"Beckey," as he is known to his climbing companions, was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, and his family emigrated to the United States in 1925, ending up in Seattle, Washington. He started climbing in the North Cascades as a teenager around age thirteen, learning the basic concepts from the Boy Scouts and later, The Mountaineers but quickly going on to harder climbs on his own. He managed to continue this focus on climbing for more than seventy years and has become an icon in North American mountaineering.
He attended the University of Washington and received a degree in business administration. He entered the printing industry and soon discovered that his work assignments encroached upon his climbing goals. He eschewed the printing industry to gain more climbing time. He worked as a delivery truck driver, which left him time for climbing. As time went on, he decided that climbing was his life's focus. He never married or had children, he never pursued a professional career, he never sought money or financial security as a goal—his goal was to climb mountains.
Unlike Jim Whittaker, a fellow Seattleite and the first American to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1963, Beckey shied away from the large team efforts, preferring smaller alpine-style undertakings. Beckey seemed a likely choice as a member for the large, 1963 American Everest Expedition, but he was not chosen, even though he had been to Lhotse in 1955 with the International Himalayan Expedition.2
In the late 1940s, he asked The Mountaineers of Seattle to publish his first climbing guidebook for the local peaks. They turned him down, and the American Alpine Club agreed to print a few thousand copies for a flat fee. Between climbs, he has written several books, most notably the Cascade Alpine Guide, the definitive 3-volume description of the North Cascades from the Columbia River to the Fraser River, now in its third edition, published by The Mountaineers.
In 2003, his 563-page book on the history of the region, Range of Glaciers, was published by the Oregon Historical Society Press. According to a reviewer, he did much of the research for the volume in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, scouring files of the State Department, U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies. Beckey also perused the Canadian archives in Ottawa; Hudson's Bay Co. archives in Winnipeg; British Columbia archives in Victoria; records of the Northwest Boundary Survey at Yale University; and records of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads in Minneapolis.
As of June 2013, he continues to climb.3
Mt. Beckey, named for Mr. Beckey, is located in the Alaska Range at North 62 degrees, 52 minutes, West 152 degrees, 15 minutes.
Some of his first ascents:
- 1939 Mount Despair, North Cascades
- 1940 Forbidden Peak, North Cascades - with brother Helmy, Lloyd Anderson, Jim Crooks, and Dave Lind.
- 1945 Price Glacier, Mount Shuksan, North Cascades with Jack Schwabland and Bill Granston4:138
- 1946 East Ridge Devils Thumb, Alaska with Bob Craig and Clifford Schmidtke (Aug 25)4:
- 1947 North Peak, Liberty Bell, North Cascades - 1947
- 1948 North Ridge of Mount Baker, North Cascades Fred Beckey, Ralph and Dick Widrig (August 1948)4:156
- 1954 Northwest Buttress to North Peak, Mount McKinley, Alaska (May 27) with Donald McLean, Charles Wilson, Henry Meybohm and Bill Hackett.4:166
- 1954 Mount Deborah with Heinrich Harrer and Henry Meybohm4:169–170
- 1954 West Ridge Mount Hunter (Alaska) - with Heinrich Harrer and Henry Meybohm4:170
- 1959 Yocum Ridge, Mount Hood, Oregon, USA with Leo Scheiblehner4:172
- 1961 North Face of Mount Edith Cavell, Canadian Rockies, Canada with Yvon Chouinard5
- 1961 Beckey-Chouinard Route on South Howser Tower, Bugaboos, Canada with Yvon Chouinard and Dan Doody 4:152–153
- 1963 Complete North Ridge, Mount Stuart, North Cascades, Washington, USA with Steve Marts4:226
- 1963 Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse, British Columbia, Canada with Steve Marts and Eric Bjornstad4:226–227
- 1963 West Buttress (IV 5.8 A1), Musembeah Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA (September) with Layton Kor4:245
- 1967 El Matador (NCCS IV, A3), Devils Tower, WY. FA with Eric Bjornstad6:403
- 1968 Direct East Buttress (IV F8 A4), South Early Winter Spire, North Cascades, WA. FA with Doug Leen6:287–288
- 1968 South Face (III F8 A1), Cathedral Peak (Okanogan), North Cascades, WA. FA with Dave Wagner, John Brottem and Doug Leen6:390
- 1968 Northeast Face, Mount Hooker, Canadian Rockies, Canada. FA with John Rupley6:410
- 1970 Beckey's Spire aka Christianity Spire, Sedona AZ
- 1996 Mount Beckey, Cathedral Mountains, Alaska, USA - 1996, with John Middendorf and Calvin Hebert
- Second ascent Mount Waddington, British Columbia - 1942
- Triple ascent of Mount McKinley, Mount Deborah, and Mount Hunter - 1954
"Fred Beckey has achieved enduring recognition as the most imaginative, persistent, and thorough explorer and mountain investigator of the Cascade Range Wilderness. He was noted as "one of America's most colorful and eccentric mountaineers," and is unofficially recognized as the all-time world-record holder for the number of first ascents credited to one man. In addition to being the author of the Cascade Alpine Guide series, Beckey is also the author of Mountains of North America, The Range of Glaciers: Exploration and Survey of the North Cascades, and a personal narrative, Challenge of the North Cascades."
Timothy Egan captures Fred Beckey's personality in a chapter of "The Good Rain". Fred named Vasiliki Ridge, by Washington Pass, after his one true love. Fred is a quintessential dirtbag climber, and there is a classic portrait of him holding a sign "Will belay for food." His reputation is well-known among many climbers, captured in a t-shirt "Beware of Beckey: He will Steal your woman, steal your route." 7
- Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs (Patagonia Inc., 2011, ISBN 978-0-9801227-1-8)
- Range of Glaciers: The Exploration and Survey of the Northern Cascade Range (Oregon Historical Society, 2003 ISBN 0-87595-243-7)
- Cascade Alpine Guide (3 vols.) (Mountaineers Books, 1973–2008)
- Challenge of the North Cascades (1969, 2nd ed. 1996, ISBN 0-89886-479-8)
- Mount McKinley: Icy Crown of North America (Mountaineers Books 1993, paper 1999, ISBN 0-89886-646-4)
- The Bugaboos: An Alpine History (1987) (Introduction Only)
- Mountains of North America (1986)
- Mountains of North America (Sierra Club, 1982)
- Darrington and Index Rock Climbing Guide (Mountaineers Books, 1976)
- Guide to Leavenworth rock-climbing areas (Mountaineers Books, 1965)
- Climber's Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington (American Alpine Club, 1949, revised edition 1953)
- Modie, Neil (2003-03-08). "Icon to some, legendary climber Beckey still obscure to many". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle PI). Retrieved 2006-01-07.
- "Solu Khumbu Climbs: First Ascents After Lhotse". American Alpine Journal, 1956 10 (2): 7.
- Shore, Richard. "Fred Beckey climbing at Nightmare Rock".
- Selters, Andy (2004). Ways to the Sky. Golden, CO, USA: The American Alpine Club Press. ISBN 0-930410-83-1.
- Child, Greg (October 2000). "Rock Legends". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 2006-10-04.
- Beckey, Fred; H. Adams Carter (editor) (1969). "Climbs and Expeditions". American Alpine Journal (Philadelphia, PA, USA: American Alpine Club) 16 (43).
- Egan, Timothy (1991). The Good Rain. ISBN 0-679-73485-6.
- Biography at HistoryLink
- 2011 Profile in the Wall Street Journal by Michael J. Ybarra
- New York Times, 16 Dec. 2008. The Old Man of the Mountains. Video report on Fred Beckey. (The video displays the date of Dec. 16, although the URL states Dec. 15.)
- Summer 2012 short film of Fred climbing in the Dolomites on Outside Television.