logo

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

image

Climbers

Oct 31, 2017

Fred Beckey, Legendary American Climber, Dies at 94

Fred Beckey, the American climber whose list of epic first ascents reads like a history of North American climbing in the twentieth century, passed away yesterday.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

The East Ridge of Devil’s Thumb, in Alaska; El Matador, on Devils Tower in Wyoming; the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Slesse, in British Columbia; the West Ridge of Mount Hunter, in Alaska; The Beckey-Chouinard, on South Howser Tower in the Bugaboos, British Columbia. Fred Beckey’s climbs litter the ranges of North America, and the routes he authored tell the story of climbing in the twentieth century.

On Monday, October 30, Fred Beckey, one of the most prolific American climbers and a pioneering first ascentionist, passed away at 94 years old. Climbers young and old lamented the loss of the community’s elder-most statesman. And, up until his last day, Beckey was still gunning for more time in the mountains. In Outside magazine’s obituary, Beckey’s friend Megan Bond said, “We were planning another trip to the Himalaya for next spring. He had a lot more to do.”

While Beckey’s profile among dilettante climbers never reached the levels of his climbing contemporaries—like Edmund Hillary—or compatriots—like Yvon Chouinard—among serious climbers he was as revered as they come.

Fred Beckey hitchhiking and holding a sign that reads, “Will Belay for Food!” in South Lake Tahoe, California. Photo: Corey Rich.

Beckey was born in 1923 in Dusseldorf, Germany, and came to the United States with his parents at two years old. He cut his teeth climbing in the Pacific Northwest in the Cascades and the Waddington Range, and in 1942 made the second ascent of Mt. Waddington with his brother.

Perhaps his best year ever in the mountains was 1954, when he made the first ascents of Mount Hunter (4,442 meters) and Mount Deborah (3,761 meters), and pioneered a new route on Denali via the peak’s Northwest Buttress.

Though he roamed North America untrammeled and enjoyed unrivaled successes, Beckey’s climbing in the Himalayas invited controversy. On an expedition to Lhotse in 1955, Beckey left his ailing partner high on the mountain, ostensibly to go get help. According to an obituary in The New York Times, Beckey’s partner, “snow-blind and nearly frozen without a sleeping bag, was rescued by others, but it was a misadventure that Mr. Beckey never lived down.”

Fred Beckey during the 1955 Lhotse expedition. Photo: Fred Beckey archives.

Having been burned in the Himalayas, Beckey continued to focus on the shorter but harder hidden gems in the North American ranges. The 1960s were another fruitful decade for Beckey, with famous climbs like the first ascent of Mount Slesse’s Northeast Buttress, a route that would go on to be included in Steve roper and Allen Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America. (Beckey established a disproportionate seven of the 50 classics on the list. Among them are his previously mentioned climbs on Mount Hunter, South Howser Tower and Devils Thumb.)

Fred Becky (left) with Eric Bjornstad. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Bjornstad.
Fred Beckey in the mountains. Photo: Don Liska.

In his later decades, Beckey maintained an undimmed passion for climbing of all types. A photo of Beckey in his early 80s, standing on the side of a road, draped in climbing gear and holding a cardboard sign upon which the words “Will Belay For food!!!” are scribbled gets to the heart of the man. Patagonia used the photo, taken by Corey Rich, in an advertisement in 2004. In “STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: The Creative, Spontaneous Life of Fred Beckey,” Rich writes that the advertisement “really seemed to provoke a positive, emotional response in people. Part of that is because Fred really has set the bar for what it means to be dedicated to the climbing life, and this photo captures what Fred represents to the climbing community.”

“But,” Rich continues, “the real reason the photo works is that it goes beyond being just a representation of an abstract ideal; it captures who Fred is genuinely … This photo IS Fred Beckey, through and through.”

A documentary film about his life and climbs, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey, is currently making the rounds at film festivals. Keep an eye out for a screening near you to learn more about Beckey and his singular influence on North American climbing.

Fred Beckey in front of Shiprock in 2016. Photo: Dave O’Leske.

Feature Image: A portrait of Fred Becky, legendary first ascensionist, mountaineer and rock climber, in Lover’s Leap climbing area, just outside of Lake Tahoe, California in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Photo: Corey Rich.

Continue Reading

image

Events

Jul 10, 2018

The 2018 Whitewater Awards: Nouria Newman and Benny Marr take the spoils.

The Whitewater Awards is a gathering of the world’s best kayakers to show off the biggest and best things that have happened in the sport over the past year.

image

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

 To be considered for an award, athletes, photographers, and filmmakers submit media taken over the past year that they believe showcases the best progression in the sport.  

There are sixteen different categories for submission, including separate male and female categories within the “Best of” kayaking categories. Categories include Photographer of the Year, Film of the Year, Expedition of the Year, Best Trick, Best Line, River Stewardship, Grom of the Year, Rider of the Year, along with several others.  Awards are decided upon by a voting process done by the Association of Whitewater Professionals.

This year’s Whitewater Awards was held in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. It was hosted on June 14th, the same weekend as the North Fork Championships, which takes place on the North Fork of the Payette River just outside of Boise.  The North Fork Championship is regarded as one of the hardest kayaking races in the world.

The race takes place on Jacob’s Ladder rapid, which is a rapid so difficult and consequential that most kayakers feel accomplished simply by surviving the rapid, much less racing the rapid. Nouria Newman, a 3-time NFC racer and winner of this year’s Whitewater Awards Female Rider of the Year describes it well,

“The NFC is the hardest race in whitewater kayaking. [Jacob’s Ladder] is a scary, consequential rapid. Running it is challenging, and it only gets harder to race it and make the gates.”

In order to minimize the risk involved in the race, event organizers have developed a strict qualification process for racers. 30 racers will qualify to race Jacob’s Ladder. Ten of them are pre-qualified from placing top ten at the event the year before. Those ten then read numerous athlete applications and vote on the next ten racers who will join them.  The last ten racers are decided through a qualification race on S-Turn rapid, another one of the North Fork’s infamous class V rapids.

Every year on this same weekend in June, kayakers, photographers, and filmmakers from around the world flock to Idaho to celebrate quality whitewater, progression of the sport, and the community that surrounds it. Both the North Fork Championship and the Whitewater Awards had great turnouts of athletes and spectators this year.

John Webster

The finalists of each category in the Whitewater Awards were presented in film format at the Egyptian Theater for the entire audience to view, with the winner being announced live. Winners were presented with an award and expected to give a short speech at the event. The big winners of the night were Nouria Newman and Benny Marr, who were awarded with Line of the Year and Rider of the Year in the female and male categories. Nouria says that voting for the “best” in each category is a challenging process, “…voting is always tricky, (look at both French and U.S. presidents, not too sure if they are really the best available option). And it is also very hard to compare lines and rapids. What’s bigger? What’s harder? I got voted Best Line of the Year with a good line down Parque Jurassic, a long technical rapid, but Rata’s line down Graceland, which is a huge slide, was equally as good, if not better.”

No matter how tricky the voting process can be, Nouria agrees that the Whitewater Awards plays a large role in the progression of the sport, “I think it’s super cool to see what people can do in their kayak, how they push the limit of the sport and how they open new possibilities.”

For more information about the Whitewater Awards, you can visit whitewaterawards.com, you can also follow them on Facebook and on Instagram.

You can follow Nouria on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can follow Benny on Facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo courtesy of Ari Walker

Recent Articles



Everest: Queues, Theft and Death on the Mountain Once Known as Chomolungma

Everest does not exist as it did a century ago. We have changed the way it is perceived, and should take responsibility for its numerous and consistent casualties.

Part 2: The Skateistan Difference – Skate Schools to Build a Better Future

Jessica Faulkner explains how Skateistan designs gender-inclusive programs in their skate schools and classrooms to empower underprivileged children around the globe.

Alone Across Antarctica Part 3: Nowhere to Hide – Børge Ousland’s World Record Legacy

Norwegian legend Børge Ousland, who navigated unknown landscapes in 1997 to become the first person ever to cross Antarctica alone, has a message for would-be record breakers.