If you’re at all familiar with Northwest climbing, the name Fred Beckey likely rings a bell. And if you know of Fred Beckey, then you also probably know that his list of first ascents across the mountains and crags of the Northwest is among the longest out there. (This interview from climbing.com says he’s got more than anyone in the world.)
That should come as no surprise, really. Not only because Beckey is renowned for his prolific and active climbing career, but because he’s now 91 — and he’s still climbing.
One of his most notable first ascents on Mount Hood was the dreaded Yocum Ridge, which he climbed with partner Leo Scheiblehner in April 1959. Yocum, named for climbing guide and Government Camp hotel and resort developer Oliver Yocum, is the prominent, serrated ridge that runs pretty much right down the middle of the mountain’s west face. In the photo below, by Zigzag-based photographer Robert Brownscombe, Yocum is the ridge just left of center.
In his book, Challenge of the North Cascades, Beckey describes the climbing as “easy in some places,” “delicate and exposed” in others, and in still others “it was unpleasantly difficult and dangerous.” He talks of climbing his way up a 30-foot section of vertical ice where “the wrong slash of the ice ax might have brought the whole chimney down.” On another section, he could see daylight “through the frost feathers 2 feet under the veneer surface.” Summing it up, he calls it “a nightmare of ice problems instead of a route to the summit.”
Beckey returns to Mount Hood in February, in a way. The seasoned mountaineer will give a presentation about some of his climbing adventures over the past 60 years in the Visual Arts Theatre at Mount Hood Community College. The event will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27. It is free and open to the public, though guests are asked to bring food or cash donations to support Barney’s Pantry, a student-run food bank on the campus.
This should be a great show. I saw him give one back in 2003; actually recruited him to put it on for the annual banquet of the Ptarmigans, a mountaineering club that wound down a few years ago. I’d also hoped to get an interview with the notoriously gruff climber, who’s also known for not being into interviews, a touch hard of hearing and somewhat of a casanova. All those traits were in full force that night out at Edgefield 11 years ago, and while he didn’t seem to have many words for me, he had no problem chatting up the young married lady sitting next to him.
Even so, his presentation was great. Back then I felt lucky that I got to see him when he was still climbing at 80. I’m hoping to catch him again at 91 because, you know, you figure he’ll have to stop climbing at some point. Right?