alpine pio­neers are regard­ed as roman­tic, philo­soph­i­cal fig­ures who scour the world look­ing for the next great chal­lenge. They wax poet­ic about the impor­tance of climb­ing, the beau­ty of the high hills, and the pur­suit of human endeav­or before com­fort­ably hang­ing up their boots to print a mem­oir and speak fond­ly about their adventures.

And then there’s Fred.

A Dirt­bag to This Day
To say that Fred Beck­ey is a North­west icon is a severe under­state­ment. He’s the last of a gen­er­a­tion of leg­ends, with more first ascents to his name then any oth­er liv­ing Amer­i­can climber. At the age of 92, when most have long donat­ed their shoes and ropes to be hung in a muse­um, he can still be found from Joshua Tree to Leav­en­worth, climb­ing one of the hun­dreds of routes that bear his name. In 2013, at the age of 89, he made his first trip to climb in the Ital­ian Dolomites.

Fred is the orig­i­nal dirt­bag, still liv­ing out of the back of his car, which was once near­ly stolen while he was sleep­ing in the back­seat. His list of part­ners reads like a hall of fame of Amer­i­can climb­ing: Kor, Chouinard, Rob­bins, and Bjorn­stad among the giants who have held Fred’s rope.

Fred’s Climb­ing Technique
A Beck­ey route has a cer­tain char­ac­ter. It involves a long approach across loose talus, thin, dif­fi­cult-to-pro­tect split­ters, gap­ing chim­neys, and mind-bend­ing expo­sure that estab­lish­es the most direct line to the sum­mit. Among Fred’s numer­ous first ascents across Wash­ing­ton and Alas­ka, he estab­lished the Beck­ey-Chouinard on South Hows­er Tow­er in the Buga­boos, the North­west But­tress of Denali, the North Ridge of Mt. Stu­art, and numer­ous first ascents in his beloved North Cas­cades, includ­ing the West Ridge on For­bid­den Peak and the Lib­er­ty Crack at Wash­ing­ton Pass. 

Pri­or to World War II, Beckey’s first ascents were estab­lished before the inven­tion of mod­ern climb­ing tech­nique. In his for­ma­tive years, when the North Cas­cades were an untamed wilder­ness of ser­rat­ed, unclimbed peaks, Fred and his broth­er Hel­mut uti­lized a lit­tle more than a manil­la rope and home­made pitons; forg­ing across dense North­west­ern forests for days in what now takes mod­ern climbers mere hours to approach. 

After serv­ing with the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion in the war, Beck­ey returned to the Wash­ing­ton climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty and found him­self at odds with the Moun­taineers, the Seat­tle insti­tu­tion who frowned upon his unortho­dox style. In post-war years, he ascend­ed the East Ridge of Alaska’s Dev­ils Thumb, and accom­plished first ascents on Mt. Shuk­san, Lib­er­ty Bell Tow­er, and Mt. Bak­er. In the 1950s, when Amer­i­cans obsessed over the Himalayas and rock climb­ing was a fringe sport that was con­sid­ered train­ing for moun­taineer­ing, Fred was more inter­est­ed in climb­ing North Amer­i­can alpine rock tow­ers than join­ing major expe­di­tions to Nepal and Pakistan.

His Climb­ing Legend
In the 1960s, Beck­ey, now becom­ing one of America’s most well-known climbers, solid­i­fied his leg­end with a hand­ful of stun­ning ascents in the Buga­boos and the Cana­di­an Rock­ies, includ­ing his famous ascent of South Hows­er Tow­er with his appren­tice, Yvon Chouinard, and a bold ascent on the mam­moth North­west But­tress of Slesse Mountain. 

Dur­ing the age of gen­tle­men climbers and roman­tic moun­taineers, Beck­ey and Eric Bjorn­stad stand before Shiprock Tow­er in New Mex­i­co wear­ing full gear and hold­ing a sign that read “Absolute­ly No Rock Climb­ing”. The icon­ic image encom­pass­es every­thing that Fred stands for: rebel­lion, free­dom, and a pen­chant for dar­ing to go where few oth­ers would imag­ine. Beck­ey rarely plans his climbs far in advance. He’s known for think­ing up a trip and call­ing up his part­ners in the mid­dle of the night to make it hap­pen. Today he prefers to climb with oth­ers a quar­ter his age, such as his recent trip to Italy with Col­in Haley. Now much more cau­tious, he acts as a states­man and a men­tor to the Seat­tle climb­ing community. 

Nev­er mar­ried and with no chil­dren, Fred still sticks to his ideals, liv­ing a life of sim­plic­i­ty over set­tling down. While his body doesn’t allow for climb­ing as hard as he used to, he trav­els from Joshua Tree to the Ital­ian Dolomites, still lead­ing 5.7 pitch­es in a shred­ded pair of jeans and old ten­nis shoes. Beyond his exploits as a climber, Beck­ey is an estab­lished author, moun­taineer­ing his­to­ri­an, and sur­vey­or, pub­lish­ing a guide to his 100 Favorite Climbs, and a sur­vey detail­ing hun­dreds of climb­ing routes across the Cascades. 

Fred Beck­ey is a climber dri­ven by pas­sion rather than impress­ing brands and spon­sors. For many who iden­ti­fy with the dirt­bag lifestyle Beck­ey is an idol of a life ded­i­cat­ed to his sport. “In the pan­theon of climb­ing leg­ends, he’s the man,” says alpin­ist Con­rad Anker; “He nev­er got the big, famous peaks, he nev­er did Ever­est. But just that unre­lent­ing dri­ve to do new routes—that’s what puts him on top in my book.”

To learn more about Fred be on the look­out for this upcom­ing film, Dirt­bag: The Leg­end of Fred Beck­ey set to be released lat­er in 2017.