Encountering Fred Beckey
October 31, 2017
Today, on the day of his passing, The New York Times described Fred Beckey like this: "He looked like a scruffy hobo—a wiry, stooped nomad with a backpack, a shapeless jacket, dirty pants and sneakers." And as I read this description, I was swept back to a moment in my college career where Fred sat with me, a lowly college student, for an interview.
I was a junior in college, newly married, and naive. I had just been hired to be a student reporter for The Bengal, Idaho State University's student newspaper. In the first editorial meeting of the school year, I was delegated one task: interview Fred Beckey. A time to meet had been pre-arranged, and I showed up at the Student Center on time. Curiously, Fred was late. I waited for 20 minutes before asking my editor-in-chief if the interview had been cancelled. He politely responded that the interview was going to happen, but that Fred was out skiing the backside of Pebble Creek, the local ski hill. At that moment, it was clear to me that Fred, who was 81 years old, was not going to provide the typical interview.
Credited with notching more first ascents than any other American mountaineer, Beckey was a champion of mountaineering. He ascended mountains throughout North American, from Alaska to Mexico. He also summited mountains abroad.
To be honest, I don't remember what I asked Fred in the inteview. I only remember being enamored with his care-free lifestyle, his passion for climbing, and his insatiable devotion to summiting mountains. He talked about hitchhiking to trailheads and rock climbing with strangers. He talked about wilderness conservation. Most of all, it was clear that he knew himself very well. He knew what he wanted in life and he pursued it until the end.
To the greatest mountaineer in America, the enduring outdoor sportsman, the dirtbag climber, Fred: I hope your heaven is full of mountain no one has ever climbed before.
Photo Credit: Ament. P. (2014). Fred Beckey, about 1990. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license on Wikimedia Commons.