Friday, February 8, 2013

A Fred Beckey sighting

Almost exactly a year ago I got a message from Roch Horton at Black Diamond saying Fred Beckey was in town looking for some skiing and/or a partner.  I don't  remember exactly the details, but somehow I met up with the legend at Einstein's.  I didn't ski with him, but we had a nice chat, I gave him some beta, and we went our ways. 

Yesterday I had my total Groundhog Day experience, a few days late.  I had been out skiing and stopped at Einstein's on my way back - probably the 2nd time I'd been there since I'd seen Fred a year ago - and when I walked in there.....was Fred Beckey. 

If you don't know who Fred is,  in a nutshell he's arguably (barely) the most prolific climber in history, and really not even arguably has the most first ascents.  According to Wikipedia (  his first first ascent was in 1940, and since then he has made literally countless first ascents (the wiki site lists only the majors).  He turned 90 a few weeks ago, and not only does he still climb, he also still skis. 

I walked up and said hullo, and though I'm certain that he didn't remember me, he was quite gracious, and was actually happy to see me because he correctly anticipated that I'd be willing to yard on his belt hard enough to actually get it tight around his extraordinarily skinny waist since he couldn't see the belt holes below his equally-floppy flannel shirt (he clearly needs a rando race skinsuit!) .  As anyone who has met Fred before knows, he's pretty much deaf as a post, and though I noticed a hearing aid under his wispy hair, either it was not turned on or it's woefully underpowered.  So I yelled at him about skiing, making sure that everyone in Einsteins was acutely aware of our "conversation".  He was keen to know where he could go to find some "good snow" and I hate to admit that I was at a bit of a loss; it hasn't snowed for over a week and it was hard for me to imagine him being able to get into the backcountry far enough to find some untracked powder, so I reassured him that a storm loomed for the weekend. 

I told him about a couple of nice hike-up and ski-down road options in nearby Mill Creek, and went to the register to get a pen and paper to draw him a map.  While I was there the cashier handed me a little envelope with some cash in it and said "One of the other patrons wanted your friend there to have this."  I was a bit taken aback; was this because he was Fred Beckey, one of the most famous climbers in the world and also a legendary dirtbag, or simply because he looked like a homeless skier?  In any case, I gave it back to her and asked her to give it to him after I left because I wanted him to know that it wasn't from me but from an anonymous someone else. 

So I gave him a map of the Mill Creek options and he said "I'm not goin' there today!"  Ah, ok, well then, you should - and will - go wherever you want! 

He had his Garmont AT boots and was struggling to get them on.  His ankles appear to have gotten a bit puffy with (over) use, which clearly exacerbates the already-challenging putting-on of ski boots.  He didn't have socks on, which I've always found to be pretty challenging, since feet tend to stick on the lining of the boots, but when I suggested he put his sock on he bellowed "Then they'll be even tighter!"   Of course.  How could I be so stupid?  So he stood up and started pounding his half-on boot on the floor, with the rhythmic "thud thud" echoing throughout the Einsteins.  It seemed too complicated to ask him why he was putting his boots on in the restaurant and how he was getting to whatever trailhead he was heading for and Oh My was this 90 year old guy going to be driving there in his ski boots?  so I didn't.....

But I did ask Fred what brought him to town, to which he replied "The OR show!".  I was a bit surprised, because I had known that he was in Salt Lake for the trade show to receive an unusual Lifetime Achievement Award (and his famously craggy mug was on the cover of the daily show magazine), but that was two weeks ago!  I didn't bother to confirm what he had been doing for the last couple of weeks; I just imagined him wobbling around the Wasatch, perhaps doing a winter ascent of his namesake climb in Little Cottonwood canyon, or otherwise simply reveling in the mountains, in the way that he has for....nearly eighty years.   I hope we can all be so lucky.  Keep it up Fred.  You are (sort of!) an inspiration to us all! 

a terrible photo, but it was far too complicated to get him to face the windows.....

1 comment:

  1. Priceless Tom. Always great to hear a good Beckey story!