How did they get this interview? And the video? The New York Times here profiles legendary local climber Fred Beckey, who's notoriously the most reclusive, hard-to-reach, and somewhat cantankerous master of the Cascades. In addition to authoring the essential Cascade Alpine Guides published by Mountaineers Books, he shows up occasionally these days in the Patagonia catalog, and (rarer still) local climbing events. Now 85, Beckey was secretive even during his prime mountaineering years (the late '40s into the early '60s), when he made many, many first ascents in Washington State. I've met him maybe twice and, full disclosure, my father climbed with him in the '50s and contributed photos, some iconic, to the CAG guidebooks.
As he got older, however, Beckey's quirkiness began to wear on his friends and climbing partners. Before, he wouldn't tell anyone what projects (i.e. first ascents) were on his tick list. Then he'd call and essentially tell you to quit your job, leave your wife for a few weeks, and come with him to some secret, undisclosed peak. And as the NYT reports, during the last few decades he's repeatedly attached himself to others' expeditions where, in truth, he has no business going. (In the P-I, Neil Modie wrote a good, similar account here five years ago.)
I saw Becky about a month ago at a public event, and people greeted him with a muted kind of awe. A few went over to shake his hand. If he were chattier, a walk around Green Lake with the guy would be nice. But anything more physically demanding than that...?
It's also long been rumored that Beckey has an autobiography in the works. But again, it's unclear if he's willing to come clean about his clandestine life (like the many women he met on his climbing road trips, forming a different sort of list). And as other local climbing greats like Pete Schoening have passed, time is running out for Beckey to tell all to a biographer, or take his secrets to the grave. And that, for such an icon, would be a great loss.