By Mallorie Estenson
“I think I want to get, ‘What would Fred Beckey do?’ tattooed on my arm,” I told my climbing partner lightheartedly.
Carey and I were in Potrero Chico, Mexico, for a month of climbing beautiful bolted routes on limestone. We’d left our lives behind to drive across the border at Laredo, Texas, and navigated our way to a Mexican climbing heaven. Looking back, I think the context is kind of funny.
“Why?” Carey responded.
Obviously, Carey didn’t know enough about Beckey, I thought. Or maybe she’d heard enough about his gruff nature and affinity for women. Or maybe she just hadn’t knowingly climbed enough of his stunning routes in the Pacific Northwest and beyond – the man pioneered many of North America’s classic climbs, starting in the late 1930s.
If you flip through his compilation, “Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs,” or even just through some of the guides he published for the Cascades (which many Cascades climbers refer to affectionately as “Beckey Bibles,”) you can begin to grasp the enormity of his life’s work.
Everything I’ve ever heard about Beckey made me admire him a little bit more. He was a climber’s climber, putting his love of mountains above everything. He established countless first ascents – likely more than anyone else on the planet and more than he could keep track of – and held down fewer jobs than most of us could even dream of. He was so dedicated that, allegedly, scamming free coffee from McDonalds and hoarding condiment packets helped him get by.
Beckey, in my mind, was the greatest climber of all time. He talked the talk, walked the walk and stayed high enough, often enough to avoid the limelight. In a world saturated with social media influencers rather than lasting influences, we’re a little worse off without his presence in the climbing community.
Despite decades of pioneering climbing, he always came home and he shared his life’s work and dedication with the rest of us in guidebooks. He died on October 30 at the ripe old age of 94 in Seattle, his hometown.
I still need to get that tattoo.
Mallorie Estenson loves climbing. She is an alpine guide, writer and resident of Bellingham. While she’s happy climbing in the Cascades, she dreams of someday climbing remote rocks and mountains around the world.