Climbing legend Beckey to speak at Lake Tahoe
March 13, 2009
LAKE TAHOE ” Described by his closest friends as cantankerous, full of sweat and vinegar and seemingly far younger than his 86 years, mountain-climbing legend Fred Beckey will share stories in a rare speaking engagement Saturday in South Lake Tahoe.
“A Night with Climbing Legend Fred Beckey,” hosted by longtime friend and climbing partner Todd Offenbacher, will be held at Mo’s Sports Bar, inside Super 8 Motel, 3600 Lake Tahoe Blvd. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. with the show presentation at 6:30 p.m.
Beckey will share his climbing stories through photos and film. The cost is $10 and proceeds will benefit the Sierra Avalanche Center and the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group.
Born Jan. 14, 1923, Beckey has made hundreds of first ascents, more than any other North American climber.
“Beckey,” as he is known to his climbing companions, was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 3, ending up in Seattle.
Regarded as an insatiable mountaineer who made scaling peaks his life’s passion, Beckey’s name is associated with dozens of first-climbs throughout the world.
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“Climbing is a lot about camaraderie and trust, one reason it appeals to me,” Beckey told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a 2003 interview. “Time can go quickly as you get absorbed in problems.”
Never married and having no children, Beckey instead continues to serve as a mentor to younger generations of climbers. Offenbacher met Beckey 10 years ago and regards him as one of his tightest climbing partners.
“Fred is that one guy, of all my wild friends, who will tell me he’s coming to Tahoe but is not sure when, and I’ll walk outside and he’ll be sleeping on a Permarest on the ground,” Offenbacher said. “He’s the kind of guy who writes telephone numbers and topo maps on McDonald’s napkins, a modern-day explorer who is always planning ahead for his next trip.”
Beckey started climbing in the Cascades as a teenager, learning the basic concepts from old-time mountaineers, but quickly going on to harder climbs.
A University of Washington graduate, Beckey worked as a delivery truck driver, which left him time for climbing.
Unlike Jim Whittaker, who was also from Seattle and was 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 1963 Everest trip, but he was not chosen. Instead he scaled more than 40 peaks and spires in the North Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, Tetons, Wind River range, Canadian Bugaboos, Canadian Rockies and other ranges in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Southern California, according to a 2003 story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In a 2006 trip to Tibet to climb Haizi Mountain, a 19,155-foot peak in the Western Sichuan province, Offenbacher went with Beckey for the ascent. Then 83, Beckey had, for decades, been obsessed about climbing Haizi Mountain.
Long before Offenbacher climbed with the Beckey, he was reading about him as a kid. The vivid adventures in words and photos were memorable then, but especially memorable when Offenbacher and outdoor photographer Corey Rich, also of South Lake Tahoe, were invited to Beckey’s home to celebrate his 86th birthday in January.
“His house is like the best climbing museum ever,” Offenbacher said. “And his garage is filled with boxes of climbing gear.”
Not only is Beckey a renowned climber, but he is also an author. Between climbs, he wrote several books, most significantly the Cascade Alpine Guide, the three-volume definitive description of the mountains from the Columbia River to the Canadian border, and the North Cascades, according to Wikipedia.
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 Wikipedia entry, Beckey 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 Defense Department, State Department, U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.
Beckey also researched the Canadian archives in Ottawa; Hudson’s Bay Co. archives in Winnipeg; British Columbia archives in Victoria; records of the Northwest Boundary Survey at Yale University; and records of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads in Minneapolis.
Beckey continues to climb all over the world. In fact he even has a mountain named after him, Mount Beckey, in the Alaskan Range.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Beckey kept his conversation brief, as he usually does, rarely granting interviews.
“I’m looking forward to Tahoe, and if you want to know more, come to the event,” he said.