Base Camp Blog

Interviewing Fred Beckey at 90 Years Old


Fred Beckey and Amanda Fox at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Photo by Andrew Burr

It's not every day you get to meet the man who's got more first ascents than anyone on the planet. For that matter, it's not every day you meet anyone who's lived through the Great Depression, WWII, and the Civil Rights Movement, and who still climbs.

But at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, I sat down and chatted with [more like yelled to; he's really hard of hearing] the man himself: Fred Beckey. That evening, Adidas presented him with the Outdoor Industry Lifetime Achievement Award. Beforehand, climbers clamored around him, waiting in line to tell him how inspiring he's been, and how much they love his routes. (I'm embarrassed to say I haven't done some of his most classic routes, though I've got plans to.] Beckey sat there, nodding and smiling, seemingly oblivious to the rush around him.

Talking to Fred was no easy task; I don't think his hearing aid was turned on, and I'm pretty sure everyone in a 20-yard radius was an unwitting audience to my loud projections. I repeated every question several times, enunciating like a melodramatic high school theater teacher. Sometimes Fred answered my questions, and other times he misheard me and went off a tangent. No matter. The message I took away was unmistakable: the master loves to climb, and he doesn't give a damn about awards. [And yes, he's still a ladies man.]

Here's an excerpt from our interview. You can read the full text at, where it was printed in the Outdoor Retailer Daily. Below is a video that aired as an introduction to Beckey at OR.

At 90, you're still climbing. Do you get out often?
I climb whenever I can. I made a trip to Joshua Tree, California, recently [where 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.

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.

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

See the full interview at


Previous Comments

Fred, I started climbing in 1965, and you were the hero I looked up to. I'm still climbing in 2015, and your are still the hero I look up to. Excelsior! Fred Beckey.

Chris Kopczynski - 01/22/2015 4:47:43

My wife and I ran into Fred yesterday at a trailhead in North Cascades. Equal mix shock and honor, an inspiration still. Bless You, Mr. Beckey!

Eric Wunrow - 09/16/2014 3:06:36

You are THE man Mr. Beckey. Period. A great inspiration to all of us too weak to live the lives that called to us yet couldn't break free of the daily drudgery. Thank you for being someone who did and who contributed so much to the climbing and mountaineering world. I still hope to climb some of your classics.

Tim Johnson - 08/25/2014 4:24:41

Fred, I started climbing at 60 or so. Am 70 now. You are my hero. Bridget Walsh.

Bridget Walsh - 07/18/2014 6:36:52

Amazing to see those film clips and read about you! I'd heard about you all my life, but only recently googled your name to find out a bit more about my famous uncle! :) I met Helmut in Germany, but never you. My father, Hans-Dieter, met you in the USA and talked about you. The Beckeys are growing in numbers again here in Germany - in November the youngest generation, German-Japanese twins, were born in Frankfurt in my brother's family. Belated Happy Birthday from Lüneburg, Maja Beckey - Thorne

Maja Thorne (née Beckey) - 03/16/2014 2:11:40

Fred, Great to see you womanizing in Bellingham, look forward to your Talkeetna visit.

Watana Suisitna - 03/13/2014 12:21:51

When I grow up I want to be like Fred!!!!! Dan McNeary 60 yrs young. Stay high Fred and I definitely don't mean on drugs. You are the man. Luv u Danman

Dan McNeary - 02/17/2014 8:13:35

Mr Fred Beckey is unpretentious, and is hilarious, not to mention, a living climbing legend. I see that glimmer in his eye he always gets when he's around beautiful women!

Molly J - 09/12/2013 10:06:04

Besides my mother Fred is my hero. Both have lived thru the depression, WWII etc and both excelled at life.

Sisu - 09/11/2013 8:23:15

Hi Fred! Hope you're doing well...Peace and Love from The Tetons! -Kevin P.

Kevin P. - 06/16/2013 12:23:55

WWII, as stated, not WWI. Becky was my inspiration back in the 60s when we climbed in the Wind Rivers. Glad to hear he's still doing well.

Phil - 04/09/2013 10:15:55

Wow ,that's so incredible , great inspiration . Hope all his sunrises are bright and his sunsets are warm .

Al Hardy - 02/01/2013 11:16:21

please sign me up for newsletter

Roger Fick - 02/01/2013 11:08:38

Very impressive gentleman. BTW he's not old enough to have lived through WWI (it ended 94 years ago).

Dez - 01/29/2013 1:55:57