Legendary Climber Fred Beckey Dies

The iconic climber dies at 94 while in the midst of planning an ambitious expedition to the Himalaya.
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The death of iconic climber Fred Beckey leaves the industry and all who knew him saddened, yet positively reflecting on his full life. Many of Beckey’s 94 years on this planet were spent fearlessly and relentlessly devoted to his beloved sport of climbing.

Close, long-time friend Greg Thomsen, Managing Director of Adidas Outdoor shared his thoughts about the loss. "Yesterday the world lost an iconoclast extraordinaire, a famous mountaineer with more first ascents than anyone, a consummate dirtbag, a prodigious writer, a not-so-great paper salesman, a deep and thoughtful intellectual, a persistent lone wolf, a mentor to so many, a brilliant historian, an environmentalist, a force of nature, and my dear friend for over 47 years," Thomsen says. "Fred Beckey was all of these and so much more. Countless climbs, chilly bivy’s, and thousands of cups of coffee built an early friendship that never wavered over the years. My heart aches to say goodbye. Cheers Fred. See you soon."

Said to be one of the world’s most influential, prolific climbers, his robust thirst for climbing started young in the Boy Scouts and then with The Mountaineers as a teenager. At 19, he completed the second ascent of the 13,186-foot Mt. Waddington in British Columbia, which was considered one of the most difficult climbs in North America at the time.

In an effort to share his passion, Beckey began writing about climbing using the detailed journals he constantly kept. He has contributed to at least 13 climbing guidebooks, many considered the definitive guide to the area.

“Once I was with Fred over a couple of days and noticed that he was always writing on napkins and various slips of paper—then stuffing them into his many pockets,” explains Larry Harrison, Brand Development Director at Outdoor Retailer. “Greg (Thomsen) explained to me later that these notes on menus, Kleenex, and scraps were the basis for his beautiful books. They were the figments that materialized into the detailed descriptions he wrote. The word that best describes Fred’s writing style was always crystalline. Yet it came from the pickings of pockets.”

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His age did not stop him from impacting the industry. In 2013, Beckey was given the Adidas Lifetime Achievement award. In 2015, the American Alpine Club awarded him the President’s Gold Medal, a prestigious honor given to only four other climbers in history.

“Fred was clearly a prolific climber and is the embodiment of the heroic dirtbag,” says American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers. “What people might not know is the research and thought that went into the thousands of routes that he established. He was not just an amazing climber, but a true scholar of the mountains.”

In 2017, he was the subject of DIRTBAG, an award-winning documentary film on his life.

The movie’s description sums up his life: “Fred Beckey is the original American “Dirtbag” climber whose name has evoked mystery, adulation and vitriol since the 1940s. Beckey’s stubborn, singular quest to conquer peaks meant a solitary life on the road, where he left a long trail of scorned climbing partners and lost lovers in his wake.”

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The film’s director, Dave O’Leske, says it was an honor to have known him and his memories will live on forever. “Fred was a true American icon. His legacy is profound, and he has inspired countless people to explore this amazing planet,” he says. “We are so happy that Fred was able to attend the premiere of the movie at Mountainfilm in Telluride in May and at the Seattle International Film Festival in June. It was amazing to feel the energy in the theaters and observe Fred receiving long standing ovations,” he says.

Beckey was battling congestive heart failure and was on hospice for four days. His fulfilling life may have ended Monday at the Seattle-home of friend and partner Megan Bond, but there is no doubt his magnitude in the climbing world will live on forever. 

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