fine writer. In each chapter, he recounts the history of the route, captures the allure of the climb, and provides useful information for those who want to do it. The book is a delight to flip through even if your only intention is to enjoy these routes vicariously.
At the end of his show, Beckey put up on the screen a well-known photo of him hitchhiking with a cardboard sign that says, “Will belay for food.”
“If you see this guy on the road, don’t stop,” Beckey warned.
Don Mellor says
Nice job. Fred called me out of the blue 14 years ago. I guess he just got my name from the local guidebook. I did the same thing then: hosted an event, put him up for a few days, and even went ice climbing. He was 76. This time he just rang me up and we put this in place again. What a treat to have him as a house guest. No suitcase, just a toothbrush in his one jacket pocket and a packet of instant oatmeal in the other. Didn’t want to put me out, he said. I added two eggs this morning, which he happily accepted. Colin Loher spent the day with Fred today, since snow shut down his St. Lawrence gig tonight. Tomorrow Fred is off to Middlbury. Started in Montreal, then Toronto (rental car), Keene Valley book signing, Lake Placid, Middlebury, Burlington, N. Conway and back home. Boston, too far, too big.
Don, thanks for the behind-the-scenes details. And thanks for giving local climbers a chance to meet him.