Defying Time: Mr. Fred Beckey

Imagine an 89 year old mountain and rock climber. Imagine a man who started climbing when he was 14 years old and taught himself most of what he knows. Imagine a man who has made more first ascents in history than any other climber. Imagine a man born in 1923 who was still climbing in 2011. Imagine a man who not only climbs like a genius but has written some of the most authoritative guides to climbing in history. If you can imagine this man, there is only one person on the face of the earth who fits the definition. His name is Fred Beckey. Some people think he must be a god because of his long record of survival despite tackling some of the most difficult ascents in the world.

Fred was not the scion of wealthy parents. Fred did not grow up in the middle of the Alps or Himalayas. Fred was not a Harvard educated man with too much time on his hands. Fred has never had a part in any “major” expeditions to climb the top peaks of the world nor does Fred make his living by financing would be climbers on exotically high priced expeditions to climb Mt Fuji or any other mountain. Fred leaves the business or commercial aspect of mountaineering to those who have since given up on any real climbing. Fred finances his climbs by working to support his climbing. Fred has had one passion in life and that has been climbing. He climbs solo. He climbs with friends or experienced climbing partners but he does not climb for glory, fame, fortune or to make movies. Now that he has been climbing successfully for over 70 years, fame is being thrust upon him but no one can ever say that Fred sought it. The only thing Fred has sought, besides sometimes chasing women, is the top of some peak that has not been scaled before.

“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.”
–Mountaineers Books

I won’t bore you with the long list of Fred’s climbing accomplishments or books he has written. Instead I am including a link to a film that is being made about Fred. This short excerpt allows you to listen to Fred himself and to hear in his own words his passion for climbing. It is also remarkable watching an 80 + year old man climb the way he does. It would challenge anyone a third of his age. There are many more videos on Mr. Beckey and they are worth watching if you really want to be inspired.

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2008/12/15/sports/golf/1194835655194/the-old-man-of-the-mountains.html

So you may be asking “well, ok, but so what.” What does this have to do with defying time? I hope the answer is self-evident but just in case it is not. Let me explain what Fred means to me. First of all, Fred is not some freak or some deviant of nature. Fred has watched his health and kept active. Fred takes risks all right but Fred is one of the safest and most careful climbers who ever lived. Fred takes calculated risks with his time. You cannot live a satisfactory life without taking risks. You cannot get up in the morning and spend your day avoiding getting hurt. As Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths but heroes die only once.” I have known people who will not fly because it is too dangerous. When I went to Israel, Peru and recently Mexico on vacations and sightseeing trips, I had been warned that it was too dangerous. I have been in Washington D.C. on a business trip and been given a “red zone” card by the hotel I stayed at and told to stay out of these areas. I am not a brave person. I would like to live a long and healthy life. However, I don’t see it happening by staying in bed and avoiding risk. People like Fred and Connie (whom I wrote about yesterday) are living life. It is one thing to be alive; it is another thing to be living.

You cannot really be living if you are afraid of life. I don’t think you can be really living if you are not pursuing your passion in life. You are certainly not living if you work at a job where you hate Mondays and you watch the minutes pass in slow motion until quitting time. Imagine doing this for 40 years. Do it and you will have sacrificed living for making money. We all have to make a living by working but we can choose how much of our soul we give away to the world.

How many people do you know who are really living? Are you really living? Do you let your fears jeopardize what you would really like to do in life? What can you do to overcome the fears that hold you back? What if you did die climbing a mountain or jumping out of a plane? Would your friends say that you had really lived life to the fullest? What would it take for them to say this about you?

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