Friedrich Wolfgang Beckey (14 January 1923 – 30 October 2017), known as Fred Beckey, was an American rock climber, mountaineer and author, who made hundreds of first ascents, more than any other North American climber.
Friedrich Wolfgang Beckey
14 January 1923
|Died||30 October 2017 (aged 94)|
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Washington|
|Occupation||Rock climber, mountaineer, author|
Beckey was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, and (due to hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic) his family emigrated to the United States in 1925, ending up in Seattle, Washington. His brother, Helmut "Helmy" Beckey, was born in Seattle in 1926 and became Fred's frequent climbing partner. Fred Beckey started climbing in the North Cascades as a teenager around age thirteen, learning the basic concepts from the Boy Scouts and, later, The Mountaineers but quickly going on to harder climbs on his own. He added to his climbing skills while serving in WWII with the 10th Mountain Division as an instructor. He managed to continue this focus on climbing for more than seventy years and has become an icon in North American mountaineering.
He attended the University of Washington and received a degree in business administration in 1949. He entered the printing industry and soon discovered that his work assignments encroached upon his climbing goals. He eschewed the printing industry to gain more climbing time. He worked as a delivery truck driver, which left him time for climbing. As time went on, he decided that climbing was his life's focus. He never married or had children, he never pursued a professional career, he never sought money or financial security as a goal—his goal was to climb mountains.
Unlike Jim Whittaker, a fellow Seattleite and the first American to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1963, Beckey shied away from the large team efforts, preferring smaller alpine-style undertakings. Beckey seemed a likely choice as a member for the large, 1963 American Everest Expedition, but he was not chosen by expedition leader Norman Dyhrenfurth, even though he had been with him to Lhotse in 1955 with the International Himalayan Expedition.
In the late 1940s, he asked The Mountaineers of Seattle to publish his first climbing guidebook for the local peaks. They turned him down, and the American Alpine Club agreed to print a few thousand copies for a flat fee. Between climbs, he wrote several books, most notably the Cascade Alpine Guide, the definitive three-volume description of the Cascades from the Columbia River to the Fraser River, now in its third edition, published by The Mountaineers.
In 2003, his 563-page book on the history of the region, Range of Glaciers, was published by the Oregon Historical Society Press. According to a reviewer, he did much of the research for the volume in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, scouring files of the State Department, U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies. Beckey also perused the Canadian archives in Ottawa, Ontario; Hudson's Bay Co. archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba; British Columbia archives in Victoria, British Columbia; records of the Northwest Boundary Survey at Yale University; and records of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads in Minneapolis.
Beckey continued climbing when over 90 years old.  His life was the subject of a 2017 documentary, directed by David O'Leske and produced by Patagonia, called Dirtbag: The legend of Fred Beckey. The film won over 15 international awards, including: the Best Feature Mountain Film at the 2017 Banff Mountain Film Festival; the Best Mountaineering Film at the 2017 Kendal Mountain Film Festival; and, the People's Choice Award at the 2017 Banff Mountain Book Festival.
Mount Beckey, named for Beckey, is located in the Alaska Range at North 62 degrees, 52 minutes, West 152 degrees, 15 minutes.
Fred Beckey died of natural causes, in Seattle, on October 30, 2017 at the age of 94.
Just a few of his first ascents:
- 1939 Mount Despair, North Cascades
- 1940 Forbidden Peak, North Cascades - with brother Helmy, Lloyd Anderson, Jim Crooks, and Dave Lind.
- 1945 Price Glacier, Mount Shuksan, North Cascades with Jack Schwabland and Bill Granston:138
- 1946 East Ridge Devils Thumb, Alaska with Bob Craig and Clifford Schmidtke (Aug 25):
- 1947 North Peak, Liberty Bell, North Cascades - 1947
- 1948 North Ridge of Mount Baker, North Cascades Fred Beckey, Ralph and Dick Widrig (August 1948):156
- 1954 Northwest Buttress to North Peak, Mount McKinley, Alaska (May 27) with Donald McLean, Charles Wilson, Henry Meybohm and Bill Hackett.:166
- 1954 Mount Deborah with Heinrich Harrer and Henry Meybohm:169–170
- 1954 West Ridge Mount Hunter (Alaska) - with Heinrich Harrer and Henry Meybohm:170
- 1959 Yocum Ridge, Mount Hood, Oregon, with Leo Scheiblehner:172
- 1961 North Face of Mount Edith Cavell, Canadian Rockies, Canada with Yvon Chouinard and Dan Doody 
- 1961 Beckey-Chouinard Route on South Howser Tower, Bugaboos, Canada with Yvon Chouinard :152–153
- 1963 Complete North Ridge, Mount Stuart, North Cascades, Washington with Steve Marts:226
- 1963 Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse, British Columbia, Canada with Steve Marts and Eric Bjornstad:226–227
- 1963 West Buttress (IV 5.8 A1), Musembeah Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming (September) with Layton Kor:245
- 1966 Mount Seattle, Saint Elias Mountains, Alaska
- 1967 El Matador (NCCS IV, A3), Devils Tower, WY. FA with Eric Bjornstad:403
- 1968 Direct East Buttress (IV F8 A4), South Early Winter Spire, North Cascades, WA. FA with Doug Leen:287–288
- 1968 South Face (III F8 A1), Cathedral Peak (Washington), North Cascades, WA. FA with Dave Wagner, John Brottem and Doug Leen:390
- 1968 Northeast Face, Mount Hooker, Canadian Rockies, Canada. FA with John Rupley:410
- 1970 Beckey's Spire aka Christianity Spire, Sedona AZ
- 1970, 1972 Zeus and Moses, Utah. FAs with Eric Bjornstad
- 1996 Mount Beckey, Cathedral Mountains, Alaska, with John Middendorf and Calvin Hebert
Other notable ascentsEdit
Timothy Egan captures Fred Beckey's personality in a chapter of The Good Rain. Beckey named Vasiliki Ridge, by Washington Pass, after his one true love. Beckey is a quintessential dirtbag climber, and there is a classic portrait of him holding a sign "Will belay for food." His reputation is well known among many climbers, captured in a T-shirt "Beware of Beckey: He will steal your woman, steal your route." 
- Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs (Patagonia Inc., 2011, ISBN 978-0-9801227-1-8)
- Range of Glaciers: The Exploration and Survey of the Northern Cascade Range (Oregon Historical Society, 2003 ISBN 0-87595-243-7)
- Cascade Alpine Guide (3 vols.) (Mountaineers Books, 1973–2008)
- Challenge of the North Cascades (1969, 2nd ed. 1996, ISBN 0-89886-479-8)
- Mount McKinley: Icy Crown of North America (Mountaineers Books 1993, paper 1999, ISBN 0-89886-646-4)
- The Bugaboos: An Alpine History (1987) (Introduction Only)
- Mountains of North America (1986)
- Mountains of North America (Sierra Club, 1982)
- Darrington and Index Rock Climbing Guide (Mountaineers Books, 1976)
- Guide to Leavenworth rock-climbing areas (Mountaineers Books, 1965)
- Climber's Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington (American Alpine Club, 1949, revised edition 1953)
- Modie, Neil (2003-03-08). "Icon to some, legendary climber Beckey still obscure to many". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Seattle PI. Retrieved 2006-01-07.
- Denver Public Library 10th Mountain Database
- McFadden, Robert D. (October 31, 2017), "Fred Beckey, Conqueror and Chronicler of North American Peaks, Dies at 94", The New York Times
- "Solu Khumbu Climbs: First Ascents After Lhotse". American Alpine Journal. 10 (2): 7. 1956.
- Shore, Richard. "Fred Beckey climbing at Nightmare Rock".
- Franz, Derek. "World renowned alpinist and climbing pioneer Fred Beckey dies at age 94". Alpinist. Alpinist LLC. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Awards". Dirtbag Movie. Fred Beckey Film LLC. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Remembering Fred Beckey". The Mountaineers. 2017-10-30. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
- Selters, Andy (2004). Ways to the Sky. Golden, CO: The American Alpine Club Press. ISBN 0-930410-83-1.
- Child, Greg (October 2000). "Rock Legends". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 2006-10-04.
- Beckey, Fred (1969). H. Adams Carter (ed.). "Climbs and Expeditions". American Alpine Journal. Philadelphia, PA: American Alpine Club. 16 (43).
- Stewart M. Green, Rock Climbing Utah, 2012, Morris Book Pubishing, page 83.
- Egan, Timothy (1991). The Good Rain. ISBN 0-679-73485-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fred Beckey.|
- Biography at HistoryLink
- 2011 Profile in the Wall Street Journal by Michael J. Ybarra
- 2007 Interview appearing in The Learning Project: Views of Authentic Learning
- New York Times, 16 Dec. 2008. The Old Man of the Mountains. Video report on Fred Beckey. (The video displays the date of Dec. 16, although the URL states Dec. 15.)
- Summer 2012 short film of Fred climbing in the Dolomites on Vimeo.