First ascent fame: Fred Beckey receives lifetime achievement award for illustrious climbing career

The Outdoor Inspiration Awards last month at Winter Market honored Fred Beckey and others for their roles and influences in the outdoor community. Additional winners included Bill Sweasy, retiring CEO of Red Wing Shoe Company, in the individual category; the Sierra Club and Soldiers to Summits for the group category; and Outdoor Afro and Suunto for the company category.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

The Outdoor Inspiration Awards at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, honored Fred Beckey and others for their roles and influences in the outdoor community. Additional winners included Bill Sweasy, retiring CEO of Red Wing Shoe Company, in the individual category; the Sierra Club and Soldiers to Summits for the group category; and Outdoor Afro and Suunto for the company category.

Beckey is credited with an unofficial first ascent record, having established hundreds (if not thousands) of alpine and rock climbs in North America. The industry conferred the Lifetime Achievement award to the luminary, who, at 90 years old, still climbs today. O.R.D. caught up with him in the Climbing Zone before the awards.

At 90, you’re still climbing. Do you get out often?
I climb whenever I can. I made a trip to Joshua Tree, Calif., recently. [He climbed the three-pitch Tranquility (5.6).] I couldn’t climb anything in October [in Seattle, where he lives] because it rained every day. It was the pits.

How does it feel to receive a lifetime achievement award from your peers?
I just climb for the fun of it. I’m always motivated to try something that people haven’t done. I guess you get a reputation that way, and an award goes out because of it. I’m not into awards. I don’t do stuff for awards. I do what I feel like doing.

You’ve made more first ascents than anyone. Are there any other routes you wish you’d gotten to first?
There’s always something, like some climbs in the Bugaboos, that someone else did. But I never felt competition from anyone. It was all friendly.

What about the little black book? Does it exist? [Rumor has it Beckey kept a book with potential FAs that he’d cross off as he did them.]
It’s not true. Someone made that up — you tell me who. Once someone starts some rumor, everyone else picks it up. It’s the way life is.

But you keep records of your ascents.
I’ve kept a diary. I don’t do a really good job of it; people can track me down if they want to talk about climbs. But I remember them pretty vividly. I have most of them written down.

You have enough documented to have written a hugely detailed book, “Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs.” How did you choose what went in there?
I picked climbs based on my intuition and the ones I’ve done and have experience with. And I tried to pick something interesting from a historical, geological or geographical point of view, something besides just the climb itself. I put a lot of work into that book. I thought they [Patagonia, the book’s publisher] did a good job.

In about 75 years of climbing, have you ever been injured?
A few accidents here and there, like some crevasse falls in Alaska. But I’ve never been injured. A few broken ribs, maybe. No other broken bones that I know of.

How have you been motivated to keep going all these years?
I don’t know what inspires me; I can’t explain it. It’s hard to put into words. Why does anyone do anything? I like to do it; it’s fun. I have as much fun climbing today as I did 20, 30 years ago.

Where have you never been that you’d like to visit?
Greenland, Baffin Island, places in Colorado and Wyoming. There’s no end to the list. I can’t do it all.

Any advice for today’s generation of climbers?
Keep on belay. There are too many screw-ups and mistakes from people not paying attention.

--Amanda Fox

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